The Story

Growing up, James’ parents date night was always on Wednesday. Which meant every Wednesday as the babysitter arrived and James prepared for bed, his father would emerge from the bathroom, his face covered in tiny dots of toilet paper from a rough shave. Some of James’ fondest memories with his dad were the laughs they’d share at his toilet paper bespeckled face. What James didn’t know at the time was that those tiny bits of toilet paper meant that this dad was using a poor-quality razor.

Now, James has a son of his own, and a weekly date night with his partner. But instead of a rough shave resulting in toilet paper bandages before their date like his dad used to do, James uses Precision Razors. Precision Razors provide a clean, gentle shave without the worry of cuts or nicks, so James doesn’t have to fret about going out with toilet paper strewn across his face. Now, the fond memories James makes with his son are teaching him what a good, clean shave looks like, instead of laughing together through the pain of a  rough shave.

 The Strategy

None of what you just read above is a true account. But it’s a narrative written to evoke emotion and tell a story while promoting a product. Along the way, it pulls you in, elicits emotion, or memory, or, for some, maybe even relatability to a seemingly mundane product. Here, you have an element of pathos in this story, you have formative life moments, and you have a product that ties it all together. This strategy of story-telling in marketing isn’t really even about the product, it’s about how you get to the product.

Think of story-telling in marketing as the Yellow Brick Road from The Wizard of Oz – a variety of exciting, relatable and emotional tales along the way that end at an objectively humdrum result, or in this case, product. Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, put it best when he said, “don’t give them 4, give them 2+2.” It’s not about the product itself, it’s about what you think, discover and feel when getting to the product, and story-telling is the glue that holds together the consumer’s interest.

The Characters

When approaching story-telling in marketing, you want to turn “meh” into “marvelous”. There aren’t a ton of ways to make a product like razors seem compelling, or incorporate an emotional tie. In the marketing industry, however, we’re able to leverage the value of story-telling to shape a consumers’ view of a product.

Let’s take the example of characters. If you’re attempting to create content for a product that doesn’t naturally pique the interest of consumers, a character a la Tony the Tiger, the Charmin Bears or the KFC Colonel could be a good strategy. As a reader, you probably didn’t have to google any of those product characters – that mean’s these companies have accomplished their goal by creating a direct correlation between the product and a character in a story.

A brand is just a mental representation of a product in the consumer’s mind. It could be a wacky old man selling chicken or an overzealous tiger who peddles sugary corn flakes – there doesn’t necessarily have to be depth, there just has to be product association. That is not to say that your Tony the Tigers of the world genuinely make you feel something, but there’s consistency in the marketing, and for many millennials, we grew up with that tiger. 

The Human Element

If you’ve never teared up at an emotional, heart-wrenching advertisement, go back to the A.I. lab you came from because you’re not human – they get us all. That’s why they’re so effective.

Success in marketing campaigns is driven by offering something your competitors can’t – a connection with your audience. People want to purchase a product they can relate to. Studies show that emotional response to an ad or marketing campaign has a far greater influence on a consumer’s intent to buy a product than the ad’s content.

Let’s take this ad campaign from Virgin Australia as an example. Virgin Australia wanted to ensure that passengers departing on December 24th and arriving on December 26th still got a chance to celebrate Christmas. The video is compelling, cute, and elicits an emotional connection with the audience – everyone wants to celebrate the holidays in some form or fashion. This ad effectively connected with the spirit of the season to promote the product in a thoughtful and emotional way. Not only winning customers for life from the folks on board, but drawing in potential new customers who wanted the chance to have a similarly engaging experience on a Virgin Australia flight as well.

Additionally, Dove soap got the world’s attention with their #LikeAGirl campaign, and the Ad Council made all of our eyes water with their Love Has No Labels campaign. Never forget that people want to feel something, even if it’s just the reassurance that whatever they’re doing is okay.

Noah Walker