People close to me know I like to tell stories. Get a couple of drinks in me and I’ll regale you with the tale of the Canadian Boys Banned (not a typo – a friend and I actually got kicked out of Canada in 1992), or The Legend of Davida the Cat Lady (not for the faint of heart, I assure you). Someday, when I’m desperate for blog post topics, I’ll treat you to some of these gems.
It’s not that I’ve led THAT interesting a life. I’m sure most, if not all, of the weird, funny, touching stories that have happened to me can be topped by someone else’s weird, funny, or touching story. Everyone has stories. You have stories, right?
The tradition of the storyteller is as old as the first story itself, told (I’m imagining here) to a small group around a fire, perhaps about a long journey or a great hunt, or some really exciting (and perhaps tasty) new plant someone found. The good stories were told again and again around other fires to other hunters and gatherers. Eventually, this led to bigger groups around bigger fires, and more elaborate stories, some factual, some invented, and some a mixture of both.
Skipping ahead a few years we come to the ancient Greeks, who used town criers as a way to communicate important public information to the masses, who could not read or write. They were the first news anchors, but there was nothing “anchored” about them as they ran from town to town. The rise of the Roman Empire brought this position to a whole new level, and the town crier became the only source for “news” until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.
Also thanks to the ancient Greeks, we come to the birth of theatre, where the best stories (whether factual or not… usually not) were not only told, they had been written down and were acted out over and over by people who were generations away from the original storyteller.
But I digress. You didn’t come here for a history lesson. As you look at human history, especially since the birth of film and television, you can easily see that we have evolved exponentially in our ability to tell and in our willingness to hear a good story.
Yes, we humans LOVE our stories. Why? Because they connect us to our world in ways far beyond mere sensory input. Stories create shared experiences. Stories generate within us an emotional link to the story, its participants, be they real or imagined, but most importantly to the human condition. Stories help give all that sensory input meaning. Look how different fan bases break down the objects of their fandoms. There are countless websites devoted specifically to analyses of scripts and episodes, characters and plot points – all so the story hearers can derive more meaning from the stories. So do we love our stories? You’re dang right we do. We OBSESS over our stories. (I’m a Doctor Who fan, so I know from obsessive fans :))
As a result, people are more seasoned in hearing stories, and are much more in tune with the emotional responses and connections that come with storytelling than they ever have been. So they are, on the whole, a tougher audience, especially when it comes to advertising or other business-related communications.
In other words, they are more inclined to see straight through your BS.
So what does this mean for the storyteller, in this case the advertiser? It means authenticity. It also means don’t try to BS your audience – EVER.
One of my favorite examples of this is a well-beaten dead horse I like to call “The Savior Spot”. It’s probably called something else by others smarter than me, but so what, and it usually goes with a major rebrand. They almost always take the road best laid down by the “Morning In America” spot the GOP shoveled out in 1984 to distract from high unemployment and a ballooning deficit. In 1984, it was brilliant, and it got us four more years of Reagan. In 2018, not so much.
When Time Warner Cable became Spectrum in 2017, they released spots like this:
Does anyone reading this really buy into that whole “the world just got a little better because we changed our name” thing? What DO you think when you see these spots? Me? I went into Mockery Mode instantaneously, with readings even registering on the Enragement Scale.
Another example is more specific, and pertains to a local Milwaukee granite and tile company’s recent TV spot. In the spot, we are treated to a special effect that is completely unnecessary and makes their spot (in my opinion) less effective than it could be. The spot begins with a brief description of the history of granite (turns out it’s been around for a long time, don’tcha know), complete with CG dinosaurs. The dinosaurs tie in with the name of the company, which so far (5 or 10 seconds into the spot) makes sense. Then they get into the product shots of kitchens and bathrooms all looking spectacular, except for THE BRONTOSAURUS WALKING THROUGH THE KITCHEN!!!?? Suddenly, I am no longer looking at the gorgeous (really, it is) product they want to sell me, as I am distracted by PTERODACTYLS?!? HOW THE HECK DID PTERODACTYLS GET IN THE KITCHEN??!!?
Honestly, I don’t mind the dinosaurs, just not in the dang kitchen. Do you see how that kind of tactic might take the spotlight away from what you’re trying to sell?
Authenticity, folks, is the key no matter what kind of story you are telling. Even if you are telling a story based entirely in wonder and fantasy, people will engage if it resonates with them. Perhaps it’s a relatable character, perhaps the events of the story itself are resonant, perhaps it’s just authentically funny – however you tell it, people need to feel connected to your story if you’re going to get them to act on it. They are not going to care unless you find a way to MAKE them care.