Everyone loves a good story. That’s why so many great ads rely on storytelling.
A good storyteller draws us in and holds us tight. As marketers, that’s exactly the kind of focus and engagement we’d like our ads to create. Plus, a good story begs retelling. In the social-media world, this translates into greater sharing and stickiness and, in the conventional ad world, into frequency and distribution. As unlikely as it may seem, even a 60-word ad can (and should) offer just such an engaging narrative.
The makings of a story
Let’s get started by rewinding a bit, back to your high school English class. You might recall this explanation of what makes a story. Stories start with the introduction of the hero (“Once upon a time, there was a boy who…”), proceed to a central conflict that must be overcome (“Maynard drew his wand just as the evil wizard…”), and resolve themselves at the denouement (“And they all lived happily ever after”).
Told with art and substance, these three elements of any story work to engage readers, invite them to partake in a new experience and, we might hope, share that it with others.
From 0 to 60, in 60 words or less
Ads are stories in shorthand form. In most ads, the introduction is short – even non-existent – because readers recognize themselves as the hero. Simply reading the word “you” in the copy can trigger this recognition. Or, better still, the writer could express the central conflict in such an insightful and resonant way that the reader feels the story could only apply to them. Whether the conflict is an unresolved problem, a potential crisis or, most compelling of all, an unfulfilled aspiration, the reader recognizes the conflict as their own.
The conflict reaches its denouement with the help of the marketer’s product or service. (If the reader is King Arthur, for example, then the product is Excalibur.) The happy ending can be expressly told or implied. The ending always shares the reader’s inherent optimism. And it’s honest and fair about the product and its capabilities.
Few words. Big meaning.
How short can an ad be and still capture all of these components? I’d argue three words. Consider the great Nike tagline: “Just Do It.” Whether you’re a novice trying to coax yourself out of bed for your first run ever or an Olympian trying to shave 1/100 of a second off the current record, this tagline cuts to the psyche of every aspiring athlete. It zeroes in on that central internal conflict. And it causes the reader to think: “Nike really understands what I’m about.”
So what can storytellers teach us about copywriting? Good stories, like good ads, are written for the reader; they are built on an understanding of the needs and aspirations of the audience. They address the challenges that stand between the reader and his or her success. And, as a result, they are more about people and less about things.
Have any examples of ads that tell great stories? Please share them below!
Photo Credit: Nike