Thoughts 31.01.14

Storytelling: The Antidote to Functional

To extend the sentiment made by George Orwell in Animal Farm, all brands are interesting, but some brands are more interesting than others. Whilst a lot of people will get excited about the latest Apple product launch, there aren’t quite as many that will feel the same way about their energy supplier or their car insurer. Regardless of sector though, there isn’t a single brand that is devoid of telling a good story. No matter what the product or the service, everything has a human aspect or benefit to it, and it’s this that allows us to tell some of the finest stories. Take Google for example. Their core business as a search engine is about as functional as it gets. However, through their carefully crafted brand proposition, they’ve gone from search engine providers to facilitators and observers of the modern world. By capturing and articulating the human benefits of Google and keeping them central to their communications, they tell great stories that make the brand and business so much more than just a search engine.

Where there’s a very human benefit, there’s a good story, and where there’s a good story, the ability to evoke an emotional response isn’t far away. You only have to look at the most shared adverts of all time to find the recurring theme: tell consumers a good story and they’ll become the media channel for you. The Dumb Ways to Die campaign by Metro Trains is a brilliant illustration of this in recent years. Railway network operators don’t usually sit at the heart of viral sensations but thanks to the story that they told, within two weeks it had generated at least $50 million worth of global media value for a fraction of the cost of one traditional TV ad. Over a year on and that figure will have increased dramatically.

Both Google and Metro Trains are proof that no matter how functional the product or sector, no brand is exempt from striking a chord. However, relatively few brands take advantage of this, favouring the rational over the emotional, and labouring the point of what it is rather than what it can do for the consumer. Take toothpaste advertising for example. Despite being a product that makes your mouth smell better, (potentially improving your chances of getting closer to people) it’s dominated by scientific diagrams and dentist testimonials. In contrast, deodorant advertising, a product that makes your skin smell better, is rich in storytelling. Lynx and Old Spice have built their brands around the idea of what could happen to the love lives of young men if they used their products. Surely toothpaste brands could take that concept, and create more engaging stories than tackling gingivitis and plaque?!

However functional they may be, brands in all sectors should consider how their product or service affects consumers beyond just the rational reasons to believe. Sector norms are ready to be challenged, and storytelling is the stuff that can make it happen.