Storytelling has been a part of human culture for almost as long as we’ve existed. Before they were written down and recorded, the first stories were spoken out loud and passed down from generation to generation. There were even travellers who would wander from place to place, earning a living by telling stories. Even today, storytelling is still a big part of our lives; it’s why we read books and watch films.
But what is storytelling in marketing? Unsurprisingly, it’s when a marketing campaign features some sort of narrative that’s either played out fully or creates a section of a bigger story (like BT’s “Adam and Jane” adverts from a few years ago). Storytelling in marketing isn’t just for entertainment purposes. It can also be a powerful and persuasive tool for campaigns or adverts.
Most people can agree, marketing campaigns typically perform better when they have an element of creativity. You just have to look at one of Swedish furniture giant IKEA’s marketing campaigns to see why they’re constantly creating a buzz in the industry. From recreating iconic television programme living rooms with their own products to their unforgettable 2019 Christmas advert, IKEA has cemented itself as the home of quirky advertising as well as flat-pack furniture.
IKEA has also taken advantage of storytelling in recent TV adverts. With a series of cartoon ads, IKEA addresses concerns which will be relevant to almost anyone – switching off and sleeping better in an “always-on” world. The cartoons are clever and colourful, narrated by a soothing Swedish voice. The stories themselves have a fairytale-like feel with a satisfying happy ending. Although product placement is featured it feels natural and unobtrusive; a creative way of featuring IKEA products without making the ads all about IKEA itself.
When people follow a story, they tend to make personal connections with it. Whether they can relate to the characters or the narrative is relevant to their lives, a personal response from a customer to your marketing material can align them to your brand.
For example, the Volkswagen “Father Daughter” campaign from a few years ago follows the story of a father caring for his daughter as she grows up. Portraying him as slightly overprotective but very caring, the campaign promotes family values and parental responsibility. As the daughter is packing up and moving out, her father hands her the keys to a Volkswagen Polo and she drives away as “Stay in safe hands” appears on the screen.
The Polo has been positioned as a safe and reliable option for a first car but with an advert aimed at the parents, as they are usually the decision-makers (if not the financiers). With storytelling that stirs up the emotions, Volkswagen has cleverly appealed to its target audience by aligning the brand with its audience’s values and concerns. If a parent was in the market for their teenager’s first car, this advert could easily sway them.
Marketing campaigns that tell stories have the added benefit that they don’t have to revolve around selling products or services. An engaging, entertaining or emotional brand storytelling campaign can help to get potential customers to buy into the brand rather than individual products, which is more beneficial in the long run. Using this method, brands can make sales without trying to sell anything.
Take the John Lewis Christmas advert, for example. For some, it’s one of the most anticipated parts of the Christmas period. Most recently, the story of Excitable Edgar – the little dragon who just wanted to join in the Christmas fun – graced our screens. The advert didn’t explicitly say “you need to buy this”; it didn’t even imply it. Instead, it used a good story to rack up 9.9 million views on YouTube, as well as a speedy sell-out of their Excitable Edgar cuddly toy.
We could expect to see a rise in the use of storytelling in marketing campaigns for 2020. It can also easily be used alongside SEO to boost content marketing efforts. Storytelling may not work for every single campaign, but it can be a powerful tool in any marketer’s arsenal.
What do you think about storytelling? Let us know! Tweet us @honcho_search or get in touch on Instagram or LinkedIn to share your thoughts. Like keeping up with the latest news and industry updates? Sign up to our newsletter!