To tell stories. To influence an audience and convince them. These are the goals of every good communications campaign. However, these three ideas have gradually evolved and often lead to nothing more than countless diluted messages uncontrollably flying around on the internet. How do we touch the hearts of our target audience amidst so much information? That is the sought-after holy grail of every communications agency: that their message be the one to transcend all barriers and become, even if only for a few days, the most talked about thing on the web. That’s why the art of telling stories has been gradually perfected until coming to life as a ‘buzz word’ widely used in the advertising world for a while now, alongside the ubiquitous “viral”. What we’re talking about is storytelling. Professor Christian Salmon defines this concept as “the machine for making stories and formatting minds” and considers storytelling the secret formula that helps the viewer to build an emotional link with the brand.
Storytelling is, therefore, the art of crafting stories that touch the heart of the viewer. Here’s an example. In 1963 Martin Luther King gave a speech that moved the whole world. “I have a dream” has gone from a simple phrase to a message that has inspired a multitude of advertising campaigns and motivational videos. At the time, and perhaps without knowing, we were witnessing one of the first examples of storytelling in modern history.
Didier Lagae, Marco de Comunicación’s CEO, summarises the key elements: “For storytelling to be successful it’s fundamental that our story contain both rational and emotional elements, based on videos and direct images, transmitted to a global audience through a 360º campaign.”
The whiskey brand Johnny Walker, a pioneer in the art of storytelling in advertising, tells its story in a very cinematographic fashion. You can watch its campaign here to give you a quick idea of their approach.
In this article we’ll analyse the basis of storytelling around four fundamental pillars:
1. Combining the emotional and the rational: One of these elements will take priority depending on whether it’s B2B or B2C communication, but both are inherently important to a good story and fundamental to engaging with the audience.
A good practical example of storytelling applied in B2B communication is the campaign carried out for the Moroccan Investment Development Agency (AMDI): “This campaign stems from a concept of co-localization created by MdC, based on rational arguments that incorporate emotional elements and hook the business target. A story is created around this idea, highlighting the key messages that position Morocco as a destination for investment, and is then told by third parties (companies, influencers, business schools, etc.). With all this in mind we created videos and visual elements for use around the world and thanks to this strategy we managed to increase investment in the country by 54%”.
When it comes to applying this strategy in a B2C setting, it follows the same outline but the emotional factor is even more predominant. A clear example is the campaign for refund.me: “a powerful story with a strong emotional message that by using videos and striking creative output has given form to a campaign that spans Europe, LATAM and India.”
In this case, just 15 seconds is enough for this campaign to tell us in a funny way how the brand’s character leaves all those he runs into dissatisfied. It’s quick, fun and straight to the point.
The key is therefore in humanising the brand so that the viewer feels like the protagonist of the story, creating a unique, personal and non-transferable link between the message and its recipient. The brand’s message becomes something very personal for the recipient, giving them the sensation that the story is specifically for them – in much the same way that when we’re heartbroken we think every song is talking about us. It’s only in this way that we avoid the risk of making the viewer feel as though the brand is being intrusive, as tends to happen with conventional advertising. “I needed to feel this way and I needed to feel like this now.” That is what the spectator ought to think when witness to a good piece of storytelling.
And here we have a brilliant example: What could better sum up a feeling than this simple yet devastating question that a child asks his father?
2. Video: A picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth more than a thousand pictures. The use of direct videos, with clear, creative messages, makes a story both personal and universal, direct and easy to take in.
Another very important aspect is for the spectator to identify with the protagonist of the story, and so this character should be presented simply to make them easy to remember. Here again, we use children as an example. Many parents will have had to face the difficult situation of explaining this to their children.
The experience, whether real or not, will make our video more easily shareable among a much wider community. The narrative has to be presented, if possible, in the first or third person so that the spectator can relate the story to others as something that happened to a real person: a fictional tale told by the spectator as though it had happened to a real person. This is the key for the message to spread quickly.
3. 360 degrees and multiplatform: the current boom in platforms and devices opens up a plethora of possibilities to us, but it also forces us to work on all of them so that our story reaches its audience with force. We should make good use of both traditional channels (TV, press, radio) and the new online channels and social networks.
4. Global: Borders are becoming increasingly blurred and stories cross them via universal channels. That’s why we need to create universal stories that work with a universal language and that are understood universally.
The themes that work best are those that affect and move all of us, regardless of our background, culture or ideology: life and death, hellos and goodbyes, love and hate, safety and fear, truth and lies, strength and weakness, loyalty and disillusion.
In this case, Nike uses love to create a fun musical clip.
And to encapsulate everything that we’ve discussed, here’s one final yet perfect example of storytelling produced by Aerolíneas Argentinas. The campaign traced a tender and moving story and contained all the key elements: it engaged the viewer and humanised the brand to help us feel a part of its story. Storytelling in its purest form.