There’s a recent commercial for Audi that I’m particularly enamoured with.
An elderly man lies on his deathbed, reminiscing about all of the adventures he’s taken, all of the things he’s seen and done, and as he closes his eyes for what may be the last time, something gets his attention.
A new Audi pulls a U-turn in his driveway, and he screams after it.
“Time to update your bucket list.”
Everyone loves a good story.
They take us out of our realities and allow to experience things that we can’t even begin to fathom.
Great stories don’t even necessarily need to be written; they happen around us all of the time.
For almost twenty-five years, This American Life has been telling stories about everything from how being insulted at a particular Chicago restaurant is part of the dining experience to how regular people become informants for the FBI.
Like any outlet, there are the larger-scale pieces, reflections on Hurricane Katrina or the subprime mortgage crisis, but the heart of the show is in sharing these smaller, more personal stories.
Stories that everyone has at least a few of.
Stories that everyone can relate to.
Telling a good story is difficult, but telling it in thirty seconds or in a few lines of copy or on a billboard makes it even harder. If the premise isn’t simple enough, or if there isn’t enough opportunity to get the audience invested in what they’re seeing, then they won’t buy in.
The word “storytelling” gets thrown around a lot today in this industry. People are finally waking up to the concept that having some disembodied voice listlessly describe product benefits over some generic footage just doesn’t work, and arguably, never did.
However, we should remember that it’s very easy to go too far in the other direction, as well.
People may not be more resentful of anything more than something that they feel wastes their time.
Think of the last time you went on YouTube.
How desperate were you to skip the ads you were served and get back to what you were doing?
What if you were presented with ads that had defined narratives and established characters, but were twice as long?
You’d take the shorter ads every time.
For a society with a bunch of companies built with the goal of disrupting things, we certainly don’t like being disrupted.
When it comes to stories in marketing, somewhat paradoxically, the best tool you can use is brevity.
The best works in art are the ones that you can’t remove anything else from.
No amount of great body copy will make up for a subpar headline; no amount of runtime can compensate for a weak premise.
If you can’t explain a story to someone in five seconds, it’s probably not good enough to turn into an ad.
For example, “woman runs from armed guards and throws hammer at video screen” may sound boring, but that’s effectively what Apple’s iconic “1984” ad consisted of.
An ad which didn’t mention any product benefits, and until the final ten seconds didn’t even mention that there was a product.
Even if there’s a renewed focus on storytelling in the industry, it isn’t some new trend.
As a matter of fact, it’s been upsetting advertising purists for over 35 years.