a collection of ammonista stimuli

Show Don't Tell

 Advertising tip: show don't tell. Everything works better as a narrative.

I met with a client yesterday to draft ideas for her shoe company’s upcoming rebranding. The firm’s about three years old and she’s hoping to shake things up by doing a site overhaul paired with an ambitious campaign that includes interactive video projects and pop-up stores with free Tennessee bourbon and mechanical bulls.

So, we’re sitting down to a pot of earl grey on the poop deck of her 35’ Technomar luxury yacht, when the rear leg of her armchair separates from its beech wood base and sends her (and her cup of tea) tumbling off the deck and into the churning Indian Ocean.

Okay, none of that’s true.

I made it up to prove two points:

1) They don’t make furniture like they used to

and

2) Everything works better as a narrative.

Don’t believe me? Imagine if I started this post with that point – the non-furniture related one: “Everything works better as a narrative.”

A bit dry, right? No color, proof or detail. No false class distinctions and bourbon tastings to ruffle feathers, whet appetites. No details to make you doubt the sturdiness of the chair you’re sitting on. Nothing to help you slide into the scene. It’s just flat advice without any life behind it... and, if I were actually advising that unfortunate woman (God rest her imaginary soul!) on her company’s rebranding, this is exactly what I would warn against.

Branding – or rebranding for that matter – Is a chance to consolidate your company’s story into a tasty little package for potential customers. And while most companies start with the who we are, what we do and how we do it approach – most forget the most fundamental rule of communications, which is that they prioritize what the company wants to say over what consumers want to hear (thanks to Charlie Brown's teacher for the visual).

Brands with heart and vision, on the other hand, present themselves with memorable narrative… It’s the difference between a pretty generic car commercial and a great one that plays like a short film. Even researchers agree.

According to this article from the New York Times, “People tend to remember facts more accurately if they encounter them in a story rather than in a list.” And why is that? Because narratives give facts context and presents them as they would be learned experientially in real life. Good advertising, just like good stories or movies, makes you forget that you’re not part of the action and, in turn, allows you absorb illustrated information that would have gone in one ear and out the other in a lecture.

It’s classic “show don’t tell.”

Imagine going to a Web site for a sportscar and seeing a load of text telling you that the car is cool, fresh, hip, fast, blah, blah, blah.

Now imagine going to the same site, and seeing only a short video in which an kid is anxious before his first day of school, until his father drops him off in a candy-apple red sportscar, making the kid the star of the first-grade playground.

The text tells you that the car is cool.

The narrative shows you… and it sticks with you.

With that in mind, I’ll leave you with some commercials/sites that successfully incorporate narratives into their advertising and brands.

Now, I have to go check my yacht chairs for structural defects.

 

Great Narrative Advertising

 

This spot never tells you to tune in to The Olympics or call your mother, but after watching it, it’s all you want to do. Great pacing. Great associations. Great narrative.

In a sea of sports celebrity endorsers in the category, Nike breaks trend by featuring the average person’s journey toward greatness. Sometimes the most powerful is the most simple concept.

25 ads that catapulted the Nike brand into cultural relevance.

  Here’s a   print ad   that completely disrupted the market with it’s non-consumerism ethos – which of course, ran on the shopping holy day of Black Friday.   Genius. And braveheart courage.

Here’s a print ad that completely disrupted the market with it’s non-consumerism ethos – which of course, ran on the shopping holy day of Black Friday.

Genius. And braveheart courage.

This is a blast from the past classics – and definitely not on account of the composition, lighting or acting. It works because it defies your expectation and presents a cute and memorable moment that, somehow, makes you want to chug a Coke.


Companies with great narrative backstories

  Moleskine  . Anytime you can feasibly namedrop Hemmingway, van Gogh and Picasso in your narrative, you’re probably on to something.

Moleskine. Anytime you can feasibly namedrop Hemmingway, van Gogh and Picasso in your narrative, you’re probably on to something.

  These come with a   built in story   – and it’s a great one. As we learned above, that means more than image and quality combined.

These come with a built in story – and it’s a great one. As we learned above, that means more than image and quality combined.

  Explaining what a company’s about  and where it started are the first steps to building relationships with customers… not contracts or transactions, relationships with emotions and motive.

Explaining what a company’s about and where it started are the first steps to building relationships with customers… not contracts or transactions, relationships with emotions and motive.

  Putting a trustworthy face behind a service  that ranks the trustworthiness of services, is a no-brainer… and a great narrative.

Putting a trustworthy face behind a service that ranks the trustworthiness of services, is a no-brainer… and a great narrative.