Storytelling in advertising is nothing new. From the eighties’ Nescafe Gold Blend commercials featuring the romance of Tony and Sharon, to the noughties’ BT family ads that followed the domestic trials of Adam and Jane, the most memorable TV campaigns took years to build characters that audiences could relate to and care about.
But the art of storytelling is disappearing. Creators of TV ads such as the John Lewis Always a Woman, and more recently the Subaru Forrester ad, understand its importance but feel the need to tell the entire story in one episode, without taking viewers on the journey with them. And, in digital advertising, where storytelling has been largely absent from the start, the situation is far worse – with users bombarded across multiple devices with repetitive, intrusive messaging that lacks authentic narrative.
Consumers crave content that entertains them, educates them, or inspires them. They want to feel emotions, to smile, laugh, cry, or dream. Rather than being something they need to ‘sit through’ to access quality content, can advertising itself be original content consumers seek out, care about, and engage with?
It could be argued technological developments have had an adverse impact on advertising, particularly with digital where execution has often taken precedence over creativity. But technology can also be an enabler of engaging storytelling across multiple platforms. Here are three trends that are facilitating a return to creative brand storytelling:
The rise of programmatic creative
Early automation of advertising may have temporarily side-lined creativity, but advances in programmatic creative encourage data and creative to work together in a way that promotes brand storytelling. Programmatic creative allows messaging to be sequenced so it takes the viewer on a journey, rather than serving the same ad over and over, and enables brands to update messaging in real time to keep it fresh and relevant.
What’s more, programmatic creative facilitates the instant production of thousands of creative iterations, so the version most appropriate for each specific consumer can be served; taking into account their location, preferences, device, and position on the path to purchase, as well as numerous other data points. A continuous optimisation loop uses real-time measurement to ensure personalised creative is as impactful and engaging as possible, boosting ad performance, increasing ROI, and making brand stories more relevant and contextual.
The return of storytelling
Today’s consumer uses an average of 3 connected devices, and multiple platforms – so brands need to ensure they are able to tell their story seamlessly across all channels. At a basic level, the creative must automatically optimise to the screen or device on which it is served – simply scaling down a TV commercial or desktop ad and delivering it to a smartphone is detrimental to the user experience.
But more than this, brands must understand that the storytelling format is perfect for the digital age, where each device, platform, and ad format can make its own unique contribution to the total narrative. The highly engaged and interactive nature of mobile devices makes them ideal for involving consumers in the story and allowing them to influence its progression. As far back as 2005, BT received over 1.6 million Facebook votes to determine the next development in the Adam and Jane storyline – so just imagine what is possible in today’s real-time, continually connected world. When brands build a story gradually across multiple complementary channels, consumers engage with the characters and the worlds they inhabit, increasing brand awareness and affinity.
The growing demand for industry standards
Digital advertising is evolving rapidly, and highly immersive and engaging ad formats are continually emerging to support brand storytelling. But standards and measurement techniques have failed to keep pace with this evolution, particularly regarding viewability and effectiveness, which has restricted adoption of new and innovative formats. After all, brands can’t be expected to invest in advertising if they don’t truly understand its ROI.
But industry standards are catching up with innovation; for example the IAB’s latest standard ad portfolio includes multi-screen sizing and provides guidelines for newer experiences such as augmented and virtual reality, as well as 360-degree video. Other industry guidelines, such as LEAN and the Coalition for Better Ads, are designed to improve the user experience across all devices, making it easier for brands to deliver engaging storytelling through user-friendly formats.
Storytelling may be nothing new, but it’s something all brands must revisit. With programmatic creative delivering personalised hyper-relevant messaging, multi-device advertising providing opportunities for added depth and interactivity. And, with improving industry standards encouraging the adoption of innovative formats, there’s really no reason today’s advertisers can’t return to engaging brand storytelling. The end.