Leveraging the Seven Basic Story Types For Video Ads

According to author Christopher Booker, there are seven basic plots for stories, and nearly every tale we tell falls into one of those categories. By definition this extends to advertising, especially story-driven media like TV and online video.

But the type of story marketers choose to tell can have a big impact on how their video ads perform. An internal PointRoll study pulled nearly 1,000 video campaigns at random and found that interaction rates, completion rates, and click-through rates varied depending on the kind of story told in the video ad.

Here’s a guide to the seven kinds of stories, as well as what to expect performance-wise when working within each category (for creative examples, consult this roundup).

Overcoming the Monster

This is the classic underdog story, and it’s one of the most popular storylines, accounting for more ads in our study than any other category (and more impressions). Overcoming the monster videos also scored very highly on several video KPIs, driving interaction rates higher than most other kinds of plots, while achieving favorable completion rates. Click-throughs, while not necessarily the best indication of performance, were also noteworthy in this category, scoring the second highest rate among the seven story types. When you look at the different verticals that used this kind of story, pharmaceutical and travel scored the highest levels of interaction.


This tells the story of renewal. It was one of the least popular storyline types, but was popular in healthcare, pharma and professional services. Rebirth ads were the middle of the road when it came to the study, finishing in the bottom half for completion rate, interactions and click-throughs. Rebirth is a difficult idea to leverage. It may work for health-related campaigns, but it’s not always a good fit performance-wise.


Quest stories should be very familiar to anyone whose evening routine involves inventing bedtime stories for their children where a hero travels from point A to point B. Quest videos were far and away the best when it comes to click-throughs, scoring a 0.8% CTR. Quest videos also scored second highest for interaction, showing that viewers are clearly attracted to the creative and are mousing over it. Clicks are becoming less important in advertising circles, but if the goal is to use video to drive awareness or site traffic, then quest-themed creative makes sense.

Journey & Return

This is pretty straightforward: a story about transformation through a journey and then homecoming. These videos scored very well in completion rate. More than 40% of viewers watched the first 25% of the video, which was a good mark, and journey and return stories are really good at getting viewers to stick around. Just shy of 30% of viewers watched a video to the end, the second highest mark in the study. Consider this creative type if you’re looking to drive completions.

Rags to Riches

Rags to riches storytelling is about rising from the ashes to achieve prominence, and it’s a very interesting example when you look at the performance metrics. Rags to riches videos had the lowest performance for CTR and the second-lowest interaction rate. But somewhat amazingly, these story lines were far and away the best performers for completion rate. Nearly half of viewers watched the first quarter of a video, and 35% watched all the way through. In fact, viewers were more likely to watch a rags to riches video ad in its entirety than they were to watch the first quarter of a comedy or tragedy video (more on those in a second).


Advertising is supposed to make people feel a connection with a product, and sometimes that requires a story about the dark side of humanity and the futile nature of human experience. It’s not a popular category, and was the least represented in the study. It should come as no surprise that tragedy videos were some of the worst performing as well, with the lowest interaction rate, and near the bottom in terms of completion rate. Probably best to avoid this category, no matter the vertical or KPI goals.


Fortunately, tragedy has a flipside -- we’ve seen lots of ads integrate comedy. The Nielsen Global Survey of Trust in Advertising found that humorous advertising resonates with consumers more than other kinds, and the findings from our independent study back that up. Comedy videos had the highest interaction rate by far, nearly two percentage points greater than the runner-up. Comedy came in near the bottom of the pack in completion rate, showing that what drives interactions doesn’t necessarily equate to holding the viewer’s attention for a long period. So, if deciding on comedy, weigh the importance of those two KPIs to the overall campaign.

Video excels at storytelling, and we’re being admittedly simple in putting every piece of video creative into a box. But the type of story has an impact on how consumers respond to the message. With so much investment going into the media buy and the creative itself, it’s important for marketers to know as much as they can about potential response going in. Keep these results in mind when crafting your creative.

2 comments about "Leveraging the Seven Basic Story Types For Video Ads".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, November 26, 2013 at 12:12 p.m.

    With all due respect to Mr. Booker, he left out the only two story lines I ever see these days: fear and envy.

  2. Bill Brazell from WIT Strategy, December 2, 2013 at 3:25 p.m.

    With all respect due to you, Mike Einstein, 'fear' and 'envy' are feelings, not plots. They can *drive* a plot -- and often do -- but are not, in themselves, plots.

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