Consumers Remember Stories, Not Products

Do you remember anything at all when you watch ads -- or is the experience a hazy blur?  The fact is, consumers rarely remember a product -- they remember stories, which may inspire the use of the product. That element is what online advertising is lacking.

Two weeks ago I talked about the value of complementary storytelling vs. disruption. For advertising to be as effective as it can be, ad stories need to align with the content so that it, along with targeting, ensures relevance of the message in a way that elicits a response.  

I also want to remind advertisers to spend the extra time to tell a story that inspires consumers, rather than simply telling them about your product.  I don’t mean that all ads have to move you to tears.  I’m referring to inspiration in the manner of a quiet epiphany: that moment when the consumer says, “I get it – I could use that.”  Stories can be use cases, they can be outcomes, and they can be straightforward or clever.  Anything that gets the consumer thinking of how your story applies to them in a meaningful way will elicit the response you need.



When advertisers don’t take the time to tell a story and instead focus on the product itself, they’re basically creating an infomercial experience.  

It’s the difference between the most recent Prius ads from the SuperBowl and the FlexSeal ads I see all over ESPN recently.  The Prius ads are brilliant in how they reframe the car in a light that over time can truly affect the brand perception.  

In non-auto this has been attempted by brands like McDonalds and Starbucks, both with varying levels of success but regardless they recognize the path and are walking down it.  

On the flipside you have a brand like FlexSeal whose ads, while also effective, are the equivalent of “speeds and feeds” messaging in tech, simply displaying all the ways you can use the product.  The challenge is, they create a category without creating a brand.  

Even for this very article, I had to Google the term “liquid rubber” and scroll through the results to determine what the brand was for the omnipresent ads I kept seeing.  FlexSeal did not come to mind, though I found the product to be kind of awesome!

Too often online advertising adopts this “speeds and feeds” approach, talking about the product and the ways it can be used.  Everyone talks about storytelling, and everyone knows its value, but it’s not widely executed in a meaningful way.  The problem is due to time, budget and our own reliance on immediate metrics.

Marketers, while obviously recognizing the value in online, don’t like to spend the time on strategically developing the best ads for the medium.  When they do, they focus on awards rather than ROI, and when they do focus on ROI, they focus on immediate metrics like clicks and conversions, which all align with the product-oriented, direct-response approach a la infomercials.  

For online advertising to transform into stories, you need to take the time to do the work that leads to the story, which creates the epiphany.  You also have to make sure the experience is a good one, so you have to invest the money to create something that is beautiful.  You also have to focus on longer-term metrics, finding ways to tie the exposure back to some transaction metric, or an offline metric in the categories where that is a requirement.  

If you accept that you need more time, a slightly higher budget and a commitment for measurement in online that is similar to TV and other formats, then your results will be more story-focused and more likely to inspire the consumer.

Then maybe, just maybe, your consumers will remember your brand -- and the story will inspire them to become a customer.  And then maybe online ads will be awesome again (and, yes, they used to be awesome).

1 comment about "Consumers Remember Stories, Not Products".
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  1. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC, March 2, 2016 at 1:31 p.m.

    What most of us remember for years are the jingles.  Even a relative 7 years into dementia will break out singing, "Oh, I'd love to be an Oscar Mayer weiner!" I really should bring her a weiner costume, so she can entertain her floormates and visitors in the appropriate attire.

    or Munch, munch, munch a bunch of Fritos, corn chips.

    or Everyone knows it's Slinky.

    or You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the big, bright Texaco star.

    and many others.

    Those bits of music and rhythmically delivered copy are buried deeply, forever recallable, resistant even to the calcification of blood vessels in one's grey matter!

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