When you think about creating a well-branded piece of advertising, what comes to mind? Audio/visual sync? An easy-to-read logo? A clear view of the package?
While all of these are indeed useful creative techniques, marketers sometimes overlook the value of using storytelling as a branding technique.
For centuries humans have survived and passed on their core values and beliefs through the oral tradition of storytelling around the campfire. Branded advertising is a form of storytelling, and the brand should be tightly woven into the narrative structure of the commercial so that the rational and emotional payoff of the message is associated with the brand.
To ensure your brand gets credit for your message, it should play an integral role in the story. Put simply, the role of the brand should be clear and essential to the action. While the brand doesn’t have to be the center of attention all of the time, it should never be an afterthought. If viewers can play back the commercial in their own words without referring to the brand, then it isn’t well integrated into the narrative structure of the commercial —which means the brand may not get credit for the advertising message.
This Amazon Prime ad is a great illustration of brand/narrative integration. In it, a father needs to find a quick way to make the new baby warm up to the family dog. The solution: a lion costume ordered and delivered quickly via Amazon Prime. After you watch the ad, try describing it to a friend. I bet you can’t help but mention Amazon as part of the story.
Creating Brand Drama
Leo Burnett, a renowned ad man, was intent on finding the “inherent drama” of the product. He believed that every brand had some connection to people’s lives that could be made into a good story. And the best stories create dramatic tension—for example, the struggle between good and evil. In this story, structure advertisers deliberately evoke negative emotions at the beginning of a commercial in order to make the ultimate promise of the brand seem more dramatic and larger than life. The great villain creates the hero. However, the key to this approach is to resolve the negative emotion and ensure that the brand receives the credit for the change in emotional state.
In a commercial of this type, there should be a key moment in the action—an emotional pivot point—when emotions turn from negative to positive or down to up. This moment represents a significant branding opportunity. It’s the point in the drama when the brand gets to play the hero. From a branding standpoint, this climactic moment is when the identity of the brand should be clearly in the center of the viewer’s attention.
This Orbit ad uses a humorous/disgusting approach to show how effective the gum is at cleaning up a dirty mouth. It is a perfect example of using negative emotion to tell a story and position the brand as a hero.
Would the story work well if the ad started by immediately showing a package of Orbit gum? Definitely not. By intentionally withholding the category until after we see the “problem,” Orbit’s entrance is much more impactful.
There are four main storytelling structures commonly used in advertising: emotional pivot, positive transition, reveal and sustained. Each structure presents the brand’s role in a different way. In this article, we looked at an emotional pivot, where the brand is the center of the action. We’ll address the other structures in a future article.
So the next time you’re watching an ad, try playing back the story to see if the brand plays an integral role. And remember that you don’t have to be constrained to showing the logo repeatedly to ensure your brand gets credit for your message.