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Video | 11 minutes read

5 ads built on powerful storylines that will win you over

Author: Peter Kajan

14. July 2021

Our love of stories begins when we are small children and is usually nurtured by our parents and teachers. This enjoyment does not disappear when we enter the adult world. Our passion for good stories lasts a lifetime. That is why more and more brands are building their ads on storylines that create emotional connections with customers.

Our ancestors created stories that explained what was happening around them and we have inherited rich myths, legends, and tales. Human beings have a deep-seated need to understand the world, and many stories have helped us to do this. They allow us to orient ourselves in this chaos and make our lives more meaningful, enjoyable, and a little easier.

There are several theories that stories can be divided into several groups. For example, the writer Christopher Booker worked for thirty-four years on "The Seven Basic plots," in which he claims that all the stories that have ever been told can be divided into 7 basic plots:

  1. Defeating the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

These plots or storylines are increasingly being used in ads. Only the context and content change, so often we do not even realize that one ad uses the same basic plot as another. Even all of the popular Disney films use this formula, as discussed in our article, Disney fairy tales contain a recurring pattern.

When creating a story for an ad, the product itself must of course be a major consideration. However, it is also important to focus on the values, interests and needs of your target group or market. What does your audience want or need? What is missing from their lives? If you can answer these and other relevant questions correctly the power of the story will be unlocked, and the audience will be glued to the screen. Let us look at a few examples of brands that have built their ads on stories in a brilliant way.

# Be happy with who you are

The Dove brand can be proud of their successful use of storytelling. The company listened to its target group, and it understands their desires. Dove can lay claim to being the first brand that stepped out of the usual pattern of promotion of cosmetic products. Unlike the big ads that make statements about what they think women need (such as "glossy hair", "flawless beauty", etc.), Dove communicates the message that every woman is lovely and should be happy with who she is.

Back in 2006, the brand launched their Evolution campaign which drew attention to the unrealistic nature of the ideals of beauty promoted by the media. A few months ago, Dove created a sequel to this campaign. This one focusses on a more current issue: fake beauty on social media. The spot, Reverse Selfie from Ogilvy's workshop, shows the story of a little girl who is trapped in the artificial world of social networking. The heroine introduces herself to us in the form of a highly edited photograph and she gradually reveals all the filters that were used in her creation.

Dove draws attention to the harmful effects social media has on girls' self-image and self-esteem

Dove video campaigns go against the current trends and narratives in their industry. Specifically, they often portray the toxic nature of the cosmetics industry and the unrealistic expectations and demands around beauty. They do not promise that their customers will be more beautiful if they use their products. Importantly, the brand understands their customer’s desire to be satisfied with – and accepted for – how they are.

But which of Christopher Booker's plots does Dove use in their campaigns?

It is a story of rags to riches with, in Dove’s case, self-acceptance as the treasure gained. This plot is used in so many stories that we love including Cinderella, Aladdin, and many others where the hero or heroine gain something of great value.

#The cruel work of Ralph the rabbit

The animated spot "Save Ralph" won the hearts of all of us in the Mynd studio. This spot highlights the horrendous reality of cosmetic product testing on animals. The video was part of the worldwide campaign by the Humane Society International which calls for an end to animal testing. The spot depicts a rabbit called Ralph describing his work. The video uses a documentary style as Ralph talks in an upbeat way about how he helps people, but gradually the horrifying reality of what rabbits like him must endure is revealed.

The spot documents a day in the life of Ralph, a test rabbit

This campaign created an enormous stir on the Internet. It pulled heart strings and captured the attention of not only ordinary people but also of institutions that have the power to make the necessary changes to stop this cruelty.

As with the Dove ads, this campaign also goes against the usual trends. Animal welfare organizations often use a more aggressive approach and use detailed photographs of suffering animals in their campaigns. They undoubtedly generate a reaction in the viewer, but most of us prefer to look away. The "Save Ralph" campaign opted for a subtler format, and the combination of world-class animation and detailed storytelling was a success. People can easily identify and engage with a cute rabbit, so this story will make a deep impression on them.

Which of Christopher Booker storylines is used in the “Save Ralph” campaign?

This campaign uses the classic Tragedy formula in which the protagonist is destroyed by a fatal flaw in his character or a cruel twist of fate. William Shakespeare used this in many of his plays, most notably in “Macbeth”, “Hamlet”, and “Othello”.

#Rare Moments

No article about using storytelling in advertising would be complete without a discussion of the John Lewis brand. These are ads that people wait for, search for, and want to watch. I am sure we all remember at least one ad, probably a Christmas one, that made us feel good.

But John Lewis' non seasonal ads are also highly engaging. This is illustrated extremely well by a spot called “Tiny Dancer”, which deals with the usually boring topic of insurance. In the ad a little girl dances and whirls her way around the house, posing a danger to a range of household items. Whether you have children or not, this ad engages viewers who used to be like this little girl, know someone similar, or are simply drawn in by the humour and energy. The atmosphere of the advertisement is enhanced by a nostalgic soundtrack.

The little girl takes delight in her dance performance throughout the house

The ad implies that the value of childhood and the pursuits of children are things we should appreciate and that parents do not need to worry if they have insurance from John Lewis. The slogan at the end enforces the message that they care about the viewer and what is precious to him and his family.

The “Tiny Dancer” campaign also follows one of Christopher Booker's plots, but which one?

This time it is the fifth of Booker's seven plots: Comedy. These plots often involve some misunderstanding or confusion that leads to happy chaos. The dancer is a mini whirlwind, and we watch as items sway or fall and we expect something to be damaged or destroyed. But the ending is triumphant for the dancer and the ad brings a smile to our faces.

#Technologies that grab the heart

It seems highly unlikely that a love story could be woven into an ad for accounting software. Afterall, where is the romance in accounting? The following video shows that they can be a perfect marriage!

The American brand Intuit, which is behind well-known services such as Turbo Tax and Mint, launched this engaging animated story in 2018. It shows how one can prosper and enrich one’s life if one uses technology.

A robot that helps a florist to rescue and grow his business… and find love

The animated spot shows a young inventor who creates a robot to help her friend rescue his failing flower shop. The ad for this brand shows the amazing opportunities for prosperity and freedom that one can achieve when using their software.

Which Christopher Booker plot is at work in the Intuit campaign?

It is the one the author calls, Overcoming the monster. This archetype has its roots in ancient classics and biblical stories such as David and Goliath. The protagonist sets out to defeat some great threat or evil. In this case, the young inventor creates a robot that comes to the rescue of her friend the florist as he struggles to survive against large competitors and mountains of paperwork.

#Welcome home

Storytelling in Apple's campaign is also worth mentioning. The spot shows a young woman who returns home exhausted and emotionally low after a long day at work and activates her Home Pod. By uttering a simple sentence, "Siri, play me something I’ll like", her depressing day turns into a magical experience full of colour and movement.

In this ad, Apple shows that an average evening can become an amazing experience thanks to Home Pod

According to Christopher Booker's book, what plot can we find in Apple's campaign?

This ad makes use of the "Journey and Return" plot, which features in well-known fairy tales such as Alice in Wonderland and The Lion King. The hero enters a magical or strange land where unfamiliar rules and laws operate. He triumphs and returns home better and stronger than before. In this case, it is a young woman who returns from the magical world introduced to her by her Apple device. When she is back in her normal apartment, she is changed as her mood is now positive and energised.

What to add?

All the above examples of storytelling show one thing clearly. People do not just want a product or service. They also want the feeling they will get from it. With a timeless and powerful tool such as storytelling, you can effectively convey feelings and emotional experiences to the viewer along with information.

Harvard Marketing Professor Theodore Levitt put it succinctly: "People don't want a six-millimetre drill. They want a six-millimetre hole." The products are just a means to an end. For example, women buy Dove products to gain a sense of well-being and Intuit financial software offers customers business growth and freedom. If you also want to tell a brand or product story through video, don't hesitate to contact us.

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