The power of story

Skimming through a women's mag recently, a perf-postcard impeded my flipping progress long enough for its 'World Premier!' beauty product offer to catch my eye. The copy left me giggling. The headline warns, 'If electromagnetic waves can penetrate walls, imagine what they can do to your skin.' Never fear, Clarins will protect you with Expertise 3P, a spray with 'super adapting powers against all types of pollution'. The copy reads like a superhero comic plot: 'Thermus Thermophillus from the ocean's depths and Rhodiola Rosea from the Siberian Cold. Together with free radical fighters, White Tea and Succory Dock-Cress, they form an advanced anti-pollution protection.' However, unlike a comic, there's no story here to engage me, and help suspend disbelief, so I won't be procuring my own age-defying force field with Anti-Electromagnetic Waves & Urban Pollution Screen Mist. It may be useful, but somehow it sounds more sci-fi than solution.

Skimming through a women’s mag recently, a perf-postcard impeded my flipping progress long enough for its ‘World Premier!’ beauty product offer to catch my eye. The copy left me giggling. The headline warns, ‘If electromagnetic waves can penetrate walls, imagine what they can do to your skin.’ Never fear, Clarins will protect you with Expertise 3P, a spray with ‘super adapting powers against all types of pollution’. The copy reads like a superhero comic plot: ‘Thermus Thermophillus from the ocean’s depths and Rhodiola Rosea from the Siberian Cold. Together with free radical fighters, White Tea and Succory Dock-Cress, they form an advanced anti-pollution protection.’ However, unlike a comic, there’s no story here to engage me, and help suspend disbelief, so I won’t be procuring my own age-defying force field with Anti-Electromagnetic Waves & Urban Pollution Screen Mist. It may be useful, but somehow it sounds more sci-fi than solution.

The marketer on our cover, though, took a category that can also get jargony, and folded diverse messages into one simple, engaging storyline. Which is likely why Jim Little got the nod from his peers as strategy’s Marketer of the Year. Herding all the business units and powers that be at Bell to rally behind a converged campaign starring beavers had rocky moments, but has resonated with consumers and is building results. Frank and Gordon help inspire trust – which is a good thing whether you’re selling beauty serum or mobile gizmos.

One of the other top marketers has also managed to harness the power of story. Campbell’s Mark Childs’ most visible efforts include product and merchandising innovation, and more recently, a new ad campaign that reflects Canada’s multicultural mosaic. However, the story spinning behind the brand rejuvenation was focused on building enthusiasm within the marketing team. And Childs has now engaged them all in furthering the plot.

Way before Rolf Jenson wrote The Dream Society, successful brand builders have known how to harness the power of story to engage imagination. Folks who trekked to Toronto’s Marketing Hall of Legends gala were treated to some interesting anecdotes illustrating just that, as the Legends reminisced on their brandbuilding heydays. McDonald’s Canada founder George Cohon talked about the nature of marketing, describing it as any and all forms of communication from TV ads to speeches, concluding with ‘it’s telling your story.’ And in some cases, embodying that story. As per Cohon: ‘I’ve lived this brand for 40 years.’

And some of the proudest stories seem to come from doing good. McDonald’s has a long history of philanthropy, most notably, Ronald McDonald House. It also has a history of getting the hairy eyeball from health advocates, so now the golden arches gang is focusing on encouraging active lifestyles. Logic decrees that deploying the communications power that can make me crave an egg o’ muffin even after I’ve eaten, can capture kids’ imagination and turn it to active fun.

In fact, brands have had a lot of success in changing behaviour, sometimes just by framing a message in a call to action. Folks who ignore government admonitions to save energy will use the Cold Water Tide savings coupon that comes in their energy bill. Now more brands are using the Force of their advertising power for good. Such as Dove’s new campaign praising older women. As the entries come in for our new Cause + Action awards, I can attest to the significant efforts out there and to the considerable pride in them.

So, while everyone explores the next shiny new thing, like RFID-related consumer intimacy, at the end of the day, connecting is about having a story, like Frank and Gordon, that captures the consumer’s imagination. And it’s about the storytellers living the brand. And, increasingly, it’s about the plot containing a social themed story line or two.

And as my grandmother always used to say: ‘If it sounds like a lie, don’t tell it.’

Cheers,mm Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy/MIC