Storytelling


Last year The Cannes Awards saw many examples of brands trying to “do good business by doing good”. I expect this year there will again be many awards entries that aim to engender brand loyalty by being good corporate citizens. Aurora commissioned me to write a piece about this undoubtedly  big trend.

I have taken an historical perspective to explain why brands adopted “higher purpose branding” covering- 19th century philanthropy, challenger brand thinking courtesy of Adam Morgan and finally looking at the influence of big tech and social media. Brands covered include – The Body Shop, Dove, Google, Microsoft and Uber

A word doc is here which may be easier to read  HPB final

 

 

Page 29

 

Page 30

 

Unknownis the title of a new book by Paul Feldwick about the history of thinking about how to create effective advertising. It is short, clearly written (as you would expect of PF) and full of fascinating stories.
Any one in the biz should read it.
Some of the things found interesting
Many people in the biz do not know this history.

Often this results in practices not being critically examined. “Creative briefs” (which most agencies use) contain phrases like “Target Audience”,”What is the single thing we what to say ?” and “what are the reasons to believe ?” that come from an era when people (Like Rosser Reeves) thought that we actively processed information and should be targeted individually  Two things.  1) We now know -thanks to Kahneman,Robert Heath and others- that a great deal of comprehension is rapid, instinctive, subconscious and depends heavily on context. “The Creative Brief’ may be mechanism we use to have a rational discourse about advertising so that we can design it, but in practice that is not how it will work when people see it. As important as ” the proposition” are creating associations that attach themselves to a brand through imagery, music,stories and characters.   A lot of people know this. But we engage in a “benign conspiracy” to let the creative people have their way. The ads may work but often not in the way we pretend they work when we are in meetings.

In recent years a lot of work has been done to prove that emotion and fame in advertising work better than rational persuasion (See Binet and Field excellent reviews of the IPA effectiveness awards). This has surely helped Adam and Eve sell their recent work to John Lewis. Rational folk (most clients who have to report to boards, also rational) now have an evidence based case for backing emotion and storytelling over rational propositions ( or at least ensuring that the propositional works is separate but integrated.). But in spite of this many persist with the old rationally based tools for developing the ads. In my experience of teaching this is because many time pressed agency executives have either not the time or the inclination to get acquainted with this large body of work from the IPA

The story I found most interesting is how the idea of advertising as rational and consciously processed came to be promoted by the likes of Rooser Reeves and acronyms like AIDA. It was a reaction against the toxic argument that admen were engaged in subconscious manipulation put about by a muck racking journalist called Vance Packard in his book The Hidden Persuaders. 

The 50s and 60s was a time of paranoia in American life and the last thing the admen wanted was to be associated with skulduggery- or a power that could be put to evil purposes. “Motivational Research” was hot in the 1950s. It purported to uncover our subconscious drives but it became a dirty word. The admen closed ranks and colluded in the idea that everything was above board and if any manipulation was going on it was just a form of creative charm magicked up by the creative teams.

Understanding that communication works in lots of different ways and that no one theory is complete is Paul Feldwick’s theme.

It is a good warning against endism as well. The arrival of a new technology or new medium ( such as the internet, or mobile or the Internet of things) always causes some pundits to announce the death of the old way of doing things and a new beginning with new rules.  Paul anatomised this mentality as The Year Zero Narrative and i have heard it a lot among digital folk over the past 10 years. It takes the form not of argument but assertion that ad agency people “just don’t get it”, that “people have fundamentally changed” and are “empowered” and so communication works differently. Now, I think that it is true that there has been radical democratisation of power that has changed the culture and context in which brands operate. Brands do need to offer value to “the empowered” more than before – mobile apps, good service, click and collect delivery etc etc. So there is a big change in behaviour and use of devices and services.

But this is not the same as saying that there has been a fundamental change in human nature and how we process information.

TV advertising is in rude health. Yet it is worth recalling that digital evangelists (about 10 years ago)  predicted the death of “Interruption” at the hand of empowered people using the web and the likes of Sky+ to avoid ads. So perhaps we still like well told stories with wit, characters and music and are prepared to entertain well designed commercial messages.

Calling this “interruption” was a way of dismissing it by giving it an unattractive label. It is an assertion.  But it is not an evidenced based argument.

If you believed the pundits 10 years ago  we should all now be suffering from a form of collective attention deficit disorder – yet we now like multi episode boxed sets. I have just spent several days worth of my life in immersed the world of Breaking Bad. Perhaps it is a reaction. All hyped trends have counter trends.

The Year Zero narrative also is practiced by people who have an interest in the dismissal of the established way. So the next time we read that everything has changed in the communications world at the hands of (say) mobile brandishing millennials or the internet of things we should pause and remember

1) The eternal latin/Italian question “cui bono?”

2) Nobody successful sold out a conference by saying not much has changed

 

This slide from a quantitive survey by Ipsos Mori came via slideshare

The full presentation is worth a read – it’s an easy read
Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 10.14.33
This is a worry – as most politicians will seek to trade on these perceptions rather that take a stand for the truth. They have learnt to go with the grain of beliefs rather than fight them, like the good brand marketers they have all become.

Interesting fact is that the one question we do get about right (across the world) is the one about our life expectancy, which might tell us something about narcissism and/or our eternal pre-occupation with our own mortality.

Other interesting fact is that Italy comes out first as the most ignorant nation and we don’t too badly-just ignorant.

Matisse is the perfect artist for Tate modern. He already adorns a thousand pieces of merchandise from greetings cards to mugs so he is a good generator of  extra revenue through the well-positioned and well-stocked gift shop that (with Ikea like ruthlessness)you have to pass through as you exit the show.

He is joyfully easy to understand and has the mass appeal which exactly fits the Tate modern’s mission to convert modern art from being something for high minded elites into a mass cultural experience and driver of the tourism market.

He also has a great back story. These cut outs were created in the last 20 years of his life when he was increasingly sick and frail. They are a bright energetic and optimistic antidote to gloom, greyness and the dying of the light. A lesson for all those marketing to seniors and the grey market.

Like Elizabeth David and Sir Terence Conran he seems to me to have captured the zeitgeist atScan 2Scan 3 the right time – bringing a blast of bright mediterranean light, design and freshness to gloomy 50s’ Britain.

EM Forster

EM Forster

One of the shortest explanations of our profound need for stories comes from EM Forster,

with these two lines

“The King died , and the queen died”

” The King died , and the queen died of grief”

The first line plays to our deepest fears – that life is just a series of random events. You are born and  you die and not much between is certain or fated – except perhaps ( as Woody Allen pointed out ) taxes. No. that won’t do – we need there to be some meaning and for events to be linked with causation  and patterns to give us the feeling that we can make sense of randomness. Which is why we do not just like stories, we need them. Stories are necessary lies.

The second line is also- whilst longer-much more memorable because it is the fragment of a story we can both participate in it and use it to conjure up mental pictures- In this case of grief and what grief looks like.

No wonder that  proselytisers of religions  and  marketers of brands (who are  is in the business of both imparting meaning and being  remembered) use stories.

 

There are emerging trends and then there are fully emerged trends

If you take the  Cannes 2013 awards as a guide  then the idea that brands should take on public spirited causes is now a fully emerged trend

I mean by this not just a commitment to being responsible  in the way they do business. No this is something altogether more high profile.

In this years  awards many of the award winners- a majority perhaps- were companies communicating how they are working on behalf of citizens and championing public spirited causes

Such as these campaigns

  • IBM making billboards into seats and shelters for weary travellers.
  • Dela Dela Funeral Insurance encouraging us to be nice to relatives, before they die.
  • Channel 4 saluting Paralympic athletes.
  • Smart Communications providing textbooks for poor schoolchildren using old mobile phones.
  • Dove encouraging women to value their own beauty.
  • Oreo cookies celebrating diversity.
  • Recife Football Club encouraging organ donation.
  • P&G has become the worlds proud sponsor of mums ( that last one is quite a turnaround- when i started in the biz they were an anonymous chemical company)

What is the thinking behind this? It is  based on the belief that people don’t just buy what you do, they also buy why you do it.

Put another way the model is this-

“Love my values,

Love my brand,

Buy my product or service ( at a premium)”

Is it working ? Well Nielsen have just published some research that suggests that it does –

The proportion of consumers willing to pay more for goods and services from companies engaged in corporate social responsibility has increased to 50% globally, according to new research.
The study from market researchers Nielsen also found that 43% of global respondents have actually spent more on products and services from companies that have implemented programmes to give back to society.
That represents just 7% fewer than those expressing willingness to do so and comes amidst signs of a rising trend of goodwill towards socially responsible brands.
Credit should go to Unilever with their 5 levers of change and to the Dove team- the big players who were at in the start of this recent trend .
But i don’t think they invented it – “Love my values love my brand” marketing is really a classic challenger brand strategy as explained by Adam Morgan in Eating the Big Fish. People who pioneered this trend go further back like the late and highly visionary Anita Roddick with The Body Shop. It is just that the rest of the marketing world has taken a long time to catch up with Anita
Roddick was well ahead of her time - a true pioneer

Roddick was well ahead of her time – a true pioneer

But why this trend now ? Like a lot of emerged trends, There is not just one factor but a combination
– Follow my leader: when Unilever and P&G do something big time, others follow
– Marketing and business theory. John Kay in Obliquity and Jim Stengel in Grow have made the business performance case ; Companies that purely pursue profits ( aka The Shareholder Value School)  do less well than those who try to do the right thing. And sometimes doing the right thing means championing causes.
-Staff motivation: people are not just motivated by money. They prefer to work at and perform better at places ( private or public sector) that pursue a higher purpose.
-Customer service: Staff who are believers (and not just mercenaries) deliver better service. Companies like John Lewis for example.
– Premium pricing – if Mintel is right we pay more to companies that give back to society
– Communications effectiveness; It gives a company or brand a true story to tell – one that is worth telling in film (still the most moving of media) and a story to  pass on through networks and through social media. Stories worth talking about and participating in.