Storytelling through the years

26 Jul,2012

By Shubhangi Mehta


The trend of storytelling in an ad began with actors in the campaign sharing a fictional story that connected with the masses and now taking it a step ahead, advertisers are trying to connect directly with the masses and asking them to tell their original stories in the campaign.


Storytelling commercials capture the emotional side of an audience.

How beautiful or charming your story is depends on the imagination of the creator. How beautifully and effortlessly it’s told, depends on the media plan.

Some stories need more time, some don’t. While one understands that media comes at a price, one often forgets that the  poorly told story, even if it fits the budget perfectly, is money down the drain as it won’t reap half the rewards as a beautifully told story will.


KV Sridhar

As KV Sridhar, NCD, Leo Burnett India, explains, stories are a “means of communicating to the world in an interesting manner and advertisements are no different. The only challenge is to tell a story in 30-60 seconds. Products have become brands and household names because of use of this concept in our commercials. The concept provides a benefit for the brand as it establishes an emotional connect with the consumers, it’s not just a sales message, but about narrating a story. In other words, we can regard a story as a sugar coated medicine. Initially, story telling in commercials was a one way process -brands created a virtual story to connect with the masses – but today it has become a two-way communication. And due to the popularity of social media – Facebook, Twitter – it’s become easier to interact with the consumer. Brands no more control the story, consumers do.”


Sumanto Chattopadhyay, ECD, Ogilvy & Mather, cites an example: “Pond’s created a very successful series of TV commercial a few years ago. It was a love triangle starring Priyanka Chopra, Saif Ali Khan and Neha Dhupia. These episodic films spun a classic love story with all the trademark melodrama of a top-rated TV serial.”


Sumanto Chattopadhyay

The only downside of episodic commercials is the high budget required to make and air multiple TV spots. But if made with skill and backed by deep pockets, they can be a worthwhile investment. The international trend in contemporary popular culture is marked by a penchant for realism combined with a desire for the limelight.


From reality shows that hunt for talent to advertising that is crowd-sourced, it is all about letting people step into the light to tell their own stories in their own voice. Andy Warhol was prescient when, decades ago, he said: “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” Today, that is the mantra of many – offering the people the chance to have their names, faces and stories in the spotlight – which is also a shrewd strategy for brand success. The resulting authenticity has an inherent appeal to the modern mindset.


Storytelling is the means by which our culture has been passed down

Storytelling is the means by which our culture has been passed down from one generation to the next. Sometimes, through stories expressed verbally by our elders; at other times through pictures drawn on cave walls and later through sophisticated dance drama. So it is hardly surprising that we took like ducks to water to story telling in movies, TV serials and TV commercials.


Rahul Matthew, ECD, McCann Erickson said: “Storytelling, to get a point or ideology across, is not a creation of advertising. Stories have been used forever to sell ideologies, morals, and wisdom to people. Panchtantra or Mahabharata are all illustrations of the same. The only difference is that in advertising we use it to sell brands. It’s probably because story-telling makes anything less preachy and we’re always ready to hear a good story. A story also makes things more relate-able since it borrows from life; the same life that our brands and products have to be a part of. This so-called real story-telling has always been there. What’s called testimonials is just that. We used to use models to give the impression of a real-life consumer sharing his/her experiences with the product. And today instead of models we are recruiting real consumers to tell us what they feel or think.”


Mr Matthew further states that it’s more a reflection of a change in consumer behaviour than a change in advertising: “We are reaching out to reviews from unknown people through blogs/social media to make our choices, and at the same time proactively sharing our views for others to consume. And advertising has always merely reflected consumer behaviour.”


Minakshi Achan, co-founder, Salt Brand Solutions feels that storytelling has kept us riveted for centuries as it is part of popular culture and has shaped and defined us for the longest time through religion, entertainment, history and music. “Brands have simply adopted the art and used it to tell stories and shed light about their products and services. There is no better way to connect with your consumers and the greatest of brands know the profound impact it has on people. Brands are the greatest story tellers and if you count religion itself as a brand, we know the power of story telling, and the continued effect on us. The big change has not been in the concept of storytelling, but in the way we communicate because of the platforms available to us. In the yester world, there were no platforms for two-way communication or rather it was difficult to do so. Today’s world is open and the exchange and engagement with a consumer is far easier. Far greater possibilities exist thanks to social media – whether it is the internet or mobile,” she added.


Co-creation is the new way

Consumers have stories to tell and today brands can listen to them and have their contribution to impact their brands. This apart, the stories are more real, straight from the horse’s mouth, which lend great credibility to brands. Since the engagement models have changed, I think there is far more meaningful conversations possible today, feels Ms Achan.


All in all, we can say that stories surely are for everyone and quite naturally work across categories and consumer types. The length of time, the canvas of the medium may change but the premise is the same, and the objective for brands is just to impact the brand and consumers with this format. Whether it s a 3-hour movie or a 30 second commercial, the principles of storytelling remains.



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