Friday, December 4, 2009

Storytelling, Part 2 - You Must BE the Story

On the same day that I posted my thoughts about how storytelling alone was not enough in an advertising message, I spotted the following tweet from Gennefer Snowfield (@Gennefer), one of the people I enjoy following on Twitter:

After pointing her to my post (in a completely self-serving gesture) we had a brief but stimulating chat about the issue. She concluded: “At the core, I think we're saying similar things. Even a good story needs a strategy. Let's call them advertising parables!”

In that exchange, Gennefer also made a reference to the late-80s TV campaign for Nescafe Gold Blend as being an example of spots that both entertained and sold. I remembered those spots…and I remembered the buzz they created at the time. News coverage at the time reported that they had totally captivated the U.K. And here in the U.S. – within ad agency circles at least – they were for a time the hot topic (topics never stay hot for long within ad agency circles).

Revisiting some of the commercials in the campaign ( I was struck by the one key ingredient to the mix that I had left out of my earlier post (in which I did not say storytelling didn’t work, just that it was not enough – you have to sell, too): the product was inextricably tied to the story.

And that led me to remember an article I'd once read about the legendary radio advertising team of Dick & Bert. Through the late '70s and early '80s, Dick Orkin and Bert Berdis brought fresh creative thinking to radio commercials for a long roster of clients, not the least of which was Time magazine.

They were playing on another level entirely. Note this story from The New York Times of June 11, 1981, noting that Dick & Bert had won Clios in 5 product categories when no other agency or production company had won more than two. >>

Anyway, I've always remembered one point Dick Orkin made in one of the many articles written about them at the time. He explained the first rule of their approach to writing a script: the humor had to spring from the product and the situation (today I believe we would say that's being “organic”). You couldn't simply through in a bunch of jokes and have a spot.

In fact, Orkin said, if you could remove the product from the script and have the jokes remain intact, you had failed.

What could easily happen today with the surge of interest in storytelling is to have stories in which the product is simply a bit player. I can easily imagine a spot where two older men, feeling marginalized by today's world, take off to the woods and lakes of Minnesota for a weekend of fishing. There they ponder their respective roads not taken, reflect on the days of their youth and ultimately agree that life is still pretty great. And when it's over, we see the logo for a manufacturer of aluminum fishing boats.

Taking that approach is nothing more than a glorified product placement. But instead of giving your product a cameo in a movie or a TV show, you've done it in your own advertising!

So, following Dick Orkin's rule, if you can take the product or service out of your story and still have a's time to start over.

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