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The power of storytelling in advertising

Some people believe there are only seven distinct storylines - overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth - from which all stories are written. Others, like Georges Polti, believe there are as many as thirty six dramatic situations.
Kevin Kleynhans
However many there are doesn't really matter.What matters is that as humans, we live, breathe and eat stories. We use them to illustrate, educate, explain, motivate, inspire, warn, forgive and above all, to pass our legacy on. Stories are the closest thing to immortality we have.

Author Julian Barnes once said: "Human beings are machines designed for storytelling. From body language to syntax, from inflection to timing, we're the perfect shape and form for utilising this amazing art form".

To me, some stories are universal. It doesn't matter where you come from, what language you speak or who or what you believe in, some stories transcend all boundaries and are as true and as powerful today as they were two thousand years ago, in the case of the bible; or five thousand years ago, in the case of the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

To me, storytelling as a means of communication will never go out of fashion. The argument that digital, the internet and 360 degree advertising has made storytelling obsolete is stupid. I believe that today, storytelling is more important than ever.

Look at some of the most memorable South African television commercials of recent times and you'll realise that they all have one thing in common, they tell a story, brilliantly.

The young boy who heroically protects a girl from school bullies at great sacrifice to himself, strikes a chord with the hero in everyone. And then, when we realise it's because he knows she's going to be beautiful when she grows up, we laugh at ourselves and cheer him on.

The car lover who gets upset when a cyclist has the temerity to put his hand on his precious possession, and then exacts sweet revenge.

The little boy in the mountains of Afghanistan who tastes his first coke and wonders if his first kiss is going to be so sweet.

The recent DSTV commercials where no words are spoken, but the most wonderful human interactions between man and wife, brother and brother, mother and daughter, take place in front of the television.

This is storytelling in its finest form. Simple, visual, universal in appeal, yet commanding audience attention through participation and empathy, and the reward of all good storytelling - a pleasant surprise.

And storytelling is not restricted to television, radio and AV. Look at the Hunt Lascaris work for Land Rover a few years ago. Where Mount Fuji was a bump in the road and a driver was unrecognisable at a border post by his passport because he'd been away so long. No copy, the picture tells the story.

Apparently this kind of print advertising started in Brazil because the CD, knowing that most judges were English-speaking, started doing print ads that needed no copy. Once again, telling a universal story.

The plethora of inane radio commercials where a husband comes home and remarks on the wonderful blinds, or two women discuss the merits of a particular washing powder in glowing terms are not stories. Because they have no basis in reality or truth. People don't talk to each other like that, and people don't tell stories like that. If they did, no-one would listen to them anyway.

I'll leave it to John Hegarty, one of the greatest storytellers of all time, to have the last word:

"Probably the most powerful form of communication we have at our disposal is storytelling. It has been incorporated by virtually every civilization into their culture. It is the simplest, most memorable device we have for engaging, learning, entertaining and persuading. It's not surprising that so many great advertising campaigns are based around this simple device."

Roering Creative Kin's press office