Today, consumers are bombarded with numerous messages through multiple screens (TV, mobile, etc.) and it’s a challenge for marketers to cut through the clutter and build an emotional connect with consumers. Storytelling is an age-old technique to build an emotional connect with consumers and pull at their wallet, by pulling at their heart strings. Marketers typically use one of the following seven storytelling archetypes:
1. Overcoming the monster
2. Rags to riches
3. The quest
4. Voyage and return
While, we can all intuitively agree on the power of storytelling, there is little evidence that empirically quantifies the impact of brand storytelling.
So, we investigated the impact of story-telling when used in television commercials.
Tata Group analysed TVCs that were evaluated using the Nielsen neuroscience approach – this technique captures the non-conscious responses of 1410 consumers to TVCs, measured through medical-grade EEG (electroencephalogram) system consisting of 32 sensors that track neurological activity. These sensors collect data 500 times a second, to capture activity across key regions of the brain.
The intent of this study was two-fold:
1. Quantify the impact of storytelling when used in TVC’s (television commercials)
2. Identify storytelling principles that marketers could use to improve the efficiency of their TVC’s.
The human brain can process a “storytelling” TVC more efficiently, than a non-storytelling TVC. Storytelling TVC’s follows a fixed structure that the brain has experienced in the past, and hence processes it quickly. This means higher engagement with the TVC, resulting in higher levels of brand cut through and emotional connect, that lead to believability and persuasion.
Finding #1: Brand cut-through
TVC’s that used storytelling approach had a 20% greater brand cut through as compared to TVC’s without a storytelling narrative. This translates to a greater chance of the consumers forming long-term associations with the brand. This is extremely important as it enable a TVC to stand out in the ever-increasing world of media clutter. Brand cut through was measured by memory activation and attention processing.
Finding #2: Emotional Connect
Storytelling TVCs had a significantly higher emotional connect, than non-storytelling TVCs, resulting in higher positive disposition and motivation towards the brand and its message. This was measured by emotional motivation.
Finding #3: Believability
Storytelling TVC’s were five times, more likely to be believed than non-storytelling TVC’s. Believability was evaluated through a combination of action intent (TVC’s call to action) and message cut through – the likelihood of the message being coded into the memory structure.
Finding #4: Executional
The research proved that storytelling TVCs with one or two scenes, drove stronger involvement. Having multiple scenes forces the brain to constantly re-orient, leading to a heavy cognitive load and subsequent disengagement. Similarly, TVCs with two to three main characters have the best performance. A single character TVC is limited in its ability to show conflict. TVCs with more than four main characters, require a great deal of cognitive processing in a short period of time, leading to a heavy cognitive load and subsequent disengagement.
Finding #5: Archetypes:
TVC’s that leveraged the story archetype “overcoming the monster” were twice as effective as other archetype as it enables the brand/product to play a hero in a typical “problem-solution format.”
Finding #6: Advertising research considerations:
Today, one of the key KPI’s in evaluating advertising is message re-call. The study showed, that there are no differences in the recall of key messages between a storytelling and non-storytelling TVC. This is worth noting, as majority of TVC testing methods focus on message re-call, as a key measure of success. Message recall without believability, will result in an ineffective TVC.
Marketers have been aware of the power of storytelling to create compelling TVC’s. However, storytelling can be a nebulous art. Therefore, marketers would find it useful to leverage the seven archetypes of storytelling to build compelling TVC. In my experience, archetypes can act as guard rails to help create an effective story.
TVC’s use storytelling principles, build a higher emotion connect, that leads to a positive disposition and motivation towards the brand. One of the masters of building an emotional connect, was the film director, Alfred Hitchcock. The secret of his success was the green script. Hitchcock created two scripts – a regular one that covered the actors lines, SFX (sound effect instructions) and a second one – called a green script that covered the emotion, he wanted audience to feel. Marketer should take a lesson from Hitchcock and build a green script for TVC. This will enable them to plan and build an emotional connect with the consumers.
Having the right amount of characters in a TVC is important. Less than two, makes it difficult to create conflict and more than four characters can be difficult to process. There is a vast of knowledge on brand archetypes that are can be used to help create characters. The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetype by Margaret Mark serves as a great reference guide.
In the age of media excess, age old storytelling techniques can be used to build brands effectively, by increasing. cut through, involvement, emotional connect and believability. This study further strengthens the argument, with empirical evidence, as well as provides executional guidelines to marketers.