Not So Fast, Fast Forwarders — Ads Are Telling Some Great Stories

By Greta Stahl

I’m a self-admitted DVR addict. I don’t like watching programs live because that means I have to watch the commercials. But occasionally – especially during football season – I make exceptions. On a recent Sunday, I was struck by what I saw during the ad breaks. Advertisers have been using television spots to tell stories around their products for decades. For a field that’s been around so long, I was amazed to discover how many brands are continuing to push the video format forward with interesting, innovative ways to engage viewers and create emotion around their brand.

I took note of a few that made a particularly strong impact. This list is hardly exhaustive, but points to a few ways that advertisers have built on the now-widespread sentiment that storytelling offers a powerful way to reach potential customers. Many of these ads have had such enormous success that they’re reaching massive audiences via viral video circulation; advertisers don’t even have to pay to air them in order to reach bigger audiences.

I first saw a recent Guinness spot when a co-worker circulated the link around our office via email.

His comment was “pretty incredible” and, after watching it, I couldn’t help but agree. Like many ads, the story at the heart of the ad didn’t have an inherent tie to the product it advertised. But by the end, the emotion and the brand message – “Made of more” – left a lasting impression with this viewer. Given that the ad has over 6.2 million views on YouTube, I suspect many others concur.

Some brands have used this storytelling vehicle just as powerfully to relay their company vision. Last year, I saw an animated short produced by Chipotle that was shown before the start of a movie. It made a strong enough impression that I showed it to friends and co-workers several days later. Well, Chipotle did it again, following up with a new short featuring music by Fiona Apple.

In this longer form, Chipotle has the ability to relate a complete story articulating the purpose behind its brand. It uses the effective storytelling technique of contrasting the world as it exists today with the world it would like to create. And it does it well enough that in just a few days, over 4 million people have viewed the video on YouTube. Just think of what this offers marketers: 4 million people choosing to view your ad.

Some brands are even creating multi-episode stories that stretch out over multiple ads (a twist on the classic Taster’s Choice approach for a new generation!). Nike has a long history of showcasing high-profile athletes. But in their recent “Calvin and Johnson” campaign, they’ve developed a backstory around all-start NFL wide receiver Calvin Johnson and his alter ego (played by Sean “Diddy” Combs).

In a clever twist, the final screen of the ad lets online viewers choose whether they want to learn more about Nike’s football related products (embodied by the “Calvin” character) or subscribe to the Nike video feed (embodied by the “Johnson” character). Nike has already released a second video in the series and this viewer is excited to see where the story goes next.

DVRs and web streaming may have driven a lot of viewers away from traditional live television, but these three brands (among many others) highlight the great stories being told during ad breaks. I may need to stop fast forwarding if I don’t want to miss out.

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Greta Stahl

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