The Irresistible Power of Storytelling

People think it’s all about sex or humor or animals, but what we’ve found is that the underbelly of a great commercial is whether it tells a story or not.

Keith Quesenberry, researcher, Johns Hopkins Center for Leadership Education.

Want to sell a product?  Want to explain a complex idea?  Want your audience to actually remember what you said?  Consider using classic storytelling techniques.

These techniques are ancient – dating back to Aristotle – and include literary terms like exposition, complication, climax, reversal and denouement.  Simplified, great storytelling includes a likable main character, some sort of action or complication and a result or ending.

The best stories use concrete language and images, instead of abstract ideas.  They show, rather than tell.

In this article published by the Harvard Business Review, the science behind why people react so strongly to stories is explained, beginning with why Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” ad scored top marks in USA Today’s Ad Meter and Hulu’s Ad Zone as a fan favorite during the 2014 Super Bowl.

Other examples of storytelling techniques:

My Heart Attack Taught Me To Slow Down, by Bill Marriott. Marriott on the Move.

The following scene from The Blind Side:

Your Wishes Delivered: Driver for a Day.  UPS

Please read and comment.

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9 thoughts on “The Irresistible Power of Storytelling

  1. I read the article linked from the Harvard Business Review. Story telling is something that most people very familiar with. I have enjoyed listening to stories since I was a child. However, prior to reading this article I had never considered the great impacts that story telling can have. I was most intrigued by the scientific breakdown and evidence found about storytelling, and how it can be effectively used to make significant impacts on people. As exemplified in the articles, storytelling can be used across many realms as an effective means of persuasion. The impact that is left on humans is biological being that we are social creatures. This is another factor that I had never taken into consideration. I have been subject to the effects of storytelling without my realization. With this knowledge, I can use storytelling and all its effects to my advantage in communicating.

  2. This article discussed how the art of storytelling is important, especially when it comes to commercials. This technique is a great way to capture the attention of an intended audience. Storytelling in commercials reminds me of the topic of moderate incongruity, which I learned about in my Marketing class. The term moderate incongruity simply means that the advertisement was not too hard to understand but also was not too easy. This allows for the marketing technique to be memorable, because the audience had to interpret it. Moderate incongruity applies perfectly to storytelling in commercials because the stories themselves present messages in a thoughtful way without just giving you the information upfront.

  3. This article speaks in about a very important fact that translates into advertising effectiveness; It is that we, as humans, value emotions. In a world that has increasingly become “noisy” (i.e. due to increased use of technology, advertisement, news, etc.), people rely on human interaction and feeling that connection with humanity as a basic need for calming that noise. This originates from the oldest, and longstanding, advertising technique of story-telling for relating products and services to emotional outcomes. I remembered this from a sociology class in which we learned about how advertisements stay longer in the mind of consumers and inspire the desire to want or need a product or service. What we learned is that, historically, agencies relied on psychoanalysis in order to understand consumer behavior towards certain products or services. The findings indicated that consumers purchase products when they can relate to emotionally from the story for a product. For example, this advertisement of the puppy produces feelings of love and care for consumers. Hence, happy consumers are more likely to buy the product due to the appeal of the story they were shown. Emotions are the underlying technique for advertisements, and as this article indicates, it is important to story-tell. “Everyone enjoys a good story,” and it is because people value the time to feel positive emotions instead of feeling overwhelmed in such a noisy world. This is a nice article!

  4. I was able to relate to the article emphasizing the power of storytelling, on a personal level. I watched the Super Bowl and I can honestly recall only two or three of the commercials; the Budweiser commercial being one of them. After reading the article, I now know why it stuck in my mind. It was not just another Ford commercial highlighting the car’s strength and durability or another one of Dorito’s attempts to be remembered through humor, it was a relatable, heart-felt, short story almost. “People are attracted to stories…because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people.” This quote from the article really says it all. In just 60 seconds, we (the viewers) were taken on an emotional roller-coaster of happiness, to sadness, back to happiness again. It was ironic for me because I was watching with family that I had gone through a similar situation with. They lived near me my entire life, moved away to New Mexico, but then shortly after, returned back to state College. It is only now that I am realizing that coincidence, obviously on a much larger and broader scale, but a coincidence nonetheless. I feel now that the commercial may have stuck in my head because I was subconsciously relating it to the situation with my family.

  5. This article was extremely relatable and convincing to me. When first reading it I was thinking “oh there are much better ways to advertise than storytelling”. But as I continued to read I realized that almost immediately I knew exactly which Budweiser commercial they were talking about. I watch every Penn state football game and many other TV shows and most commercials go right over my head, but as soon as the words clydesdale and puppy were mentioned I knew exactly which commercial they were referring to. This theory that storytelling is the best way of advertising must be somewhat true considering that is the only commercial that I remember extremely well.
    A part of this article that suck out to me was the case where the client lost his arms and rather than giving a long closing statement his lawyer just told the story of them going to lunch and him seeing his client eat like a dog. It definitely made his point because he won the case. That story sparked emotions of feeling sorry for the armless man in my head as I’m sure it did in the Jurys heads, meaning the lawyer succeeded. Although his closing statement was a short story rather than a long explanation, he made his point and evoked enough feelings in the jury that they sided with his client.
    Overall I did enjoy reading this article and I think the author did an excellent job of explaining and giving examples to prove his point that storytelling is the best way of advertising.

  6. I found this article quite interesting. Human nature brings individuals to talk and share stories and experiences that they’ve had. It allows people to relate and share common features of similarities within their lives as well as allowing individuals to learn something new about an individual or culture. I find it interesting how corporations have used stories in marketing and advertising to bolster their brand. A good example in the Anheuser-Busch commercial showing Anheuser’s expedition across America to the Midwest where he meets and joins forces with Busch to create their brand. While the commercial may have been “hollywooded” up to make it more appealing, the significance is that it teaches individuals something new they might not have known about the company. In turn, this could lead to interest in the brand and ultimate consumption of the product due to its use of storytelling.

  7. This article discussed the power of storytelling in respect to advertising and commercials. As a viewer, we are usually irritated by commercials as they interrupt the TV program we were watching and are usually repetitive and boring. However, there have been commercials that I enjoy to watch and therefore remember. In hindsight, these commercials involve storytelling. A recent commercial that I enjoyed was the Extra Gum commercial “The Story of Sarah and Juan.” The commercial tells the love story of high school sweethearts into adulthood. It follows the Freytag’s Pyramid structure described in the article. The exposition is Sarah and Juan meeting in high school. The complication is Sarah and Juan beginning to date and experiencing milestones as a couple, like prom. The climax is Sarah and Juan as adults, moving in together and fighting. The falling action is Sarah moving away for a job and the denouement is Juan proposing to Sarah using gum wrappers from pieces of gum she has given him, and drawing pictures of them in milestone memories that are also shown in the commercial. I think it’s interesting that this commercial follows the same structure as the Budweiser commercial. It shows how we are drawn to storytelling as we connect with the storyline.

    Link to Extra Gum Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLpDiIVX0Wo

  8. Story telling is a powerful way to convey a message and keep the reader or viewers’ attention. In this example, Budweiser does a great job of using the horse and puppy’s friendship to evict emotion out of the reader and become interested in the commercial. The choice of using two very popular animals also helps to grab the viewers’ attention. From beginning to end, the animal’s relationships conveys a sense of loyalty and commitment to being together. In this sense Budweiser is trying to show their sense of loyalty and love for their customers.

    Storytelling can be used in videos, forms of writing, and even presentations. This summer I had an internship where I had to present my findings to the executive board. My mentor’s main piece of advice was to “tell my story.” Instead of spitting facts and procedures at them, I was prompted to tell my story of what I did and how I ended up with the results I found. Creating a story proved to grab the audience’s attention rather than just boring them with facts and statements.

  9. I found this article compelling, and certainly agree that humans gravitate towards stories. I specifically remember one of my Language/Lit teachers and several business professionals preaching the power of storytelling…especially when it comes to writing and presenting speeches. My Lang professor told me that a great speech will resonate best with listeners when it includes a few (3) short stories. As I wrote my speech for that class, I made sure to include three personal anecdotes, and after I presented my speech, I had several classmates come up to me and ask questions pertaining to my stories! Clearly, the stories grabbed their interest!

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