At university I studied Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale. This details which elements of the fairytale are constant and which are variable. Simply put, there are basic story structures around which you can weave the words and there you go, you have a winning formula. Of course, it is not just fairy tales that can have a basic template, there are other story structures proven to be successful over and over.
Ok, that’s fair enough – many of us are predictable beings who like a plot varying from story to story but following a known structure (obviously not all the time, there are numerous brilliant stories that strike out on their own). However in advertising, time and time again companies will return to a simple underlying structure proven to succeed – people want to relate to the story. If we can identify with it, we will be persuaded by it. It’s not rocket science is it? Think of all the adverts we can remember on TV – the most memorable ones had a story to tell, a story we can relate to that emotionally appeals to us. It’s not just the story though is it? The adverts don’t always tell us everything, they like to keep us guessing or they leave us to work out the meaning. Just think of those Christmas John Lewis ads … We don’t like to be told what to think, we like to be credited with our intelligence – and it makes us feel positive about the brand telling the story and how we may empathise with it.
Story telling can only go so far though – the company has to have the credentials to back it up. We have to be able to trust the brand as well.
Many of my clients are small businesses and may not have a big TV ad, or one in print in a nationwide magazine. It doesn’t make the story I can write for them in their brochure or on their website any less compelling. Does that mean I am just going to fall in with what everyone else is doing? Oh no, rules are made to be broken aren’t they? A little tweak in the copy for variety could be just the thing …