Storytelling in Advertising

Great ads tell great stories, most advertising people agree on this. Even in a digital world, a great idea still takes the audience on an interesting journey.

So, how do we write a great advertising storyline? There are a few overarching idea arcs that good ads have in common.

An overview of Advertising Storyline Structures

  1. Based on Human Insight: Where an idea captures a culturally relevant insight or trend (a category insight or a universal human insight) and links it to the brand in a relevant way. The tone of voice will vary across categories and brands (humour, camaraderie, joy, nostalgia or other emotions) but at their core, they connect with an underlying human truth.
  2. Creating a fictional world: This approach builds an intriguing fantasy world that helps demonstrate a brands proposition.
  3. Using Projection: Based on the human ego, this technique allows the audience to transfer or extend their hopes and desires onto the product or service being sold. This arc can also work in reverse, using fear or threat to warn the viewer of the potential dangers of making an incorrect decision. Either way, it’s about understanding the hopes and fears of the audience and then tying this up with the product in a relevant way.
  4. Product demonstration is when there is a stand out or new product feature that is best showcased with a stunning demonstration.

Here are some examples to make things clearer.

Human Insight Approach

IKEA are experts in simple, lighthearted ads that effortlessly communicate its proposition in witty and insightfully creative ways. The ad below is an example of instinctive / insightful communication built on a modern cultural truth about the way we live in a digital world.

IKEA BookBook

Creating a Fictional World

On the other hand, this campaign for Georgetown Optician is an imaginative story that tells the fictional story of a family obsessed with eyewear. It effectively communicates the point that Georgetown opticians are experts in glasses.

Georgetown Opticians

Using Projection

This campaign for NIKE, taps into peoples hopes and aspirations by empowering the audience to dream about the person they could become if they associate with NIKE.


Product Demonstration

In this ad for Apple Watch, the product does all the talking

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 23.33.20.png

The greatest communications are the most orginal. For your next broef, try using one of these story arcs or even breaking the mould and trying something totally new.


How to get to where you want to go.

Not another dinosaur.

I think ‘strategy’ is the most over used word in this industry.  Too often it is misunderstood, and too often people use it inter-changeably with just ‘a thought’.

Good strategy is creative, just like good creative has to be strategic.

Good strategy is a jump from the mundane. It’s based on an idea. It makes a statement about what the brand is up to. Following from this people either buy into the brand or they don’t.

When you think about campaigns like Avis’s ‘we try harder’, or Honda’s ‘power of dreams’ it is very obvious what the brand is up to, the strategy stands out.

Here are some jump starters for writing good communication strategy:

1. Develop an insight or story, and then summarise it as a strategy.

2. Think ‘what is my creative angle on this problem’ what’s the larger than life proposition to the world?

3. Think ‘what…

View original post 324 more words

What Your Social Media Likes Say About You.

Click the image to watch the video.

Watch this short yet insightful talk touching on consumer behaviour / modelling / data / predictions / privacy.

I believe creative agencies can’t survive if we don’t model consumer choices and drivers of behaviour.

Sure we might be Creative Engines but it doesn’t mean that data \ technology \ research shouldn’t be driving and informing the creative engine.

What does Obesity have to do with Advertising?


This talk is interesting not only from a nutrition & health perspective (it might lead to a debunking of some long held beliefs about obesity & diabetes) but because of the scientific thought process behind it which we could learn from. It shows a willingness to challenge the pre-accepted hypothesis and to develop empathy with a situation rather than just passing quick judgement.

It is a demonstration of open minds, courage to throw out yesterday’s hypothesis, and a recognition that scientific truth isn’t final but constantly evolving.

So how can we learn from this for our own industry? For me there are two points:

First, although advertising is not a science but we should try to make it so – for example we search for an insight just like researchers looking for Cholinesterase inhibitors treating Alzheimers. The difference is that we shouldn’t debate, procrastinate and pontificate over it but instead invest in a true process of discovery.

Second, even when we do uncover an amazing insight, the enchantment of great advertising is not actually the insight itself but about taking a straight forward insight and turning it into something amazing.

The point is that ultimately advertising is an entertainment / creative & social industry. Maybe we shouldn’t be over-thinking creativity and searching for a holy grail, and instead just letting go of our inhibitions and enjoying ourselves (just like when we watch something that engages us). Let’s be honest with ourselves – these days whether a campaign for a noble humanitarian cause or the next big Soda campaign, the life span of an idea is a few days / weeks with a # before something else takes its place. So let’s be nimble, let’s be flexible, let’s search for entertaining ideas rather than unequivocal truths because there are very few unequivocal truths in the world, but many points of connection.

I’d like to leave you with this message from Joi Ito. If innovation has been broken down and democratized, then it’s right for advertising to be also broken down and democratised. The future is about not getting bogged down in words and statements and more about quick prototyping, experimenting, learning to trust the team and building on each others ideas. This doesn’t take the responsibility off strategic rigour, but it recognises that advertising just like Science and Innovation is about experimenting, coming up with quick iterations, building and breaking hypothesis and then getting to the point where we can make a creative leap to something fresh yet useful.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.