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Marketing Communication: Are you yelling or telling?

Written by in Strategy
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Way back in the sixties, around the time when a handful of New York ad agencies were slowly emerging from the dark days of the hard sell, Leo Burnett worked to keep his Chicago shop on the straight and narrow. He believed that all effective marketing communication had three basic components, and expected his creative department to produce work that followed these guidelines:

  1.  
  2. Here’s what we make.
  3.  
  4. This is what it will do for you.
  5.  
  6. This is where you can get it.

  Sound advice, for sure, but taken literally it leads to the kind of feature-packed, in-your-face communication you get from the worst kind of website. It’s all right there in front of you, BIG, just in case you’ll miss something. It’s got exclamation points so you’ll know what’s important (everything, it seems). It’s telling you, not inviting you. Order now!

  Now, in fairness to Leo, even he couldn’t regurgitate bald, unfiltered product “truths.” So he invented “brand characters” to do it for him: the Jolly Green Giant, Tony The Tiger, The Pillsbury Dough Boy – cute creations born to shill.

  Reaching out to consumers – in any medium – is best if it doesn’t take the form of an obnoxious salesman jamming his wingtip in your front door. Try telling a story instead. Storytelling is an art form in and of itself, whether visually or via spoken or written words. Go to Youtube and watch Nike’s latest World Cup spot, or “The Man Who Walked Around The World” for Johnny Walker.

  These are two very different approaches, but each tells a wonderful story – one a fantasy, and almost entirely visual, the other more literal but beautiful and cinematic. Each uses the digital world as the fantastic story-telling medium that it can be. Unconstrained by the rigid timing of traditional media (any length you want as long as it’s :60, :30 or :15 seconds) the web allows Nike and Johnny Walker the opportunity to develop a full story arc, and consumers the space to absorb it on a gut level.
Here’s what Nike makes: aspiration; here’s what it will do for you: inspire; here’s where you can get it: you don’t have to tell me, I Googled it right after watching the film.

  I’m not sure that Leo would have approved of the story-telling approach of either the Nike spot or the walk around the world. But given that those two pieces have been viewed a combined 13,000,000 times on Youtube he’d be in the minority.

  The end.

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