When Advertising, Tell a Story (Efficiently)

People get bored.

It’s easy to blame this on ever-shortening attention spans, but the thing is, the addition of smartphones, tablets, and wearables means information itself is ubiquitous. This creates a problem for advertisers, as you still must find a way to break through and convey your message to your target audience.

To solve the problem, I want to briefly go (way, way) back in time to high school.

The best class I ever took was Advanced Writing and Research my senior year. Taught by an ex-hippie with a PhD, we read and wrote more that year than in any class I took in high school or college – and it was fun!*

Our writing textbook was Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style,” which I still keep on my desk for reference.

I was reminded of that class after a recent writing seminar on storytelling our managing partner attended. In it, the facilitator taught a different way of structuring stories. This was a bit of an “aha!” moment for me, as I realized that combining my senior English class with his class on storytelling creates the perfect formula for creating effective advertisements.

‘You do not have a story until something goes wrong,’ – Steven James
“Omit Needless Words” – Strunk & White

In light of the need to stand out in a sea of information, if “you do not have a story until something goes wrong,” why start with anything but the problem? By omitting the proverbial needless words of an introduction and starting with the problem, you instantly make the story about the person, not yourself.

Now, you may be asking, “What is an introduction in an ad?” I’m glad you asked! An introduction is any element that distracts from the key components of the ad. This can be anything from the images (irrelevant, unattractive) to the font (too big, too small, hard to read) to the actual copy (too wordy, too vague).

Once you have the viewer’s attention, then you can present a solution. (ProTip: Your product or service is the solution.)

Finally, move on to the result, which is your call to action.

Let’s look at a few examples of digital/online display ads to help illustrate the concept:
Ex 1)

Problem: Not enough website traffic
Solution: “25 ways”
Result/CTA: Click on “Get the FREE Guide” button
EX 2)

Problem: You need a home
Solution: “The most comprehensive source for real estate listings”
Result/CTA: Fill in a simple online form & click “Search”
Ex 3)

Problem: There’s room for improvement in your job status
Solution: Carlson (Implied by simply saying “Yet.”)
Result/CTA: Click “Get There”

All three of the above ads do an excellent job of combining the structure of a good story while omitting needless words. Also note how little any of them say about themselves (the company). Instead, all three put you in the story by identifying a problem; making you want more by presenting a solution; and concluding with a clear, simple call to action.

“Efficient: utilizing a particular commodity or product with the least waste of resources or effort”

I focused on display ads in this post, but the formula applies to every aspect of marketing and advertising. Don’t just take my word for it.  Review all of your marketing collateral and ad copy – blog posts, print ads, video ads, website design, email scripts, etc. Does each piece tell a story using the three main elements we’ve discussed? Does all of it contribute to telling the overarching story of your brand/effort? Have you omitted needless words? If not, try reworking it using these rules and see how it compares.  I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

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