17 March 2020

Storytelling in Advertising

Someone once said the universe is made not of atoms, but of stories.

In 2020, the world of advertising is no different. UK digital advertising alone grew by 7.8% in 2019, and by the end of 2020 the digital marketing landscape will be worth £24 billion. Even in the uncertain times the UK finds itself in (thanks Brexit), the digital marketing industry shows no signs of slowing down – least of all in video content.

The democratisation of filmmaking equipment brings a new wave of young, hungry creatives looking to prove themselves in a medium that is ravenous for fresh impetus and bold new visions. Today, the best video adverts have stories that compel you to share them with others, and these skilful creative directors know how to deliver those stories. Now ironically, some shoot their shot and miss, but miss so wide that they can swing back around to become viral sensations. Case and point… The Peloton Lady and Aviation Gin.

Don’t worry, Ryan Reynolds made sure she was okay.

It’s the kind of advertising that Don Draper would raise an Old Fashioned to. Canada’s national treasure, Ryan Reynolds, sought to bring back the infamous (and mildly terrified) Peloton lady, but this time with some friends and a gin martini… or two. The whole internet felt for the Peloton lady after her husband bought her a stationary bike for Christmas; backhandedly pressuring her to take better care of herself – even though viewers could clearly see she was already in great shape. Now, she needs a stiff drink with friends. The narrative that started with one well-intentioned viral video continues here. An inadvertent stroke of genius by Aviation Gin by correcting the narrative.

Speaking of repairing narrative…

In September 2015 it came to light that Volkswagen had intentionally made their emissions reading instruments only activate upon testing – effectively always passing their vehicles for emissions tests on inspection. It was a huge scandal that shook the automotive industry and sent Volkswagen into a PR spin, resulting in the loss of business, loss of brand faith and eventually loss of customers.

So, what did Volkswagen do? Here we see how they decided to face that criticism head-on. In the ad, we begin very much like Volkswagen… shrouded in shadow. Through crackling radio, we hear the news anchors speak of ‘scandal’ and ‘dissatisfied customers’ on the world’s largest car manufacturer. But then, in the darkness…a ray of hope as we see one determined engineer sketch ideas and pour over old blueprints of a very familiar automotive design. All the while Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” (and incredibly apt lyrics) play in the background. Slowly but surely, through long nights and eventually the aid of modern technology, this one man looks to bring Volkswagen out of the shadows and into the hopeful light with a new iteration on the classic VW camper van.

What better way to begin to turn the tide on people’s opinion of your brand than tapping into the beloved time of the ’60s and ’70s and putting an electrifying spin on a much-loved classic.

And on love…

The Superbowl; a time of beer, chicken wings, rooting for your team and multimillion-dollar ad space. This year, no one owned that ad space better than Google. The California based tech company has become so synonymous with everyday life that Miriam Webster and the Oxford Dictionary added the word as a verb. Given the fact that the company is embedded in everyday life so much, and that they’re computing infrastructure is crucial to many a business, they don’t need to do incredibly thoughtful video content like this; and yet, they do.

The minute and a half ad does so much with so little. Beginning with a sole solemn piano stroke we then see the mere text “how not to forget” slowly typed onto the screen. By the time a weathered voice of an elderly man asks Google to show him photos of his dear wife you know you’re about to go on an emotional journey… and that’s just 15 seconds into the ad.

We see the rest of the ad play out cherished moments of this couple’s time together as the gentle piano music moves through and elevates each line of text, image and video. In a minute and a half, it shows us a life well lived using only plain text, a few black and white photos and a voice over. It’s so simple and yet so effective, especially in a time where most Superbowl ads are a barrage of celebrities and noisy visuals. I believe that’s the next thing for this tech giant to try their hand at – storytelling – and reminding us that technology can indeed bring us closer together.

Ultimately, that’s what Google can do, remind us and help us with the little things in life. Like getting to a meeting on time or reminding us about that task we’ve been putting off for a week, maybe even help us remember the ones we love. I think for any piece of video content/imagery to work there has to be an emotional core behind it. If not some aspect for people to empathise or relate to.

Many of your favourite TV and film directors wade into commercial waters to try something new such as: Wes Anderson for Stella ArtoisDavid Fincher for Nike and Ridley Scott for Apple. Video advertising is an area for proven directors and young, ambitious filmmakers to create something new and enticing that you simply have to share with your friends. Plus, with brands willing to invests vast sums of capital into possibly the next viral video; coupled with aforementioned visionary creatives the potential for huge ROI and your next favourite video make it an exciting time for all of us.