Super Bowl L11 is fast approaching. That moment when months of effort culminates in a winner-takes-all showdown for two football teams. There's no drama like it. Like many people, I'll be part of the television audience that sits down to catch all the action. That television audience is hugely important to advertisers and marketers, with brands investing significantly both financially and creatively to capture our hearts, minds and wallets.

Despite the best efforts of marketers, commercials are often the chance to get a drink, visit the bathroom or grab another snack.  But during the Super Bowl commercials have become something that people actually look forward to seeing.

To my mind, people started to really take notice of Super Bowl adverts back in 1984. That was when Apple, (who else), shattered our perceptions of computing with the Macintosh launch ad. Since then, Super Bowl commercials have developed and evolved with bigger and bigger budgets and astounding creativity. Last year saw some great work from the likes of 84 Lumber, Nintendo and Go Daddy that got water-cooler conversations flowing and social media threads working overtime. Why do these adverts resonate and stay in the memory long after the game is over?

It's all about the story

The best Super Bowl commercials tell a great story. For my ongoing series of podcasts with storytelling experts, I recently chatted with Jennifer Grisanti. Jen is a hugely experienced television executive and story consultant, with a deep understanding of what makes a great story. Jen is a writing instructor on NBC's "Writers On The Verge." The 12-week program focuses on developing writers and getting them in shape for a staff writer position on a television series. On the program, NBC receives 2,000 submissions. The submissions are narrowed down to 8 by the readers that NBC hires. Then, Jen works with those 8 writers over a 12 week period on writing a new pilot. We discussed what she thinks are the necessary elements of a great story and how they are as important in a commercial just as much as in a television series or movie. In our chat, Jen outlined two story techniques that she finds highly effective.

The personal void

This was a new phrase for me, but Jen explained that she likes to see a script writer set-up a personal void for the main character. This personal void could be an earlier wound that the character suffered, either physical or psychological, or perhaps a childhood experience. Then, an incident in the story opens up that void once again. Jen believes that the void has to resonate with the audience. The writer has to ask, Why do we care? What pulls us in? Get the answers right and the audience will invest in the story. 

The consequence

Alternatively, Jen suggests a story could start with a consequence, such as that seen in Breaking Bad. You bring in your audience, you show something dramatic has happened and this creates anticipation in the moment. A vulnerability is a strong element to this kind of story, it stems from emotion. Emotional truth connects the writer with the audience, it's universal; we identify with it. Jen described it as, "I see you, you see me".

Stay true to tell your story

But how does this help us as marketers? In a nutshell, advertising your brand has the same principles of telling a story. It's important to have truthful emotional content that truly matters to people. You need to find out what your consumers and clients care about and why. That's what will pull them closer to listen. In telling your story, keep the acronym "true" in mind. In other words, make sure your content is timely, relevant, useful and entertaining. 

Your brand has to mean something and stand for something. Consumers are smart and will find out whether it's pretending, or unoriginal. And then they'll splash you all over social media. Try not to be too complicated when storytelling the brand's core value and authenticity.

Show them the benefit and the positive impact. Promote the functional and emotional benefits. Show the authenticity of your product, service and brand. People really like true stories that they can relate to. If you create content that resonates and emotionally moves you, that makes you laugh, cry, and makes you feel something, then you're audience will feel the same.
 

Published on: Jan 18, 2018