Always Learning: Why storytelling matters to marketers

September 10th, 2019
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Stories are way more powerful than information because of the way the human brain works and learns. Lisa Cron, author of the book Wired For Story, reckons that stories have been as important as opposable thumbs in the evolution of humanity.

“Story or narrative takes… big ideas, abstract concepts, dry facts and translates them into something very specific that we can experience, and so feel, and that’s what tells us how we feel about it, what it means to us and that’s what moves us to action,” Cron said in a 2013 WRVO interview.

Why is this? It is because stories fire up the left temporal cortex — the same part of our brains that we use to filter out noise. Today we exist in a world of information overload and noise, which is why, in part, it is getting harder and harder for marketers to engage humans. But humans engage readily with tales, and good stories linger in our consciousness for days and even years. This is why we more readily remember facts when they are embedded in stories.

To test the power of storytelling and how it works, let’s take a look at some of the most memorable and well-loved brand campaigns that have played out in South Africa recently. Global research house, Kantar, releases a list of the Best Liked Ads in SA each quarter and, if you peruse the winner’s list, you will see that these are adverts that are rich in story.

Debonairs Pizza “Big Nyana”, which topped Kantar’s Q3 list for 2018, is a case in point. This ad tells a humorous tale about a big-deal CEO who has a big car and a big house, and who works in a big, big building. Yoh! We all know one of these big men and their big egos. The story is funny, charming and so relatable, which is why we resonate so well with this ad. It tells the story of how SA is tripping up in its chase for materialism but in a way that enables us to laugh at ourselves.


At the top of Kantar’s Q4 list for 2018 is Nike’s ad with Caster Semenya. I touched on this campaign in my last column, and I’m not shy about using this again because it is such a powerful piece of storytelling. It’s so fierce and evokes so many powerful emotions, it will remain in our collective consciousness for a while.

The most compelling reasons for using storytelling is because it’s a great differentiator and because it makes a brand more real, human and relatable. In a crowded marketplace, where we’re all choking on the levels of information we are being asked to consume, a great story is like a holiday. It makes us feel better about a brand and, when humans meaningfully connect with brands, that’s the story of how sustainable connections are made.

First Published on Marklives

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