Storytelling: A (New?) Marketing Reality

What do beer, mops, and children’s furniture have in common? We agree the answer could be “the first helps you to better enjoy the latter…” but it’s more than that. Brands like Bud Light, Swiffer and Land of Nod are all reaching their audiences via a recent ‘trend’ – reality advertising.

Reality advertising is the newest brand storytelling buzzword. Through videos, blogs and dedicated pages on their website, brands are using real-world consumers to tell their brand story. Think back to last year’s Super Bowl. One of the standout commercials followed a guy on his night out. He had no idea what was in store for him, but thanks to some epic planning by Bud Light (and some pretty sweet ping-pong action from The Terminator himself), we were captivated watching this real-life Joe Shmoe’s night unfold.

Whether it’s the ultimate definition of the American family featured in recent Swiffer television commercials or it’s the Chen Family, we are getting a peek into the lives of real-life consumers.

If this sounds just like testimonials, one of marketing’s oldest tried and true methods, you’re not too far off. The key difference in these examples is that authenticity is at the absolute center of the communication. These aren’t talking heads staring into the camera telling the viewer or reader to go do something, asking the audience to take the message at face value. This is brand value in action, demonstrated to people who can relate. What this ‘trend’ really illustrates is that brands need to tell the story of how they fit into consumers’ lives.

Authentic consumer testimonials – i.e. reality advertising – are one mechanism by which this is done, but the concept is really marketing best practice. For example, heading into 2014, magazine printing company Lane Press knew who they were as a company, but their website wasn’t telling the story. It wasn’t reality. After exploring and defining who Lane Press authentically is, HMC developed a new site with Lane that now showcases their intelligence, dedication to a precise and beautiful craft, and passion for what they do and for the customers with whom they work so closely. Through every click, every photo, and yes – every customer and employee testimonial, Lane’s story is being told.

Following a customer during the purchase process, or capturing fly-on-the-wall footage during product use, are explicit ways to tell a story, but authenticity doesn’t come just from images on a screen. It comes from embracing the concept at a higher level in the brand strategy, impacting communications, operations, and everything in between.

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