What Your Data Won’t Tell You about Effective Content

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In 2012 while working with the media company that produced the London Olympics in Canada, a few colleagues and I met with Procter & Gamble about their marketing strategy for the Games. The meeting quickly grew tense. For a large sum of money, P&G wanted to know how we planned on integrating their brand across broadcast and digital, while we delicately inquired what ‘brand integration’ meant in terms of actual creative assets, i.e., shows us what you got.

They finally rolled out the flat screen and did just that.

From the spot’s opening lilting piano notes as these wonderful mothers from all corners of the earth dutifully roused their sleepy future Olympians out of bed for yet another gruelling training session, through to the final crescendo as their offspring transform into Olympic champions, I had to summon all my willpower to keep shameful man-tears from trickling down my quivering man-cheeks. I hadn’t felt this emotionally hijacked in public since three-quarters of the way into E.T. when those creepy government guys in hazmat suits hauled E.T. away with Elliot freaking out in the background. Luckily, the lights in the room stayed off long enough to cough it out and regain some composure.

Then I turned to my deep-in-her-second-trimester-pregnant colleague and account lead for P&G, who continued to stare at the blank screen, quietly sobbing.

P&G took it as the ultimate compliment.

A story and the emotional connection it elicits is fundamental to great advertising

‘Best Job’ became a smash hit during the Games, so much that P&G created new versions for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So what made the ad such a hit? It felt more like a story than an ad. This was a hero’s quest told in two minutes with mom as the protagonist whose long, difficult journey ends in victory in the form of a gold medal and her Olympian offspring’s embrace.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the benefits of storytelling over traditional disruptive marketing tactics. There’s also great merit in having those discussions, given those tactics have all but failed across old and new media. Yet marketers should focus from the outset of these conversations on the specific characteristics that go into successful storytelling.

You can pull audience analytics until you’re blue in the face, segment ’till your heart’s desire, A/B test every marketing asset across all platforms to try and figure out what your audience wants. However, if you don’t first go back to the basics and consider the elements of good storytelling that date back to when our furrier, slopey-browed brethren gathered by the cave fire, then you’ve missed the forest for the trees.

P&G’s ‘Best Job’ definitely gets high marks for two of the most important elements: emotion and inspiration.

Entertainment continues to deliver

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You don’t have to make your audience cry for them to root for your brand’s hero. Quiznos shows the power to entertain can prove just as effective as seen in ‘Burn Trials- Out of the Maze and onto the Playa’ currently killing it on YouTube or a Facebook page near you.

‘Burn Trials’ features the cast of the latest ‘Maze Runner’ movie (hello Millennial cross-promotion) as they delve deep into the heart of the annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada.

Quizno’s real quest? To poke fun at what a lot of people suspect this ‘ritual’ is really all about: Privileged hippies and Silicon Valley types gathering in the desert to do designer drugs and ride unicorn cars that shoot fireballs, then check the whole burning mess off their bucket list before heading home to L.A., San Francisco and New York.

Quiznos also cleverly makes fun of itself while trying to sell a few actual subs. As the Maze Runner’s guide (played by Joe Towne) warns of subtle corporate influence creeping into the festival, he looks to his left and a banner ad for a discount on a Quiznos toasty sub magically appears on screen with the over-the-top ‘ClICK HERE!’ call to action; And yes, it actually clicks through to a redeemable Quiznos discount offer which probably performed far better than most banner ads.

The only thing funnier than this Quiznos ad? The Burning Man festival organizer’s have threatened to sue Quizno’s because of it.

Good storytelling doesn’t have to be done on a big budget or necessarily require a flashy creative agency. It does however require patience and hard work up front toward making sure you’ve captured the key elements that go into keeping your audience captivated.

For more characteristics of content that resonates, see creative director at Callahan Creek Stephan Mumaw’s tutorial at lynda.com

Dave is a digital media vet, specializing in content creation and strategy. You can find Dave online at http://carpendium.com. The rest of time Dave's a husband and dad to two young kids, and occasional triathlete/runner when his right knee is in a good mood.

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