Storytelling is dead. There, I’ve said it. It is a self-serving conceit invented by the ad industry that has no resonance with consumers who are snacking on advertising and content with an average engagement of three seconds.
Going by the traditional ad land calendar, earlier in the year – in Q1 – brand managers approved ideas or storyboards designed to convince people to spend their hard-earned cash at the end of year in Q4, festively wrapped in ‘emotional connection’.
Throughout this year’s exceptional summer heat-wave, creatives were finalising snowy concepts, casting woodland creatures and happy families, shooting in exotic locations, and editing films to capture the hearts and minds of consumers during the forthcoming season to be jolly. These go on to become the ads that almost no-one will remember by 26 December, when the public will be preoccupied with recycling unwanted gifts.
Still, agencies will have had fun and made fortunes based on their rock-solid gut instincts. Brand managers can tell their mums they had a role in creating the ad for dishwasher tablets everyone saw during The X Factor final.
Storytelling emerged as the go-to answer for all advertising. Agencies still create long, movie-like content that costs millions of pounds to produce, focusing on a very broad ‘target market’. But this approach totally ignores the biggest evolution of the generation: the internet. Despite consumer behaviour looking nothing like it did 15 years ago, the industry’s behaviour hasn’t changed.
This is a waste of opportunity and budget for a brand. Advertisers receive no real value and consumers get even less. The ability to cut through is non-existent. More worryingly, it’s just so damn easy - the lack of accountability is bewildering.
While the average viewability online is one-to-three seconds, most advertising content uploaded to the internet lasts more than 30 seconds. A recent poll of creatives by The Drum included comments that six-second ads were not the future of creative, and are a ‘pop for pop’s sake’ format. If we had ad slots on TV that were six-seconds long, we wouldn’t indiscriminately shoehorn in 30-second pieces of video content.
I’ve got a radical idea - why not try and focus on the consumer? What do they actually want?
As a consumer, I remember brands when they provide me with value. When an airline reduced the price in a remarketing ad – I liked that. When my internet provider told me I could download my team’s match to my laptop for £3, I nearly fell off my chair.
I know what agencies will say: you can do that all day long, but it's the emotional connection that really lands the longer term, more powerful relationship with the consumer.
The consumer is opportunistic. They want a brand to provide them with value, not an emotional connection. So, why are we still stuck in this loop? Digital buying has evolved faster than the creative development process, which can’t keep up with the pace. Most agencies just haven’t embraced the new world order.
Storytelling was important when we had no tools. When there was no data. We had no choice but to create an emotional connection because frankly there was nothing else we could do. Consumers were easy to locate: in front of one TV set, with limited channels. A captive audience.
Now, we have the capacity to target several generations in the same household – even the same room – at the same time, through different devices, different formats and different messaging. Advertisers can decide to show consumers a product message, a deal or something that might make them laugh.
How brands talk to consumers now is controlled in real time with extraordinarily powerful levers. You can be reactive, you can be proactive. It's time to embrace these tools and use them to define brand messaging.
The future of tech is the future of advertising.
Oli Marlow Thomas is the founder of Ad-Lib Digital