The Power of Storytelling Marketing in Print

According to Robert McKee, the world’s foremost expert on brand storytelling, “story is the most effective way to get attention because what attracts human attention is change.” Brands that do this well recognize that Millennials and Gen Z don’t put up with traditional marketing tactics like promising and bragging, what they do instead is tell a relevant, compelling story. You only have three choices in a marketing story for who the story is about: it’s either about a corporation, about a product, or, if it’s a service, it’s about the consumer. The best brands get their audience to empathize with their product, service, or corporation, and they can tell a story and evoke emotion just by showing an image.

Some industry people think you need video or the power of digital advertising to engage consumers in a story; according to Top Hand Media, “in 10 years, print media will no longer exist.” They claim that print doesn’t have the same power as digital to engage consumers and move them to act, and that creative must build depth and create a journey where the customer feels appreciated and involved, the customer then feels like they’re “growing” with the brand. While I buy the importance of engaging consumers through the power of story, I don’t buy the argument that digital is the only way to do this.

The problem? They’re overlooking the fact that Millennials and Gen Z are very difficult to reach digitally, with 63% using AdBlocker and 82% ignore online banner ads. They’re also overlooking Millennial and Gen Z perspectives on print advertising. Research indicates that a trend toward tactile — even among millennials — is opening up exciting new creative opportunities, and 68% of consumers ages 18–24 react to advertisements in print newspapers.

Storytelling through print advertising is a surprisingly effective way to engage the valuable 18–24-year-old audience, and the best brands understand this. As Paul Arden states in It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be: “Print advertising should be recognizable at a hundred paces, and it should be obvious who it’s an ad for without seeing the brand name.” Take a look at the following powerful print ads that need no introduction or explanation.

Weight Watchers

Chupa Chups: It’s Sugar Free

Volkswagen: Turn on your adventure


All of these advertisements evoke emotion and engage you to act. But what if you’re a new brand, entering a new market, or your brand isn’t living up to expectations? All of the above examples above are from brands that are already established and have already done a fantastic job at storytelling marketing through many different mediums, so what do you do? Your story must begin with an insight into human nature. Consider the following example.

Audi has traditionally struggled in Japan because while there are many people who would like to purchase premium-brand cars, the perception of European luxury cars in Japan is that they’re too big, and their houses simply don’t have the space for large cars.

It was this insight into Japanese culture and perceptions that led Audi to execute a brilliant print advertising campaign. Audi decided to create a newspaper insert the size of an actual Audi A3. Yes, accurate and scaled to a 1mm — a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS® title for the largest newspaper insert advertising, 2.77 m². Those who received the A3 insert could place it in their homes and test how it fit.

Brilliant and newsworthy!

So what’s the winning formula for your brand?

  1. Start with an insight into human nature
  2. Decide whether your story will focus on your company, your product, or your consumer.
  3. Develop a story that your consumers will emphasize with and that moves them to act.
  4. Engage your consumers and tell your story through multiple mediums
  5. Use images that are striking and need no explanation
  6. Enjoy the success of your campaign!

flytedesk is transforming the way brands reach 18–24 year-olds. We’re the largest network of campus advertising in the U.S. and our technology grans unparalleled access for advertisers and new revenue for college media.