A formula for succesful storytelling in a world of social content distribution (and 10 examples that prove it)


It is the Holy Grail for marketers, what makes social content stick and sharable?

Despite the many technological advances in targeting, re-targeting, programmatic and measurement, one thing remains true… some things are still better left to humans — at least as of late 2015. More specifically, I am referring to the ability to put together a good story that people want to relate to. The phrase “Content is king” coined by Bill Gates in 1996 applies today more than ever to advertising campaigns, particularly in non-direct response marketing environments. Effective consumer targeting must be accompanied by a profound story. After spending some time researching what’s working and what isn’t (Thanks YouTube!), I think that I have something going as a framework, and it goes like this… Many of the most successful advertising ideas nowadays follow a very specific formula:

Unexpected Experiment (Preferably Social)
+ Unexpected Experiment Outcome
+ Brand Related Story Morals =
Emotional Content that Sticks

Some Basic Definitions

Experiment. A test under controlled conditions that is made to demonstrate a known truth, to examine the validity of a hypothesis, or to determine the efficacy of something previously untried. An innovative act or procedure.

Outcome. The way that things turn out. A consequence.

Morals. A lesson, especially one concerning what is right or prudent, that can be derived from a story, a piece of information, or an experience.

10 advertising execution as proof points

I have chosen the following 10 advertising executions based on the amount of views, likes and shares when available (last variable being perhaps the most relevant as it takes your association to the ad to another level).

Quaker — The Recital

Kudos to my colleagues at Quaker Canada for a heartfelt idea behind a social experiment, with a very unexpected outcome with brand morals front and center.

WestJet — Christmas Miracle

WestJet takes the frustration of flying on Christmas night and not getting your luggage on arrival to a whole new level.

Pepsi Max — Test Drive

My North American Pepsi colleagues, came up with this perfect extreme Pepsi Max experiment.

CNA — Speaking Exchange

CNA’s Speaking Exchange from Brazil perfectly ties a social experiment with the brand promise of learning to speak english.

Volvo Trucks — The Epic Split feat. Van Damme

Volvo Trucks uses Jean-Claude Van Damme in a precision experiment that entices your sense of wonder.

Always — Like a Girl

P&G’s Always proves that you don’t need to spend millions of dollars in production when you have a good story or point of view. Like a Girl is the perfect social experiment with an unexpected outcome rooted on the Brand’s core values.

Ikea Spain — The Other Letter

In this social experiment, IKEA Spain proves what kids really want for Christmas… and makes moms and dads seriously re-think what gifting really means.

EDEKA Supermarkets — Christmas

EDEKA Supermarkets embeds a social experiment within the storyline of this advertising that will make you rush to their supermarkets to get ready for Christmas dinner with your love ones.

Ad Council — Love Has No Labels

Love has no labels from the Ad Council has proven to be effective in its message of diversity and inclusion with a very unexpected experiment.

Canon — The Decoy

Canon The Decoy uses a social experiment to get their core message across on how important is the person behind the camera in defining the faith of the subject in front of the camera.

So as you start conceptualizing your next advertising idea, make sure that you are answering the following 5 questions:

  1. Does the experiment challenges conventions?
  2. Is the unexpected outcome compelling enough to the audience?
  3. Do you have a clear view on what do you expect the audience to think andfeel?
  4. What role does the brand play? Are the morals coming out of the experiment outcome consistent with the brand promise?
  5. How would the experiment connect with the larger brand narrative?

Glad to hear your thoughts and point of views regarding this, and more importantly, would very much appreciate if you could forward me other executions that you believe are successfully (or unsuccessfully) using this formula via LinkedIn or @rickyarias at Twitter.

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