There’s an ad doing the rounds in the UK right now that uses storytelling so well, it’s worth a closer look.
And, in a little departure from our usual copy-focused fun here, this one’s a TV ad that prioritises video over copy.
There’s still some smart use of copy, as you’ll see… but the really cool thing is the use of storytelling here.
It’s a whole narrative journey in just 40 seconds.
Storytelling and demonstration marketing
Whether it’s in sales copy, video ads or audio, narrative in marketing – with a beginning, middle and end – is perfect for connecting with your audience.
We’re naturally compelled to join the dots and follow along.
And when you use storytelling to demonstrate how your product or service can change someone’s life for the better, your prospects are likely to absorb your message so much better.
That’s why I’ve pulled out 6 powerful storytelling tactics from the new Vodafone ad that you can use to compel your audience…
First, check out the short 40-second ad here before we dive in:
(Click the video to play it on this page)
Ever hear the expression “show, don’t tell”?
The new Vodafone ad is a perfect example of how much more potent a marketing message can be when you show your product at work rather than just telling your audience how great it is.
(*Quick disclaimer: I’m no Vodafone advocate. I used to be one of their customers, but won’t be again.
I’m not a fan of their er, ‘approach’ to paying tax in the UK. But I do think their new ad is an excellent case study.)
The ad’s basic story is this:
A guy gives his niece Amy a hand-made voucher for tickets to see her favourite pop act…
(Disappointingly, it’s not ageing space-rockers Hawkwind, which would be brilliant. It’s some fella called Nathan Sykes, who’s like a cleaner, English-er Justin Bieber. Anyway…)
The actual tickets don’t go on sale until the next day, so the uncle gets up early, calls the booking line and stays in the queue…
On and off transport, in and out of shops etc.
He stays on the line for hours without the call dropping out, and is finally rewarded when his call is answered and even though he’s fallen asleep by then, his partner picks up the phone and gets the tickets.
Amy’s delighted with her gift, and Uncle Phone Dude’s in her good books forever.
With the help of a little tagline copy, the point the ad makes is this:
“Some calls are too important to drop.”
There’s an on-screen mention of Vodafone’s “best in test” award, which backs up the story’s implied benefit that the network is reliable and won’t drop your call even if you’re on the line for hours.
(They’re apparently now the UK’s #1 network for voice – which is a step up from when I was a Vodafone customer, and for 6 months, literally had to leave my flat and cross the street to make a call…)
Anyway, here’s what’s great about this ad, and what you can swipe from it and use in your own marketing:
1 – Show, don’t tell
Presenting a product benefit in action is more powerful than just ‘telling’ someone about that benefit.
It’s more entertaining, more convincing and has more ‘stickability’.
You can tell someone you have the UK’s best mobile coverage until you’re blue in the face, but they’re likely to get bored and walk away fast – unless you demonstrate that fact.
Stories are perfect for demonstrating stuff like benefits – they’re the Trojan Horse of marketing.
In the ad, the story of the uncle’s ticket-sourcing struggle smuggles in an important point about the strength of the service’s network. Clever stuff.
2 – Focus on the specific
Not every message you create needs to highlight ALL your benefits and features.
Long-form sales pages can do that, sure. But if you’re working in a faster medium, it’s best to pick one big benefit (like phone coverage) and make a compelling case for it.
You can create a story around said benefit and appeal to the people who care enough about that specific result.
That way you get one clear, strong message across without sounding like a used-car salesman chasing your prospect around the lot, yelling out benefits one after another in a desperate hope that something sticks.
If you’ve done your research and you know which are the biggest factors your target market needs to hear, you can even create two or three different messages that address one benefit (or objection) each.
3 – Create empathy
This ad presents a fairly normal situation – wanting to buy a gift for a loved one – and doesn’t make any grand claims to make you sexier, smarter or taller.
It connects on a personal level because the setup is something we can imagine being involved in ourselves…
We’ve all experienced the frustration of a dropped connection on an important call, or found ourselves hanging on a customer service line, waiting to be answered and worrying about being cut off and having to start again.
(I’ve been privileged to experience both sides of this, having been both a hair-tearing customer trying to get through to someone I can yell at…
…AND having worked in a ticket-booking call centre, where I sipped vending-machine coffee and checked the football scores while being yelled at down the phone by hair-tearing customers…
Ah, the cycle of life!)
When we see an ‘extreme’ example – most of our calls won’t last a whole day – it solidifies our faith in the network’s ability to keep regular calls up and running.
And the situation itself is just far-fetched enough to be almost-unbelievable and entertaining, while still feeling familiar enough for us to empathise with.
4 – Loss aversion
The particular benefit this ad focuses on – your calls won’t drop out even if they’re long and you’re on the move – plays on our fear of loss.
We’re often more likely to respond to the prospect of losing something rather than gaining something.
And although you have to be careful not to overdo the ‘fear factor’ in your marketing, presenting the idea that your product stops a potential loss from happening sends a powerful message.
In this case, the idea of losing out on a child’s perfect birthday gift is framed as a benefit of the phone network.
A negative experience with a positive spin and a happy ending…
5 – It’s funny, but not side-splittingly so
The gentle humour in the ad – particularly the look the guy in the shop gives Uncle Phone Dude when “You are number 743” comes out of the phone speakers – raises a smile of recognition and mild embarrassment.
It’s not a ‘wacky’ or attention-grabbing gag, it’s just a light-hearted moment of mild comedy (it doesn’t poke fun at anyone’s shortcomings, so doesn’t feel mean-spirited or cynical) that emphasises the point about how it sucks to be stuck in a queue all day.
Comedy is tricky in advertising…
Get it wrong and you risk alienating a chunk of your potential customer base…
But if you aim for something simple (as opposed to surreal or, er, ‘saucy’) that enhances empathy, you can sweeten the pill of your message as your audience warms to the idea.
6 – The message is clearly and simply conveyed
A key part of this ad’s success is the simplicity of the message.
The first few times I saw it on tv, I had it on mute, the way a lot of us do now when we encounter an ad break in our show…
We’ve become so used to skipping ads due to our catch-up tv viewing habits that when an ad break appears on live tv, many of us hit the mute button right away.
Advertisers know this, and are now aiming to create ads that can be understood even without sound…
‘Amy’s Birthday’ works well because you can follow along and get the key message without even hearing the dialogue.
(The YouTube version above has subtitles, but they’re not on the tv spot.)
Credit where it’s due:
This ad was created by advertising giants Ogilvy & Mather, and it gets a really strong, clear message across in well under a minute.
Of course, most of us can’t afford to hire the likes of O&M to create our sales messages or put our product on tv…
But whether you use long copy, video or audio, what you can do is follow these best practices for storytelling in your marketing and boost your sales:
- Show, don’t tell, using a short story in your message
- Demonstrate one specific benefit in the narrative
- Create empathy – be recognisable, not fantastical
- Play up to a fear of loss (carefully)
- Use gentle humour to enhance empathy, not split sides
- Keep it clear and simple – make sure the message can be either read, heard or viewed and understood completely without too much help from other senses
Ok, I’m off to buy my niece some tickets to see Hawkwind.
I only have nephews.
*UPDATE FROM 2019 FUTURE PETE – it seems Vodafone’s German arm is pretty awful too. A number of friends here in Berlin have shared shocking experiences, and it seems they’re not the only ones… 85% one-star ratings on Trustpilot?!?