How to use Storytelling to Engage in Marketing

Although #storytelling is a (sometimes over used) buzzword right now, storytelling is ancient and part of the very fabric of human history. Our brains are hardwired to remember & connect with stories more than facts or stats ever will. Think back to when you were a child and your favourite stories, I bet you can still remember them in full. I can still accurately remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & the Beanstalk, Roald Dahls’ BFG or Enid Blytons’ the Far Away Tree to name a few.

There’s such a human element to stories, we use it as a way to connect with others & hear how others like us have fared in situations and maybe we can learn from them and their success or failure.

A famous quote from *Plato says:


“Those who tell the stories rule society.”  ― Plato
Tweet Quote

Stories can also be about anything and used for different purposes; as a way to entertain, share past experiences or family history. No one story is the same, or is it? We will look at Christopher Bookers “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories” to see what makes a good engaging story; which you can keep in mind when crafting the narrative in your next marketing campaign.

You will notice familiar ones crop up time and time again across films & advertising. They work each time as they are personal in nature.

The Seven Basic Plots

1. Overcoming the Monster
The hero must overcome an evil force threatening them/mankind. The hero must toil & sweat to overcome the monster and slay it for the good of mankind. Overcoming the monster isn’t easy but once triumphant they receive a great reward. In films, we can see this in Dracula, King Kong and in advertising(where the brand helps the hero overcome the monster). Nike use their message of “Just Do It” paired with “overcoming the monster” & the monster(doesn’t have to be an actual monster) is you the runner and overcoming your fears with the help of the brand Nike and their runners. See Nike: Last

2. Rags to Riches
This one does exactly as it says on the tin, the hero is insignificant at the beginning but something happens and they are elevated and revealed as exceptional. In films, we can see this in Superman, The Ugly Duckling & Cinderella. In Pantene shampoo ads you see the female lead with dry, lifeless hair, then after using the shampoo she is elevated & transformed with beautiful shiny, glossy healthy hair. 

3. The Quest
The hero must set out on a dangerous journey and conquer all obstacles in their path until they are triumphant. In films, we can see this in The Lord of the Rings & Harry Potter. Used in advertising this could be the hero channeling the brand’s values in order to achieve their goals & do good. This story can be seen used in the Adidas World Cup ad “The Quest” 

4. Voyage & Return
This is also based on a journey but the difference is the hero must travel out of their normal world into the overwhelming new unknown, before then escaping backing their home world. In films, we can see this in Alice in Wonderland & Finding Nemo. In your advertising think how your brand/product experience could transform the customer taking them on a journey into another world. In the ad for the Sony Bravio LCD TV, it shows it could take you to another world with a rich “Colour like no other” TV viewing experience. 

5. Comedy
This is a story based upon series of comedic events based on misunderstandings, confusion or even mistaken identity. In films, we can see this in Some like Hot & Bridget Jones Diary. You can use comedy in your story to show a series of comedic events of what could happen to them if they didn’t use your product. Specsavers do this in a really entertaining way, just see their latest campaign: Should’ve gone to Specsavers: Rescue

6. Tragedy
Unfortunately there is no happy ending in tragedies, in all the other plot structures we have been rooting for a victorious hero. But here our hero meets with a loss or death. In films, we can see this in most recently in Breaking Bad but most famously in Macbeth followed by Romeo and Juliet. Be carful using tragedy in advertising, it is most commonly used by charities but others are capitalising on shock advertising

7. Rebirth
Our hero falls under a dark spell, which could be sleep, sickness, enchantment or death only to break free and be redeemed/reborn. In films, we can see this in The Secret Garden & Sleeping Beauty. In your campaign this “dark spell” could be seen as time away from your brand and the breaking free can be reconnecting with the brand or re-insipring people about the product and simultaneously your brand. Dollar Shave Club shows this with people disillusioned by the cost of fancy blades & by using the Dollar Shave Club they can reconnect with their love of shaving without the hassle & save money too, they also use humour to great effect (mixing the 2 story archetypes).

In Summary
I hope armed with his knowledge you have been inspired about the possibilities and have the confidence to create an engaging marketing campaign using one or a combination of many different archetypes, to excite, engage and delight your customers.

Don’t forget to bring them on the journey with you and make it meaningful, think Always #likeagirl campaign.

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” ― Plato
Tweet Quote

Please comment on your favourite movies and ads below and if you enjoyed this article please share & signup to our weekly newsletter.

*Plato (Greek:  born 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a philosopher in Classical Greece and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is widely considered the most pivotal figure in the development of philosophy, especially the Western tradition.
See Plato’s full biography.