The frenzy surrounding the Super Bowl and its audience of more than 114 million viewers earlier this month reminded me of how intricately interwoven storytelling and advertising have become. At a cost of up to $4.5 million per 30-second ad slot, the commercials during America’s biggest sporting event are expected to be the best of the practice. But even with such high stakes, companies’ performances span the good, bad, ugly and sad. Below I consider three of the most salient examples that have emerged in the past couple of years that will benefit storytellers and marketers alike.
Hunt the right opportunity
A great lesson of storytelling came in 2013, when Oreo crafted a timely tweet during a thirty-four minute power outage at the Super Bowl. In answer to the widespread speculation about how this was accomplished, the brand revealed it had created a 15-member team of decision makers and branding professionals who watched the game together, ready to respond immediately to any opportunities that emerged.
The lesson: Don’t casually look for a storytelling opportunity to come your way – hunt it! Sit there waiting for it like a tiger in the jungle. Find that prey, catch it, and show your storytelling might. The audience will watch in awe, and you will set the standard that all others hope to achieve.
Timing is everything
If getting people to talk about your brand is the goal, Totino’s was victorious this year – but for all the wrong reasons. At least 25 of the frozen pizza maker’s “real time” Super Bowl tweets were inadvertently scheduled to go out a day early. Messages like “Did you see that coin toss?! WOW! This game’s already action-packed!” appeared 24 hours before the actual coin toss, which invited backlash and teasing on Twitter that few people could resist. Others concluded the gaffe was so outrageous, it must have been a stunt – which the company later claimed it had been.
The lesson: Details matter when it comes to storytelling. No doubt this will long be remembered by the intern who scheduled the tweets to go out, along with NBC anchor Brian Williams, who recanted his story last week about being aboard a helicopter hit by RPG fire in Iraq. Also, timing is absolutely paramount when releasing stories of any kind. Knowing what is happening in the industry and shaping your story accordingly brings ultimate results.
The double edge of emotion
The most impassioned response to a company’s story was elicited by US insurance provider Nationwide, however. Its ad featured a boy who lists the many iconic life experiences he would never have, only for viewers to learn at the end this was because he was dead. It was John Lewis’ Monty the Penguin campaign meets the Sixth Sense, and audiences were outraged. The company had to issue a statement saying it only intended to “start a conversation” about safety, not ruin game day for millions of people.
The lesson: Thoughtfully consider the context of your audience when using emotion. Puppies romping around with horses is good (classic strategy, Budweiser), but reminding parents of their worst nightmare while they sit at a Super Bowl party only results in disdain for a company perceived as tactless. Looking ahead after Storytelling Week, it’s good to remember these elements that are so important to presenting stories that transcend time, space and – perhaps even – barriers to your title as master storyteller.