Long gone are the days of product placement when advertisers paid to feature a product in someone else’s story.
There’s been some talk that we’ve entered the era of story placement — in which the captivating and cunning craft of storytelling is now being applied to every step of the customer experience, which turns brands themselves into amusing narrators.
Mobile Video Advertising: The Experiment
In the face of a mobile revolution, we need to reconsider where we’re telling stories and how we tell them. According to ZenithOptimedia, video advertising is becoming more mobile.
Our mobile devices are the first things we reach for in the morning, and one of the last things we look at before we hit the pillow. Mobile could pose quite a serious challenge to how well brands adapt to this new environment.
So what’s the best way of telling stories on mobile, and what are the rules of this new habitat? Based on the experiment the Google team conducted with Mountain Dew, BBDO NY, and OMD Worldwide, it’s not about a shorter and a quicker ad message. It’s all about the effect the ad leaves.
The goal of the experiment was to get closer to understanding what mobile video advertisements people are most likely to watch and whether their views influence brand metrics.
So they made three cuts of the same ad video. The first one was 30 seconds long, with a classic storyline, festive music, and engaging action. The next one was a 31-second mobile ad re-cut that started featuring a product right away.
The third one lasted for one minute and 33 seconds. The brand and product weren’t that conspicuous, there was no story arc, and the viewers found themselves right in the middle of the action.
What they found out was remarkable.
The view-through rate on desktop was exactly the same for all three cuts. However, people watched more of the third cut on mobile than on any other device – it had a 26 percent higher view-through rate. And people who chose to watch did so for 50 seconds longer.
So the big key takeaway here is that people are willing to engage for longer on mobile. People do like brands; they just don’t like being sold to. Which takes us back to the old adage Tell, don’t sell.
Besides that, ad recall was 54 percent lower for cut number three, but people still remembered the brand. Brand awareness stayed the same across all three versions.
So it’s safe to say that creating content that is captivating and worthy of people’s time has more value than a blatant interruption with a brand message. Besides, a prevailing number of people agree that they are more open to advertisements when they are tailored to their interests. Well, that’s some food for thought.
A True Craft
Storytelling is a way of making a connection with the audience on a neuroscientific level. I decided to ask three industry experts to share their thoughts on what might be driving the emerging practice of story placement. Here’s what they shared with me.
Ed Fry (Community Manager, Inbound)
The example that springs to mind is Airbnb. They hired a storyboard artist from Pixar to draw out “frames” of every step of a traveler’s experience, and traveler’s experience, optimized that as part of their strategy and shifted their focus towards targeting the whole hospitality industry, not just air beds and breakfasts.
Marketing needs to be in sync with operations. What’s the good in creating marketing around an experience that’s so much bigger than your own product’s benefit? A restaurant might be able to craft the story of a perfect evening with your significant other, but might struggle positioning dinner as ‘life changing, once-in-a-lifetime.’
If stories are the way to go for brand, connecting those stories, products and brands together in a way that isn’t unique or fatiguing for consumers – “Oh great, another must-do experience of a lifetime”—is crucial.
Alaura Weaver (Freelance Copywriter)
With the growing popularity of augmented and virtual reality, brands won’t have a choice but to start investing in immersive experiences – personalized, interactive storycrafting – to create emotional connections with their customers.
When brands invite customers to imagine interacting with them beyond the context of the screen and in their real lives, that’s storytelling. And the more you activate someone’s imagination and senses, the stronger the emotional connection they’ll have to the story you’re telling. And the more they’ll want to continue creating a story with you.
Parry Malm (CEO, Phrasee)
If I’m honest, I think it’s a tautological debate. Advertising has always been about storytelling. But, there’s nothing marketers love more than a new buzzword. So let’s deconstruct this new one.
What is a story? It’s a narrative that takes people on a journey from point A to point B. What is telling? Well, it’s the act of conveying something using communication mechanisms. What is marketing? Isn’t it using communication mechanisms to drive consumers from point A to point B? Am I right?
Things like native advertising aren’t new. In the 90s and before, it was called ‘advertorials.’ Native is more subtle than the advertorials of yesteryear, which, at first, seemed like a great way to convey a brand message.
However – and never forget this point – consumers aren’t stupid! They quickly realized that it was a bait and switch maneuver, and it ultimately devalued the editorial integrity of the story source, and created a negative brand perception of the story sponsor.
Have you ever tried to make mortar without sand? It doesn’t work very well. A marketing program without the basics will fail – no matter how well you tell your story.
There’s this phenomenon that has been around for a while now. It’s called unboxing, and it’s been trending on YouTube. The name speaks for itself. Unboxing is a genre of videos on YouTube where people quite literally unbox a product in front of a video camera. Many are user-generated videos, but brands are starting to get the hang of this platform, too. These videos do not simply document the experience of opening a new box of something, but they often make a show out of it, revealing the products in all of their crisp, unopened glory.
These videos have become in vogue and have grown a steady audience. There are unboxing videos for all kinds of products, from groceries to toys, to beauty products.
According to the SEMrush Video Advertising report, the top trending unboxing videos that keep people glued to the screen are dedicated to:
- Computer and mobile devices. As an example, the “Samsung Galaxy S4: Unboxing & Review” video was watched more than four million times.
- Online video games with the most popular video gaining three million views.
- Toys, which score over a million views per video.
So why do people enjoy watching someone open up a box? Because, according to a psychologist Dr. Judy White, watching those videos leads to excitement – similar to what we feel when we unwrap a present.
She also claims that, in this case, we may be projecting ourselves onto the person opening the box:
“Our brains seem to be wired that way. We’re equipped with something called ‘mirror neurons’; the same neurons that fire when we watch an activity are fired when we perform that same activity ourselves.”
Marketing goes where the people are, and so virtual reality is where connections are made. And thanks to technology, there are now many ways for brand stories to thrive. And all assumptions about brand stories’ inability to compete with the storytelling tool of Hollywood have become obsolete.
So, what’s next? Are brands going to take story placement to a whole new level? The answer is yes. The only remaining question is who’s going to get there first?
Featured Image: Image by SEMrush. Used with permission.
In-post photos: All images by SEMrush. Used with permission.