All Good Marketing is Storytelling

Marketing is a huge field, spanning nearly every industry. Everyone’s trying to sell a product or service, and businesses spend billions annually to get their products in front of as many eyes as possible. However, as markets become more and more saturated, traditional marketing strategies have begun to fail.

In the midst of one of the biggest industry upsets in history – the advent of social media platforms – many marketers have turned to these newer channels to grow an audience and build their brand. One of the most successful platforms, if utilized correctly, is YouTube. With YouTube ads, a targeted video ad pops up before a video. For the first 15 seconds, the viewer does not have the option to skip and must watch the ad, guaranteeing marketers a brief time to share their product without the fear that someone will click away. After the ad crosses the 15-second mark, however, most can be skipped. One of the biggest challenges YouTube advertisers face is figuring out how to keep viewers watching past the 15-second mark.

Enter Dollar Shave Club, a scrappy little startup that began in 2012 as a simple idea incarnated into a simple, 90-second ad aired on YouTube. Within weeks, the ad had gone viral all over the internet, racking up millions of views and 12,000 paying customers for Dollar Shave Club. What did this little ad do right?

Simple. It told a story.

The ad opens with a closeup shot of Michael Dubin, the company’s founder and CEO, who briefly explains the idea behind Dollar Shave Club as concisely as possible. The idea? Get quality razors without unnecessary extras delivered right to your door each month for a dollar. Just as the ad reaches the fateful 15-second mark that can make or break an ad campaign, Dubin does the unexpected: he drops a bleeped-out f-bomb. “Our blades are f***ing great.”

The abrupt switch from formal to casual catches the viewers off guard, and they completely forget to skip the rest of the ad. From that point on, they’re hooked. Each second in the remained of the video is more hilarious than the last, making fun of traditional advertising and just generally having fun. The ad doesn’t just provide information about the product; it frames a story about the company and its values. The final impression is that Dollar Shave Club is group full of innovators who are just regular guys who know how to have fun. The brand isn’t just a business, it’s a group of people (both employees and customers) who are “in” on the joke.

For another example, look no further than the ad which launched a thousand memes: the 60-second TheLegend27 ad campaign by the Game of War franchise, which was aired on YouTube in October 2016. This ad provides an even clearer example of using ad space to tell a story, and the video now has over 156 million views.

At the end of the day, people watch ads for the same reason they watch TV shows: for the story. Stories are memorable. They stick with the viewer much longer than a boring infomercial because they have a heart behind them. We tell each other stories every day, from that incident that happened at school to how we met our best friends. Story ads bring people closer to a brand because they portray the human side of the business. Everyone tells stories, and in this way, even multimillion dollar companies like Dollar Shave Club aren’t that different from each one of us.

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