When storytelling advertising works best for your audience

In summary Before you charge out screaming and shouting, consider first your audience's location and state of mind.

Typical ads need to not only convey a message, they need to first grab your audience’s attention. But, what could an ad do if it already had the luxury of a captivated audience? What if it broke the mold of “x seconds or less” and instead took its time building to a cinematic climax? What if that approach was perfectly tailored to the audience? What if it wasn’t pitched by Don Draper in a moment of charismatic clarity?

Oreo Mini has a storytelling advertising spot that I was lucky enough to experience this past weekend while in the theater (how’s that for a sentence you didn’t think you’d ever say?).

Granted, it won’t have the same effect here as when you’re in relaxation mode, sitting in a theater. And that’s exactly one of the reasons why this ad had the impact it did on me. It’s a great example of when advertising truly fits the medium and conditions it would be experienced in.

While this is an example of storytelling advertising, advertising of all kinds can learn something here:

  • Understand your audience and speak directly to them. I don’t know if this ad runs outside of the theater, but I truly hope it doesn’t. On my television, I likely would have walked away. On the big screen, I had already cleared my schedule to take in a show. The only thing I might get up for would be a pre-showtime snack. And what do you think I’m now thinking of as we head into 15 minutes of previews?
  • Adapt to your environment. When this ad first began, I wasn’t sure if it was a trailer and I had missed the standard green screen before it. It jumped right into the story, setting up a history. It was whimsical. It was quirky. It rhymed, for crying out loud. It felt right at home in a semi-dark theater.
  • Connect on an emotional level. The whimsy, the rhyming, the soft mystery, the one family who stopped with their vintage luggage. The whole advertisement (including its storytelling nature) sets up an environment of real—or imagined—nostalgia before the product is unveiled. And wouldn’t you know, nostalgia is just the emotion Oreo has been wanting you to feel for years and years. [2020 update: Oreo has inexplicably scrubbed all traces of this spot from the internet]

For me, it was a refreshing reminder that not everything needs to be high-impact in those first 10 seconds or less to linger on the audience’s mind.