US Insights

Humanize Your Position: Stories Not Stands

Kimberly Pedersen

Senior Vice President

Brands 03.05.2018 / 09:00

kt_com_Takeaway 7

Brands are under pressure to take sides, and this pressure is increasing.

At Kantar’s November 2016 Fragmentation event, we optimistically argued that brands could succeed in an age of fragmentation if they focused their efforts on universal stories that could be meaningful, different and salient.

One day later, on November 16, 2016, Gallup released the results of a poll showing that 77 percent of Americans perceived the nation as divided, the highest percentage saying so in the history of the poll.

This division does not appear to have abated. According to a 2017 Pew survey, the partisan gap is now the largest since Pew began measuring it in 1994. This partisan gap is also tangled in demographics. The generational cohort of Matures remains conservative, with Boomers turning more conservative, while Millennials and Gen Xers are identifying increasingly as liberal Democrats.

These divides are fraught for brands that must preserve their (often older) loyal base, while at the same time casting a wider net for newer or younger audiences. A 2016 Kantar Worldpanel study found that among the 47 percent of brands that grew in 2015, 79 percent did so because they gained new shoppers. Conversely, of the 53 percent of brands that declined, 84 percent did so because they lost shoppers. Accordingly, brands have a commercial imperative to grow their base and communicate to their core while concurrently reaching a broader audience.

Brands are under pressure to take sides, and this pressure is increasing. According to Edelman’s 2017 Earned Brand study, 57 percent of consumers will buy or boycott a brand based on its position on an issue, and 65 percent won’t buy a brand when it stays silent on an issue that they feel a brand has an obligation to address. Consumer boycotts also intensify this pressure. For example, sites like list companies that they urge consumers to boycott because of political or economic ties to the Trump administration.

Brands are feeling the pressure to acquiesce. In a 4As study on valuesbased marketing, 67 percent of agency respondents stated that changing American values were causing brands to become more interested in corporate responsibility and values-based marketing.

The pressure to take a stand is also evinced in advertising industry awards. The Cannes 2017 Grand Prix Winner “Fearless Girl” is literally a stand - a statue of a little girl standing on Wall Street. It is a compelling piece commissioned by asset manager State Street Global Advisors. But there is no story behind it. It’s just a statue. To figure out the rationale or message, you have to look hard.

“Fearless Girl” is intended as a powerful symbol of female leadership. But in and of itself, as it stands alone, it lacks a character or a narrative structure. Consequently, it falls short of its potential.

Video ads that told a story vastly outperformed those with no story in terms of expressiveness, or the ability of an ad to elicit an emotional response as measured by facial coding, and eliciting the active involvement of the viewer.

These findings are bolstered by what’s been learned from neuroscience. According to research by Dr. Paul Zak at Claremont Graduate University, character-driven video narratives cause the brain to produce oxytocin, the neurochemical responsible for bonding, kindness and empathy. When the video narrative is expertly crafted as an emotionally resonant brand story, as opposed to just an emotional story, the narrative gets encoded into long-term memory via association. It is this combination of emotional resonance and brand connection that gives the ad its effectiveness.

In addition to telling a story, brands should try to tell a universal story. This is what enables brands to transcend the so-called sand trap. Brands succeeding in today’s fraught environment are making deliberate choices to tell universal stories.

One such brand is Starbucks, which began a series of videos in late 2016, and continuing into 2017, called “The Upstanders.” These videos tell the stories of ordinary people making “extraordinary differences in their communities and beyond.” Starbucks made these videos available on its own channel, and Amazon has made them available as well and included them as part of its Prime membership offerings.

“The Upstanders” are 6- to 10-minute mid-length videos that convey Starbucks’ core brand values by featuring the real life narrative arcs of actual people with compelling and inspirational stories. For example, “A Warrior’s Workout” is a video about retired NFL player David Vobora who trains physically disabled veterans through his Adaptive Training Foundation. The video “Love for All” is about Stephenie Larsen, a Utah mother of six, who created the first LGBTQ community center in Provo, Utah, in an attempt to reduce suicides among gay teens and build bridges with the Mormon Church.

“The Upstanders’ video series shows brands what can be done with some creative leveraging of video distribution channels that tell stories with universal appeal about real people. In fact, in a time when brands are under pressure to take a side, what it really shows is how to pick a side. Not for or against an issue. Not red or blue politics. Not pro or con. Rather, brands must pick the side of telling stories.

It’s not about stands. It’s about stories. Brands that pick the side of stories will find common ground even in today’s era of partisan divides.

Source: Kantar, Kantar Millward Brown

Editor's Notes

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