Story eats facts for breakfast

By Erik Eustice | Advertising

Nov 30

But what about the truth?

Isn’t that what people want?

Sort of.

People want the truth to a point. That point isn’t as sharp as you’ve been led to believe, though. Be careful you don’t collapse on it and send your advertising to its reward. (Which isn’t a reward for your business, if you can dig it.)

I’m not suggesting you lie. That only works until people encounter your product and realize you’re full of something. (Hint: It isn’t good will.) Which means it doesn’t actually work. Empty promises. Unsubstantiated claims. Ad speak heard in somebody else’s ad so you throw it into yours. Which is common. We often regurgitate without realizing the origin. This is why your first ideas are often not your golden children. They’re someone else’s, usually fool’s gold, and often uninspiring. Please don’t kidnap them. They’ll eat you out of house and happiness.

Back to the truth and story and why your ads don’t perform as well as you’d like them to.

As Roy H. Williams reminds us, we want to believe that if the public knew what we knew (how much we care, how superior our product is to the competition, the secret sauce that makes our brand so magical) they would make the decision we want them to make. So we force-feed our ads with facts and figures. We try to convince the public like a bachelor with a stuffed wallet at a singles bar. But no romance with eternal force was born through statistics.

Yes, romance.

That’s what we’re really talking about. Your customers want to be romanced. They want to be seduced by the noble at heart. They crave tact and charm and mystery. They want to be entertained. They long to be challenged out of their stupor. They want conflict before the resolution. They don’t believe a word you say without it.

Which brings us back to the truth and story and why your ads don’t perform as well as you’d like them to.

Facts never convinced anyone of a feeling they didn’t already have. It’s neuroscience. Your right brain decides how you feel by inviting in all the influencing elements your intellect is unable to. Then that feeling gets kicked to your left brain for a fact check. But it’s not how you think. The facts Lefty is searching for are the ones that support the feeling you’ve already committed to.

You know this is true.

Think about a person you like. Now think about all the crappy things they do. Yet you still like them.

How about that jerk you just can’t handle? They aren’t all headaches and horrible. Somehow you find a way to overlook their goodness so you can continue to dislike them. Not terribly fact-y, is it?

I’m not saying it’s wonderful. I’m saying it’s often how we relate to each other.

We build a case to encourage and sustain our feelings.

So, what about the truth and story and your ads?

Give them the truth. Focus less on what it is, more on what it means. Give it to them in a way that they can’t deny. Bake in your/their values. Reflect their life through the lens of experience. What kind of experience? The kind they create in their own imagination. This is unique to each and confers ownership. So anything goes? Nope. You have to carefully lead them down the path. You have to give them the ingredients. You have to create a vivid mental image (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell). That’s right, ads can conjure a smell. They can summon memories of tactile sensations. You’re wired for this stuff. Count the neurons in your brain dedicated to processing physical reality. Now count the ones committed to imagination. Imagination wins all day long. Which means you’re better equipped to deal with the world of your mind than you are the world of your body. Which is another reason facts alone don’t persuade.* 

You need story for that.

It’s the consistent mode of communication for about as long as humans have been communicating. The earliest cave art tells a story.

At what point did we lose sight of that?

Maybe it was the industrial revolution. I don’t know.

My children plead for “just one more story” as they drift off. (They haven’t once asked me to review a spreadsheet.)

So how does story influence your advertising?

Are you trying to convince or persuade?

These are questions worth asking.

Your ads pace anxiously for the answers.

P.S. *Facts do have their place in persuasion. They support the decision that’s based in feeling. So find a factoid that corroborates the feeling and sprinkle it in. (Make sure to substantiate it.) And remember that facts are like salt. You only need a pinch…

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