People love stories.

They’ve a powerful effect bonding effect. Whether it’s reading a treasured fairy tale to a child, a discussion with friends about the latest best seller or an in-depth discussion about a literary masterpiece, stories bring people together.

Stories underpin effective PR and marketing too. The much-anticipated John Lewis Christmas TV adverts are great examples.

It maybe surprising that despite the millions of stories that are told, many academics and authors agree; there are less than 10 plots.

Renowned author, Kurt Vonnegut, concluded there were 8:

Kurt Vonnegut 8 stories

Designer: Maya Eilam,
Source: A Man Without A Country and Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut

Using the story archs in marketing

The huge variety of our stories is more to do with context, characters and circumstances; the emotional journey is one of only eight.

It’s a useful heuristic. Whether you’re trying to engage and retain an audience with landing page, a press release, a blog post or an advert, consider the emotional journey you’re taking your readers on. Can you captivate your audience more effectively using one of the 8 story archs?

The highs of a marketing piece can be:

  • The pleasure or joy a consumer will experience during the purchasing process
  • The pleasure or joy a consumer will experience when they have purchased or are using a product or service
  • The pleasure of earning respect from friends, family, colleagues etc when they purchase your product
  • The comfort of knowing you’ve a trusted/knowledgeable supplier beside you, supporting you

The lows can include:

  • The pain or suffering experienced by the problem the product solves
  • Fear of missing out on an experience or product
  • The disappointment or frustration associated with using an inferior (competitor’s) product

Examples – TV adverts

The 2012 John Lewis ad fits the ‘man in a hole’ plot.  The rabbit and bear are good friends and enjoy spending time together (up) but then winter comes (down). The rabbit is sad because the bear has to hibernate (another down).  The rabbit is even more sad when all the other animals are having fun with their friends decorating the tree (even more down). The rabbit gives the bear a present – from John Lewis! (up) – and is delighted when the bear wakes up and comes to celebrate Christmas (up).  

John Lewis cleverly associates the joy of re-connecting with old friends with purchasing their products, making memories and bringing people together.

The iconic 1990s Coca-Cola Christmas ad follows the creation story with each clip bringing Coca-Cola lorries closer and closer to the town for Christmas. The story arch simply goes up and up. Coca-Cola is using the ‘high’ associated with having the product to build anticipation.

The Honda Accord advert has the same plot but the conclusion is about solving a problem and inferring that it’s car better than the competition.

Example – print advert

Even print ads can take lead viewers on a mini-adventure.  Yes it’s much harder to engage someone and have them make the story up in their minds, but that’s the genius in great print advertising.

The sugar-free Chupa Chups sugar free lollipops ads, for example, places a lolly in path of a trail of ants (an up). But the ants aren’t interested and trailing round the lolly (a down). Why? Because it’s sugar free (an up). It’s another man in a hole plot.

Whatever marketing, however you’re marketing it, storify it!