Your Message Is The Core Storydriver

Last week we delved into the four elements of storytelling

Storytelling as a branding tool is not about telling stories just for the sake of it. Rather, for most brands, storytelling is about using stories to communicate messages that reflect positively on the brand. But first you must develop a clearly defined message. Without it, there is no reason to tell stories – at least not with a strategic purpose.

Among storytellers – the central message, or premise of the story, is an ideological or moral statement that works as a central theme throughout the story. In the tale of the hare and the tortoise for example, the tortoise wins the race because she is slow and steady, rather than speedy and careless. The moral of the story being that “arrogance backfires.” The story itself becomes proof of the premise – the central message – and through it, the audience can better understand and internalize the message.

Your message should not be confused with a pay-off or a slogan. A pay-off is a short, catchy expression that encompasses the message typically used in advertising. For example “Just Do It” is Nike’s pay-off, however their message is that every game is about winning, and if you want it badly enough, with effort and determination, you can be a winner too.

But what Nike is fighting for, is to help us believe in ourselves. If we believe, in ourselves, throw caution to the wind and just go for it, then we can all be winners. Nike is fighting against compromise and the seeds of defeat that lie in our lack of confidence and our tendency to settle for second best. During the Olympic Games in Atlanta, the whole city saw large billboards go up, all expressing a message in sharp contrast to Olympic ideals: “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.”

Likewise, when Anita Roddick founded The Body Shop she created a hard-hitting message to go with it. The company, and by its extension its brand stood for something important. Besides fighting for a number of political and charitable causes. The Body Shop took a stand against animal testing, a taboo that had plagued the cosmetics industry for years. By contrast, in The Body Shop universe, cosmetics and skincare are a guilt-free experience. It is our decision whether we are willing to suffer for beauty or not, but animals need not suffer.

To stay in storytelling jargon, you could say that the message in the brand story is the moral of the story. Basically it is a sense of what is right or wrong. For Volvo the most important thing is not to get there fast, but to get there sagely. The same is true for Alpha Romeo, though their message is quite different to that of Volvo. The essence of Alpha Romeo’s message is one of driving pleasure. A passion that is as much about enjoying the journey as it is about getting there. In the Alpha Romeo universe, driving is one of life’s great leisure pursuits, and it doesn’t hurt to look the part while doing it.

In essence, your message needs to mirror either your cause, or, the experience you are trying to sell. Of course, it is difficult to boil your message down to its very essence. One way to get started is to widen the question by asking yourself, what your core story is actually about. And inherent in this search is the conflict that your story has to overcome. This will be the focus of next week’s blog.

CMO Perspective – Renault

The focus on the core message is evident with Renault’s launch of the Clio. Renault wanted to build a long-term communication platform that would continue to enhance consumer awareness and create a strong brand position for the Clio.

Extensive research prior to the campaign showed that the British public strongly aspired to the French way of life, believing it offered a more relaxed, romantic and desirable lifestyle than their own.

For Renault, this obsession with French culture was a great opportunity to set the course for a new, creative approach to advertising. Instead of producing a traditional car advertisement focusing only on the product, Renault decided to develop a story universe around the Clio brand. One that was capable of conveying the appeal of French values and lifestyle, thus appealing to people’s emotions and making the message of the new Clio more relevant to the target group. Renault launched a campaign that told a story about the French and their romances, at the same time introducing the two main characters Nicole, a chic, beautiful young woman, and her father “Papa”.

Set in scenic Provence, the first 60-second commercial showed Nicole in a polka dot summer frock, sneaking past her sleeping “Papa” in the garden of their Chateau and driving away in her Renault Clio to meet with her boyfriend. Having faked his sleep “Papa” then goes off on his own rendezvous with a lady friend. Upon their return, they greet each other with “Nicole?” and “Papa!” The commercial ends with the strap line, “Renault: a Certain Flair.” The cheekiness of the campaign and its play on French culture offered British viewers a chance to escape the drabness of their everyday lives. In short, it became a cult story.

The lives of Nicole and her father was central in making the Renault Clio one of the UK’s top 10 automobiles. From the very first year of trading, the Clio helped Renault achieve its largest overall market share in a decade – despite a 20.7% decline in car sales. Renault believes this also helped in restoring its reputation in the UK, with the bonus that it also earned the company an image of producing chic, desirable cars. The campaign won numerous Advertising Effectiveness Awards and the Sofres Automotive study into car advertising, showed that the campaign was the most successful ever, with a 93% recall figure.

With the launch of a new model Clio, Renault decided to end the Nicole and “Papa” story and announced that Nicole was getting married. In their press release Renault did their very best to keep the story rolling, announcing that: “Thousands of men around the country are reported to be broken-hearted at news of Nicole’s forthcoming marriage.

One cannot help wondering would Renault have achieved the same effect and publicity had they launched a traditional campaign oriented only around the product and its features? Such as one of those advertisements where a sleek, shiny car drives smoothly across a scenic landscape?

Comparing the Renault Clio campaign to the NESCAFE Gold blend campaign there are striking similarities: Both were wildly successful in telling an emotional and entertaining story that added real psychological value to the physical product, at the same time making it more relevant and desirable to the right target groups. By telling a compelling story, both companies were able to create a long-term branding platform and even extend their stories into the media and public environments. This becomes even more interesting when you consider the basic differences between the two brands. NESCAFE Gold blend – a fairly generic coffee – is clearly a low-involvement product, whereas the Renault Clio is a very high involvement product. They each face very different consumer behavior and buying patterns. Yet by telling a relevant story that was credibly linked to the brand in question, they both generated remarkable results, proving that the power of storytelling is not limited to a certain product category.

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