Shakespeare on Advertising

A little known fact: The word “advertising” existed long before modern media. Even before the Internet. In fact, you’ll never guess who invented the word. OK, I’ll tell you. Shakespeare. I’m pretty sure he didn’t come up with the word “advertising” to describe a 30-second TV commercial to promote his next play.

We must get back to the basics. Invented long before TV or even before there was a word for it, advertising will surely stand the test of time. But it will not continue as we currently define it.

Let’s get back to its original intention. Advertising is storytelling for the purpose of persuasion, and stories are used in persuasion because they are the best way to articulate meaning. Consumer psychology has shown that stories wield the most effective power to organize complex information and create emotional connections to brands. Stories laced with arresting visuals and sensory language create emotion and can cement new constructs within the human brain to be subconsciously recalled later.

The brain draws from these constructs to be used as decision-making models to answer a broad range of questions in life: What to do. What to think. What to purchase.

For example, here is a story: “The Mayo Clinic treated a broken Olympic athlete, who finally won the race of life.”

Add some impactful images and sound design for a TV spot, and fleshing out a 15-word story line such as this can help build a brand. From a small town in Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic has built the world’s leading healthcare brand based on stories like this, and a core value they call a “Culture of Storytelling.”

Note the fact that this story about Mayo contained no promise to save your life. It offered no evidence for better mortality scores or national rankings of the hospital. By using a concrete example, this story simply implied, “If Mayo is good enough for Olympians, it’s good enough for you.”

Stories are often most effective because they provide powerful models of truth without over promising or creating inflexible expectations that can fail under the complexities of reality. There is no perfect model in storytelling. As statistician George E. P. Box said, “All models are wrong. Some are useful”. That’s why it’s impossible to communicate everything about your brand from a single TV commercial. It takes a series of stories to get the full picture.

This endless need for story development is what keeps the advertising industry well fed. Telling stories for decades, ad agencies have evolved into TV-commercial factories. As the formula has changed from interruptive commercials to permissive content, the role of the advertising agency is changing, as well. Advertising is no longer interrupting entertainment but is being integrated into it. In fact, the two are becoming one and the same.

Opportunities present themselves when we dare to explore the very purpose of advertising and ask ourselves why we exist. We don’t merely exist to make TV commercials. Our job is to create stories that sell products and services. New media has redefined the sacred art we produce. No longer commercial factories, relevant agencies are evolving to produce “branded storytelling” like this.

Excerpt from: Surfing The Black Wave: Brand Leadership in a Digital Age