Storytelling as a critical success factor in video advertisements

An empirical analysis of storytelling elements deployed in the most viewed video advertisements


Master's Thesis, 2018
75 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Excerpt

Table of Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Abstract

List of Tables

List of Figures

1 Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Research Purpose
1.3 Significance of and Justification for the Study
1.4 Research Question and Objective
1.5 Structure of the Dissertation

2 Literature Review
2.1 Overview
2.2 The Nature and Scope of Advertising
2.2.1 Definition of Advertising
2.2.2 The Role of Advertising within Marketing
2.3 Storytelling in the Context of Advertising
2.3.1 Definition of Storytelling
2.3.2 Why Is Storytelling Used in Advertising?
2.3.3 Positive Effects of Storytelling
2.4 The Elements of Storytelling
2.4.1 The Essence of a Good Story
2.4.2 The Basic Plots
2.4.3 Archetypes
2.4.4 Fictional Stories vs. Real Stories
2.4.5 Further Elements
2.4.5.1 High and Low Arousal Emotions
2.4.5.2 Surprise and Joy
2.4.5.3 Music
2.5 Conceptual Framework
2.6 Conclusion

3 Methodology and Research Design
3.1 Overview
3.2 Research Philosophy
3.3 Research Approach
3.4 Methodological Choice
3.5 Research Strategy
3.6 Data Collection Technique
3.7 Data Analysis Procedure
3.8 Access and Ethical Issues
3.9 Reliability of Qualitative Data
3.10 Conclusion

4 Presentation and Discussion of the Findings
4.1 Overview
4.2 Presentation of Findings
4.2.1 The Essence of a Good Story
4.2.2 The Basic Plots
4.2.3 Archetypes
4.2.4 Fictional Stories vs. Real Stories
4.2.5 Further Elements
4.2.5.1 High and Low Arousal Emotions
4.2.5.2 Surprise and Joy
4.2.5.3 Music
4.3 Discussion and Conclusion
4.3.1 The Essence of a Good Story
4.3.2 The Basic Plots
4.3.3 Archetypes
4.3.4 Fictional Stories vs. Real Stories
4.3.5 Further Elements
4.3.5.1 High and Low Arousal Emotions
4.3.5.2 Surprise and Joy
4.3.5.3 Music

5 Concluding Thoughts on the Contribution of this Research, its Limitations, and Suggestions for Further Research
5.1 Implications of the Findings for the Research Questions
5.2 Contributions and Limitations of the Research
5.3 Recommendations for Practice
5.4 Recommendations for Future Research
5.5 Final Conclusion and Reflections

References

Appendices

List of Tables

Table 01 - Archetypes applied in Advertising

Table 02 - High and Low Arousal Emotions

Table 03 - Top 3 Advertisements per Year

List of Figures

Figure 01 - Conceptual Framework

Figure 02 - Research ‘Onion’

Figure 03 - Essence of a Good Story

Figure 04 - The Basic Plots

Figure 05 - Archetypes

Figure 06 - High and Low Arousal Emotions

Figure 07 - Surprise and Joy

Dedication

I would like to thank my family and friends for giving me the strength to undertake this research project. Without their support, this achievement would not have been possible.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my dissertation supervisor Justin F. Keogan. His helpful advices and supportive guidance throughout the process of my dissertation have been invaluable. I am also grateful to Prof. Dr. Barbara Lämmlein for her participation in the quasi-judicial session and the insightful discussion, feedback and suggestions on my research project.

Abstract

Storytelling as a critical success factor in video advertisements:

An empirical analysis of storytelling elements deployed in the most viewed video advertisements.

Michael Wuta

In this dissertation, it was shown that storytelling is a critical success factor in video advertisements, and storytelling elements are a permanent and significant feature of the 30 most viewed video advertisements as determined by the YouTube Ads Leaderboard for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016.

While the role of storytelling in advertisements and its persuasive power on the consumer behaviour have been widely researched, empirical studies on the presence and significance of storytelling elements deployed in successful video advertisements are missing. The research objectives of this study were to identify and analyse the storytelling elements deployed in the 30 most viewed video advertisements, and to provide guidance for marketers and advertisers so that they can understand the vital storytelling elements in video advertisements and consequently make the most of this technique. This exploratory research is based on an interpretivist research philosophy and qualitative research methodologies for the data collection and analysis were applied. Using qualitative content analysis, this study empirically examined the storytelling elements deployed in the 30 most viewed video advertisements. As a result, 12 elements are identified as vital elements for video advertisements: message, conflict, characters, beginning/ middle/ end, authenticity, reversal, connectedness, the basic plots, archetypes, fictional story, emotions, and music. These findings provide insights for marketers and advertisers aiming to convey their messages through storytelling in video advertisements. While there is no set formula for a successful video advertisement, this study revealed that a few vital storytelling elements appeal to a global audience and some of the most viewed video advertisements have these elements in common.

Keywords: storytelling, narratives, video advertisements, YouTube Ads Leaderboard, storytelling elements, online advertising, rich media

1 Introduction

This chapter introduces the background of this research and also presents the research purpose, the significance of, and the justification for the study. Subsequently, the research question and objectives are presented and, finally, an overview of the dissertation structure is provided.

1.1 Background

Storytelling has become a buzzword and as such has gained much attention from practitioners and academics from different disciplines. However, due to the popularity of storytelling in various areas such as advertising, branding, education, and general management practice, there is a lack of clarity regarding the definition and concept of storytelling. As the present study refers to storytelling in the context of advertising, the most suitable definition of storytelling as a concept is Pulizzi’s (2012), who defines it as a technique to influence, attract, retain, and drive consumer action.

In particular, marketers and advertisers have shown interest in storytelling applied to advertising (Fog et al. 2011; Escalas 1998 cited in Stern 2003), since they are challenged to attract the attention of the consumers with argumentative (fact-based) advertisements (Kim et al. 2017). Furthermore, consumers are overstimulated with advertisements; experts estimate that the average American is exposed to around 3,000 to 5,000 advertisements per day (New York Times [online], 2007). However, most of the advertisements remain unnoticed or ignored by the consumers, i.e. consumers zap away from TV advertisements or click the skip button when an online advertisement appears while watching videos online (Rodgers and Thorson 2017; Wilbur 2008). Thus, the avoidance of advertisements in all its forms has become a major challenge for marketers and advertisers.

The most consumer engaging advertisements have been those where the advertisers, marketers and creative minds responsible for the advertisements understood how to build a compelling story around the product and service being advertised (adweek [online], 2016). Woodside (2010) argues that stories are easier to memorise for the consumer, he or she identifies with the characters in the stories and as a result is emotionally affected. Under those conditions, marketers and advertisers can draw so much attention that the consumer finds it difficult to ignore the advertisement. In general, storytelling in advertising is an effective technique to attract and persuade the target consumer.

This study in particular focus on the storytelling elements deployed in the analysed video advertisements, since the elements of a story, such as archetypes, connectedness and message function as stimulus to evoke and support the positive effects of storytelling on the consumer behaviour, which in turn result in consumer response favourable towards the video advertisement. The focus of the present study is on video advertisements, since videos have become the main pillar of online advertising (Rodgers and Thorson 2017). The term video advertisement as it is used in this study is defined as online audio-visual advertisements that range in length from 15 seconds to several minutes. This form of online advertising is termed as rich media and aims to attract and hold the online user’s attention (Shimp 2008). A major concern for marketers and advertisers is measuring the success of advertisements (Shimp 2008). The metric applied in the present study to measure success is the number of YouTube views the video advertisement has generated. This metric shows which video advertisements people really feel are worth watching, and helps to address the problem of advertising avoidance discussed above. Furthermore, this metric is applied instead of e.g. incremental sales revenue as it is difficult to track and associate incremental sales directly to the video advertisements (Farris et al. 2017).

1.2 Research Purpose

The overall purpose of this study is to explore and understand the role of storytelling in video advertisements. The focus is in particular on the identification and empirical analysis of storytelling elements deployed in successful video advertisements. To this end, the author of this study collected and analysed a sample of the 30 most viewed video advertisements listed on the YouTube Ads Leaderboard platform for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The research findings provide insights and guidance for marketers and advertisers who aim to design story-based video advertisements. To be knowledgeable about and apply the as vital deemed storytelling elements could be of utmost interest for practitioners, as it could allow them to minimise the risk of launching a potentially unsuccessful story-based video advertisement.

The present author is aware that success, such as high viewing rates of an advertisement, can only be planned to a certain extent and that there is no one storytelling guideline that applies to every industry, company, or brand. Moreover, unpredictable factors may contribute to an advertisement’s success. Nevertheless, the study revealed that a few vital storytelling elements appeal to a global audience and that some of the most viewed video advertisements have these elements in common.

All in all, this study aims to establish the importance of storytelling and in particular the presence of storytelling elements in successful video advertisements, and to advance advertising and storytelling theory.

1.3 Significance of and Justification for the Study

While the importance of storytelling in advertising and the positive effects of storytelling on the consumer behaviour have been widely researched (Brechmann and Purvis 2015; Escalas et al. 2003; Escalas 2004; Fog et al. 2011; Kim et al. 2017; Papadatos 2006; Pulizzi 2012; Schank 1999; Shankar et al. 2001; Woodside et al. 2008; Woodside 2010) and both academics and practitioners agree on the necessity of storytelling in advertising, empirical studies on the presence and significance of storytelling elements deployed in successful video advertisements are missing. This should not be interpreted as a lack of interest, however. An increasing number of firms have realised the potential of storytelling in advertising and shown interest in making more use of it (Fog et al. 2011). For example, Nike, which is well known for its engaging storytelling approach in advertising, already employed a Chief Storytelling Officer already in the 1990s, and other companies such as SAP and Microsoft have followed this lead (Ind and Iglesias 2016).

This study contributes to a deeper understanding of the role of storytelling in video advertisements, and provides insights and guidance for marketers and advertisers regarding which storytelling elements should be deemed as vital elements when crafting story-based video advertisements. This study is further important as it interrelates the academic theory of storytelling with the practice (successful video advertisements) and contributes to closing the gap between academic theory and practitioners’ application of storytelling in video advertisements.

1.4 Research Question and Objective

This study aims to answer the following research question: ‘ What elements of storytelling theory are deployed in the most viewed video advertisements?’

The research objectives derived from the research question are:

1. To identify and analyse the elements of storytelling theory deployed in the most viewed video advertisements; and
2. To provide guidance for marketers and advertisers so that they can understand the vital elements of storytelling in video advertisements and consequently make the most of storytelling in video advertisements.

1.5 Structure of the Dissertation

This dissertation is structured into five chapters. The first chapter provided background information, introduced the research purpose, significance of and justification for the research, and the research question and objectives guiding this study. The second chapter presents the literature review and the conceptual framework upon which this study is built. The literature review covers the three main themes in the reviewed literature: the nature and scope of advertising, storytelling in the context of advertising, and the elements of storytelling. The third chapter then justifies and explains the methodological approach and research design chosen for this study, along with a detailed explanation of the research process. Subsequently, the fourth chapter presents the gathered data, its analysis, and the findings obtained from it. Lastly, chapter five concludes this study and presents the implications of the findings for the research question. It further discusses the contributions and limitations of the research, suggestions for further research, and practical recommendations.

2 Literature Review

This chapter presents the reviewed literature and the conceptual framework upon which this research is built. The literature review process included the search for and assessment of relevant literature. There are two reasons to review the literature (Peters et al. 2012). First, the initial search aims to generate and refine the research ideas; and second, the critical literature review serves to develop subject knowledge, to gain insights into relevant previous research, to clarify the research question, and to avoid repeating research that has already been done (Gall et al. 2003; Saunders et al. 2009).

2.1 Overview

The following sections address the relevant literature, theories, and justification for the chosen literature, and build the conceptual framework upon which the present study is built. Three main themes are identified in this literature review: the nature and scope of advertising, storytelling in the context of advertising, and the elements of storytelling. First, the chapter discusses the significance of advertising and its role in marketing. Thereafter, the meaning and role of storytelling in advertising are clarified, and the positive effects of storytelling on the consumer behaviour are addressed. Finally, the chapter introduces the key elements of storytelling, which contributed to the creation of the coding frame (see Appendix A) utilised in this study to analyse the video advertisements.

To search for relevant literature, the present author used the key words “advertising theory”, “marketing theory”, “video ad(s)vertising”, “online advertising”, “ad avoidance”, “storytelling in ad(s)vertising”, “narratives in ad(s)vertising”, “storytelling elements in ad(s)vertising”, “narrative elements in ad(s)vertising”, “storytelling elements”, and “narrative elements”; and the EBSCO, Sage Journals, and Google Scholar databases.

2.2 The Nature and Scope of Advertising

The aim of this section is to briefly define the term advertising, to indicate its significance in modern societies, and to discuss its role within marketing.

2.2.1 Definition of Advertising

Advertising is an important aspect of modern societies and is highly visible in everyday life. According to a study conducted by the market research firm Yankelovich Partners, in the 1970s the average American consumer was estimated to be exposed to between 500 and 2,000 advertisements every day, while nowadays it has increased to between 3,000 to 5,000 (New York Times [online], 2007). It is important to mention that these figures of advertisement exposure are a subject of discussion among researchers and experts, and primarily aim to illustrate the significance of advertising in our modern daily lives. Having established the significance of advertising in modern societies, the next question to be addressed is: what does advertising mean?

Boller and Olson (1991) explained that advertisements can be structured either in an argumentative or a narrative form. According to the authors, in the narrative form “the content and structure of the advertisement is that of a story”, whereas argumentative advertisements are “purveyors of objective brand meanings that contain structured systems of attribute-benefit logic designed to convince audiences of the validity of specific brand claims” (1991: 172). According to Bird (2004), advertising can be defined as a method to promote what a firm wants to sell; a tool to inform existing and potential customers about the products and services a firm has to offer, its special features, and benefits; and a technique of persuading customers to buy the firm’s products and services. This is supported by Koekemoer (1998: 57), who defined advertising “as any paid form of mass presentation of ideas, products and services by an advertiser, addressed to selected target audiences with the objective of creating awareness, informing, reminding, influencing, and persuading the target audience to buy the product or service or to be favourably inclined towards these ideas, product and services”. Padhy (2011) further states that an identified sponsor pays for the advertising and the advertising message indicates who the sponsor is.

2.2.2 The Role of Advertising within Marketing

According to Rodgers and Thorson (2012), marketing refers to a firm’s activities to promote its products and services, such as product creation, product pricing, product placement, and product promotion, also known as McCarthy’s Four Ps of Marketing (marketing mix) comprising product, price, place, and promotion. Chandrasekar (2010) further indicates that these four elements of the marketing mix are controllable parameters within the marketing decision-making process and that the goal is to make decisions based on these parameters for the target customers to create perceived value and generate a positive response. Advertising is a subcategory of marketing and with regard to the marketing mix, it is categorised under promotion (Rodgers and Thorson 2012). Pillai (2010) defines promotion as “activities and processes designed to change or reinforce behaviour and/ or ideas of the consumers, through communication, so that they are persuaded to buy what they might not otherwise buy, and what they do not really want to buy”.

2.3 Storytelling in the Context of Advertising

The literature reviewed in this section aims to define and clarify the meaning and role of storytelling in an advertising context. The following examines the definition of storytelling, the distinction between a narrative and a story, why storytelling is used in advertising, and the positive effects of storytelling on the consumer behaviour.

2.3.1 Definition of Storytelling

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term storytelling as “the activity of telling or writing stories” (Oxford English Dictionary [online], 2017). It has become a buzzword in advertising, but storytelling is not solely related to this field. Storytelling is used in different contexts, such as corporate storytelling, transmedia storytelling, brand storytelling, digital storytelling, and organisational storytelling, to name just a few. Consequently, the meaning of storytelling in the respective context differs widely across the literature, academic disciplines, and practitioners applying storytelling in their areas. Thus, a generally accepted definition of storytelling cannot be established as each concept of storytelling serves different specific purposes. However, storytelling in the context of advertising is of particularly interest for the present research project. According to Pulizzi (2012), storytelling in advertising can be defined as a technique to influence, attract, retain, and drive consumer action. This definition is adopted in this study.

In the literature, two terms related to storytelling are the subject of discussion: story and narrative. While some authors argue that the “distinction between narrative and story is immensely important” (Abbott 2008: 15), others propose applying the same definition to narrative and story “as an account of events that are causally related” (Denning 2011: 13). The present study treats both terms synonymously, as suggested by Polkinghorne (1988).

2.3.2 Why Is Storytelling Used in Advertising?

Marketers and advertisers are aware of the power of storytelling in advertising and have always applied it (Fog et al. 2011; Escalas 1998 cited in Stern 2003). They have especially deployed this technique in recent years (adweek [online], 2016). As previously mentioned, consumers in modern societies are overstimulated by advertisements (New York Times [online], 2007). Most advertisements remain unnoticed or are consciously avoided by the consumers in the form of switching TV channels or clicking the skip button while watching videos online when an advertisement appears (Rodgers and Thorson 2017; Wilbur 2008). According to a survey conducted in 2016 by the market research company ORC International and Mirriad Advertising Limited, 76% of people block advertisements online and zap away from traditional TV advertisements (Mirriad [online], 2016). To further illustrate the challenges the advertising industry is facing, Juniper Market Research has forecasted that online advertisers stand to lose over 27 billion USD by 2020 due to advertisement avoidance (Mirriad [online], 2016). PageFair’s annual advertisement blocking report presents similar results (PageFair [online], 2017): the findings show that globally for 2016, the usage of advertisement blocking software grew by 30%, and 11% of the global internet population blocked advertisements online. Thus, the avoidance of advertisements in all its forms has become a major challenge for marketers and advertisers. Consequently, they are seeking new approaches to engage with their target audience and to overcome scepticism towards advertisements. Storytelling in advertisements, due to the positive effects evoked on the consumer behaviour, has been proved to be the vehicle to achieve these goals (adweek [online], 2016). Fog et al. (2011) advocate the view that storytelling in advertising has become the necessary tool to raise consumer awareness, achieve consumer engagement, and establish customer loyalty.

2.3.3 Positive Effects of Storytelling

Stories and storytelling are a fundamental means by which humans structure and therefore make sense of our lives (Shankar et al. 2001). According to Schiffrin (1996: 167 cited in Shankar et al. 2001), “the stories that we tell about our own and others’ lives are a pervasive form of text through which we construct, interpret and share experience: we dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, plan, revise […] and love by narrative.”

The positive effects of storytelling on the consumer behaviour have been widely researched, according to Schank (1999 cited in Woodside 2010), the human memory is story-based, and information is indexed, stored, and retrieved in the form of stories. The author further explains that stories are useful because they come with many touchpoints such as location, decisions, actions, and quandaries regarding the lives of the viewers, and result in awareness and emotional connection in their minds. The more touchpoints the viewer has within a story, the more places the story can reside in the human memory and the likelier the viewer will be to remember and emotionally relate to that story (Schank 1999 cited in Woodside 2010). Thus, stories are easier for the viewer to memorise: the viewer relates to the touchpoints and is emotionally affected by stories.

Storytelling aims to differentiate the firm’s offerings from that of its competitors and to provide its consumers with a value-added experience that transcends the firm’s product and services (Fog et al. 2011). Papadatos (2006) argued that consumers seek meaning rather than meeting functional needs through consumption, and that storytelling can give meaning to the products and services offered by a company (Woodside et al. 2008). According to Fog et al. (2011), one way a company can create meaning among its consumers is to communicate a story that transmits its values.

Viewers of story-based advertisements are transported, which is “a phenomenological state wherein a consumer is transported into the world created by the story” (Brechman and Purvis 2015: 369) and hooked by the story, and hence feel more positively and show more positive attitudes towards these advertisements (Brechman and Purvis 2015; Escalas et al. 2003). Brechman and Purvis (2015) examined the viewers’ response to television advertisements; the results provided evidence of the effectiveness of story-based advertisements for brand recall (brand awareness) and belief change. The study showed that story-based advertisements have the effect of facilitating information processing: viewers of story-based advertisements demonstrated a higher level of brand recall (brand awareness) and brand rating, commercial liking, opinion enhancement, purchase intent, and persuasion than viewers of argumentative (fact-based) advertisements. Furthermore, research conducted by Escalas (2004) showed that through narrative processing (thought process), story-based advertisements create a link between the brand and the viewer’s self, because the viewer aims to map the incoming narrative information deployed in the story based-advertisement onto his own existing memory of stories, so that his story and that of the advertisement merge into one. The results of the study showed that the viewer’s response to a narrative advertisement is positively related to the extent to which the viewer incorporates the brand into her self-concept, and consequently has a positive effect on brand attitude and behavioural intention (higher likelihood of purchase).

In a similar vein, Kim et al. (2017) argue that story-based advertisements are generally more persuasive than argumentative advertisements. Their study concludes that story-based advertisements have positive effects on the extent to which the viewer feels emotionally involved in the advertisement (emotive response), the viewer finds the content of the advertisement to be pleasurable and entertaining to watch (ad hedonic), the viewer believes that the information in the advertisement is truthful (ad credibility), and the viewer believes that his goals might be fulfilled by consuming the advertised products and services (perceived goal facilitation). In the study, these four variables combined resulted in a more positive attitude towards the advertisement itself and generated a positive brand attitude as well, and under those circumstances story-based advertisements were more persuasive than argumentative advertisements.

All in all, under those conditions, marketers and advertisers can draw so much attention that the consumer finds it difficult to ignore the advertisement. Given these points, storytelling in advertising is an effective technique to attract consumers, to persuade, and to cut through the mass of advertising surrounding them.

Besides the positive effects of storytelling discussed above, marketers and advertisers need to be aware of the values transmitted in the story and their actions. McLellan (2006) found that brands need to be mindful that the values transmitted in the story are consistent with their actions. Otherwise, consumers will feel betrayed, and once the consumers’ trust is lost, it is difficult for a company to regain it. Furthermore, Brechman and Purvis (2015) found evidence that some viewers are more disposed to be transported by story-based advertisements than others. The results of the study showed that viewers who are disposed to be transported by story-based advertisements are more receptive towards the advertising message and show higher levels of brand recall (brand awareness) and belief change than viewers who are less likely to become transported. Thus, the receptivity towards story-based advertisements differs among the viewers.

2.4 The Elements of Storytelling

The literature reviewed in the following section covers the key elements of storytelling theory and contributed to the creation of the coding frame (see Appendix A) that the present author applied to analyse the collected video advertisements in this study. The results of the data analysis resulted in identifying the storytelling elements deployed in the video advertisements and thus in answering the research question. It should be noted that no universal agreement exists on the key elements of a story (Escalas 1998 cited in Stern 2003). It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who provided the first formal description of the elements of a story: a beginning, middle, and end; complex characters; and a lesson learned (Damodaran 2017). Therefore, the present author searched for and selected only literature relevant to the subject of this study. Thus, this is by no means an ultimate list of storytelling elements, as no commonly agreed key story elements exist.

2.4.1 The Essence of a Good Story

Chen et al. (2009) and Fog et al. (2011) provide insights into the elements that contribute to what the authors call a good story. According to Chen et al. (2009), these elements are authenticity: the feeling that viewers obtain from the story that makes them believe and associate the story with reality; conciseness: to hold the audience’s attention, complete thoughts and the main points of the story are presented in as few words as possible, while still covering the important aspects of the story; reversal: reversal refers to a turning point and the climax within the story. The actions and/or emotions either take a surprising twist or reaches an unexpected intensity. Through reversals in the story, the audience remains curious and wonders what will happen next; and connectedness: the content of the story relates to the experiences or issues of the audience. Thus, the audience identifies with the story.

Fog et al. (2011) also argued that a good story consists of four fundamental elements, namely message: the message of the story is a moral statement that serves as a central theme throughout the story. The story itself becomes proof of the message and consequently, the viewer can understand and internalise the message of the story; conflict: a conflict (problem or dilemma) can be defined as the driving force and the turning point of the story. It represents the tension between two poles such as good vs. evil, and a change that disturbs the harmony within the story; characters: stories consist of a cast of compelling and interacting characters, such as a hero, supporters of the hero, and a villain. Each character has a specific role in the story and if the viewer identifies with the characters depicted in the story, he or she becomes personally involved in that story; and beginning, middle, and end: the sequence of the events within a story must have a clear structure to maintain the viewers’ attention. Therefore, a story consists of a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning sets the scene for the story. Then a conflict arises in the middle, which marks the turning point and sets the parameters for the rest of the story. The resolution of the conflict then marks the end of the story.

2.4.2 The Basic Plots

Stories can address various topics, including different characters, settings, and endings, but what stories all have in common is a basic structure that shapes and underlies them: namely, the plot. Frye (1957 cited in Shankar et al. 2001) stated that stories are formed around four plots: comedy, romance, tragedy, and satire. Booker’s (2005) study of ancient and contemporary stories shows that one of the following seven plots underlies and structures stories, and recurs throughout every kind of story: Rags to Riches, Rebirth, The Quest, Overcoming the Monster, Tragedy, Comedy, and Voyage and Return. Marketers and advertisers also acknowledge the usefulness of the basic plots theory as a blueprint and creative inspiration to build compelling story-based advertisements (adweek [online], 2012).

Similarities exist between the four plots described by Frye (1957 cited in Shankar et al. 2001) and the seven plots described by Booker (2005). A final summary of these plots and their features is provided in the following paragraphs.

Overcoming the Monster: The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (human or animal) which is evil and deadly and threatens the protagonist, mankind, and the world in general. As the story develops, the protagonist accepts the battle against the antagonistic force and it seems possible that he cannot win, but at the last moment he escapes from death and the antagonistic force is defeated. At the end of the story, the protagonist is rewarded for his victory (Booker 2005).

Rags to Riches: The protagonist is an ordinary and irrelevant individual who starts out in poverty and misery, and then acquires wealth, power, or the sympathy of a partner in the moment of transformation. In a series of adventures, the protagonist then loses it all. The story comes to a happy ending as the protagonist then emerges from the central crisis and regains wealth, power, or the partner upon growing as an individual (Booker 2005).

The Quest: The story is shaped around a priceless goal to be achieved. The protagonist and his supporters set out to obtain an important object, to reach a key location, or to acquire something of infinite value (freedom or immortality). Along their journey, they face many obstacles such as monsters, temptations, deadly opposites, or a journey to the underworld. The story can only be resolved when the protagonist and his supporters achieve their desired goal (Booker 2005).

Voyage and Return: The gist of the plot is that the protagonist journeys out of the familiar world to an unknown one where the adventure takes place. The residents of the unknown world seem threatening to the protagonist, and he feels trapped. After overcoming many threats, he escapes from the unknown world and returns to the familiar one wiser, happier, or richer (Booker 2005).

Comedy: Comedy is a special kind of plot, and it cannot simply be explained as a funny story. Indeed, some funny stories have a different kind of plot than comedy. The element that shapes the plot is a conflict between two characters or groups of characters. One side “is dominated by some dark, rigid, and life denying obsession” and the other side “represents life, liberation, and truth” (Booker 2005: 108). The plot is a dramatic gist in which the central motif is triumph over adverse circumstances, and at the end of the story the conflict is always decided in favour of the side that represents life, liberation, and truth. Thus, the story always results in a happy ending (Booker 2005).

Tragedy: Stories can end in two different scenarios, either in a happy ending such as in comedy, or in tragedy, i.e. an unhappy ending. The tragedy plot is shaped around a protagonist who “feels incomplete or unfulfilled and his thoughts are turned towards the future in hope to gain an object of desire or a course of action presents itself” (Booker 2005: 156). As the story develops, the protagonist does well and achieves his desired goals, but then things begin to go wrong and he falls from grace through his own actions. At the end, the protagonist is destroyed and his death constitutes an unhappy ending (Booker 2005).

Rebirth: The rebirth plot centres around a protagonist who falls under a dark spell that traps him in a state of physical or spiritual imprisonment. The protagonist remains in this condition, and then an act of salvation takes places, focused on a particular individual who supports the protagonist’s liberation from the physical or spiritual imprisonment so that he can live a better life (Booker 2005).

As mentioned above, there may only be seven different types of plot, but the challenge for marketers and advertisers is to identify those plots that best suits their brand and the products and services advertised so that they can make use of the basic plot theory and craft persuasive and engaging story-based video advertisements.

2.4.3 Archetypes

The embedded characters within a story, i.e. archetypes, are an important construct and element of storytelling (Mark and Pearson 2001; Meghee and Woodside 2010; Wertime 2002; Woodside 2010). The term archetype as used in the storytelling and advertising context was coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Jung (1981: 3), stating that, “the hypothesis of a collective unconscious belongs to the class of ideas that people at first find strange, but soon come to possess and use as familiar conceptions”. Jung (1981: 4) further explained that “the collective unconscious is a deeper level of the unconscious which does not derive from personal experience and it is not a personal acquisition, but is intern” and “has contents and modes of behaviour that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals”. The content of the collective unconscious is known as an archetype. Jung (1981: 5) defined archetypes as “archaic – primordial types with universal images that have existed since the remotest time”. Thus, an archetype is an unconscious primary form, an original pattern or prototype in the human mind; it is neither learned nor acquired, but inherent (Jung 1959 cited in Woodside 2010). Consequently, even without knowing or being aware of archetypes, every human has unconscious knowledge and recognises them.

Marketers and advertisers are aware of the power of archetypes and have always been used as a method to advertise a firm’s products and services (Mark and Pearson 2001). It is important to note that the names, characterisation, and numbers of the archetypes differ across the literature. Table 01 describes 12 archetypes that can be applied to advertising as suggested by Megehee and Woodside (2010). Lämmlein’s (2014) findings on the appearance and function of archetypes in car advertisements showed that archetypes were a present feature in the advertisements analysed in the study, and that they were used to support the advertised message. The rationale behind this is that the consumer experiences one or more archetypes in the advertisement and identifies with them, thereby making the consumer a character of the story and receptive to the advertised message (Lämmlein 2014; Woodside 2010). Consequently, archetypes in stories (advertisements) have the potential to appeal to the viewers’ needs and thus to affect their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour (Woodside 2010).

Table 01

Archetypes Applied in Advertising

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Note. Adapted from “Creating visual narrative art for decoding stories that consumers and brands tell”, by Megehee, C.M. and Woodside, A.G., 2010, Psychology & Marketing, 27(6), pp.603–622.

2.4.4 Fictional Stories vs. Real Stories

In the literature, there is an ongoing debate about whether stories should be fictional or real (Denning 2011). Fog et al. (2011) argued that a story does not necessarily need to be real to be persuasive, and that the most important aspect is that the basic premise of the story is easily accessible to the viewer. The authors further point out that within advertising, creating fictional stories is generally accepted as viewers of the advertisements are usually aware that the purpose of an advertisement is to sell, and they also expect advertisements to have a certain entertainment value. However, Chen et al. (2009) findings revealed that authenticity is a crucial element of storytelling in advertising. The authors further argued that viewers demand authenticity, and that authentic stories (real people, specific actions, strong sense of time and place) convince the audience more easily.

2.4.5 Further Elements

The literature reviewed in this section provides further insights to answer the research question, as other elements besides those identified so far are deployed in the analysed video advertisements. These elements emerged after the first round of data analysis and are not necessarily related to the storytelling elements, but are also crucial to the success of an advertisement.

2.4.5.1 High and Low Arousal Emotions

In their study, Berger and Milkman (2012) aimed to identify the elements that make online content such as video advertisements go viral. Their results showed that video advertisements that evokes high arousal emotions leads to higher viewings than video advertisements that elicits low arousal emotions. Arousal is a condition of mobilisation: low arousal (deactivation) is characterised by relaxation, while high arousal (activation) is characterised by activity such as viewing and sharing of the video advertisements (Berger and Milkman 2012). An overview of the different high and low arousal emotions as suggested by Berger (2016) is illustrated in Table 02. According to Berger and Milkman (2012), video advertisements should be designed to evoke high arousal emotions (positive or negative). As an example, the authors refer to the BMW campaign ‘The Hire’, a series of short online video advertisements which was highly successful and generated millions of views because the advertisements evoked anxiety, i.e. a negative high arousal emotion (Berger and Milkman 2012).

Table 02

High and Low Arousal Emotions

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Note. Reprinted from “Contagious: Why Things Catch On”, by Berger, J., 2016, p. 60, Simon and Schuster.

2.4.5.2 Surprise and Joy

The emotions of surprise and joy are among the most targeted emotions in video advertisements (Teixeira et al. 2012). This view is supported by Dafonté-Gómez’s (2014) study, which shows that surprise and joy were the most dominant featured emotions in the most viral video advertisements between 2006 and 2013. Furthermore, Teixeira et al. (2012) examined the influence that surprise and joy have on the viewer of a video advertisement. They found that evoking surprise was the best way to attract the viewers’ attention, while evoking joy was the best way of retaining it. Thus, surprise and joy are crucial elements to improve viewers’ engagement with video advertisements.

2.4.5.3 Music

Music integrated in advertisement is an important and major element as it aims to trigger and influence the viewer’s emotions (Bruner 1990). A recent study conducted by the marketing research company Nielsen further demonstrates that advertisements with music perform better in terms of empathy and emotive power than those without music (The Nielsen Company [online], 2015). Besides the positive effects of music on the viewer’s emotions, music further helps to achieve the promotional goals of an advertisement (Huron 1989). It does so by making an advertisement more attractive for the viewers and increasing the memorability of the advertised products and services. Music conveys the advertising message without the viewer noticing it through lyrical language as statements that are sung elicit less critical thinking. Furthermore, different music genres assist in targeting specific market segments, as music genres are associated with various social and demographic groups (Huron 1989).

2.5 Conceptual Framework

This section presents the conceptual framework (see Figure 01) devised by the present author. According to Miles et al. (2013: 20), “a conceptual framework explains either graphically or in narrative form (both are much preferred), the main things to be studied, namely the key factors, variables, or constructs and the presumed relationships among them”. The present author identified three main themes in the reviewed literature: the nature and scope of advertising, storytelling in the context of advertising, and the elements of storytelling. The following explains these themes and the relationship between them.

Figure 01

Conceptual Framework

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The Nature and Scope of Advertising

In modern societies, advertising plays a significant role in the consumers’ lives. For instance, the average American consumer faces 3,000 to 5,000 advertisements per day (New York Times [online], 2007). The objectives of advertisements are to raise awareness, inform, influence, and persuade the target consumer to buy the advertised product and services, or to respond favourably to the advertisement itself (Bird 2004; Koekemoer 1998; Pillai 2010; Rodgers and Thorson 2012). Advertisements can be structured either argumentatively as “purveyors of objective brand meanings that contain structured systems of attribute-benefit logic designed to convince audiences of the validity of specific brand claims”, or in a narrative form, where “the content and structure of the advertisement is that of a story” (Boller and Olson 1991: 172).

Storytelling in the Context of Advertising

As previously mentioned, consumers in modern societies are overstimulated with advertisements, and most advertisements remain unnoticed or are consciously avoided by consumers (Mirriad [online], 2016; PageFair [online], 2017; Rodgers and Thorson 2017; Wilbur 2008). Due to this avoidance (Problem), the objectives of advertisement are not met. Therefore, marketers and advertisers seek new approaches to overcome consumers’ scepticism towards advertisements. Due to the positive effects that it elicits, storytelling (Solution) in advertisements has proved to be an effective technique to raise awareness, to persuade the consumer, and to cut through the mass of advertising surrounding consumers (adweek [online], 2016; Fog et al. 2011). The positive effects of storytelling on the consumer behaviour have been widely researched (Brechmann and Purvis 2015; Escalas et al. 2003; Escalas 2004; Fog et al. 2011; Kim et al. 2017; Papadatos 2006; Pulizzi 2012; Schank 1999; Shankar et al. 2001; Woodside et al. 2008; Woodside 2010), the findings are summarised below.

- Stories are easier for the viewers to memorise, the viewers relate to the touchpoints deployed in the story, and is emotionally affected by them (Schank 1999 cited in Woodside 2010).
- Stories provide meaning to the advertised products and services, and consumers seek meaning rather than meeting functional needs through consumption (Papadatos 2006; Woodside et al. 2008).
- Storytelling differentiates the firm’s offering from the grey mass and creates a value-added experience for consumers (Fog et al. 2011).
- Consumers are transported and hooked by stories (Brechman and Purvis 2015; Escalas et al. 2003) and hence feel more positively and show more positive attitudes towards these advertisements.
- Stories create a link between the brand and the consumer’s self, which results in positive attitudes towards the brand and a higher likelihood of purchase (Escalas 2004).
- Stories facilitate information processing so that viewers demonstrate a higher level of brand recall, brand awareness, and belief change (Brechman and Purvis 2015).
- Story-based advertisements have positive effects on the viewers emotive response, ad hedonic, ad credibility and perceived goal facilitation (Kim et al. 2017).

Under those conditions, marketers and advertisers can draw so much attention that the consumer finds it difficult to avoid the advertisement.

The Elements of Storytelling

While the importance of storytelling in advertising and the positive effects of storytelling on the consumer behaviour have been widely discussed and researched, empirical studies on the presence and significance of storytelling elements deployed in successful video advertisements are missing. This lack motivated the present author to conduct research in this area and to formulate the following research question: ‘What elements of storytelling theory are deployed in the most viewed video advertisements?’

[...]

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Details

Title
Storytelling as a critical success factor in video advertisements
Subtitle
An empirical analysis of storytelling elements deployed in the most viewed video advertisements
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2018
Pages
75
Catalog Number
V414656
ISBN (eBook)
9783668652804
ISBN (Book)
9783668652811
File size
1530 KB
Language
English
Tags
storytelling, narratives, video advertisements, YouTube Ads Leaderboard, storytelling elements, online advertising, rich media
Quote paper
Michael Wuta (Author), 2018, Storytelling as a critical success factor in video advertisements, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/414656

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