Recounting tales instead of advertising, stories instead of mere figures: Storytelling is one of the current marketing trends. Haptic advertisers are frequently part of the cast – sometimes they even play the leading role.
There are products that are so boring that it is impossible to market them in a creative way. Price comparison websites, especially when the theme is for something tedious like insurances, right? No, it’s not necessarily true. A campaign that has been running for around seven years proves that it can be done differently. In any case, the British online comparison platform comparethemarket.com has succeeded in moving from the bottom of the field right up to the top rankings and became one of the leading providers of its kind in the United Kingdom – with the help of a good story. Their rivals followed pretty similar strategies and placed the focus on speed, market shares, the number of users or other rather non-tangible data. The adverts were correspondingly boring and interchangeable: Computer screens, cars and price claims, accompanied by slogans like “We compare more insurances than anybody else”, “You could save money”, “The price you see is the price you pay”, “Almost everybody in the country could save”. comparethemarket.com talks about meerkats. First of all, there was Aleksandr Orlov, a funny humanoid animal with a likeable Russian accent, who lived in the fictive town Meerkovo, and who operated the website comparethemeerkat. com, a platform for comparing different meerkats – this site was physically launched as part of the campaign. Aleksandr was continually getting riled about visitors to his website, who had intended to visit the comparethemarket.com website and are actually interested in comparing insurance policies rather than meerkats.
That was the basis of the campaign that was launched in 2009 by the agency VCCP and which has continued telling the story in varying versions ever since that have run across all of the channels. The dozens of TV spots with Aleksandr and his companions and later also many celebrities advanced into one of the favourites in the country. Indeed Aleksandr even “published” his own biography in October 2010: There were more advanced orders for A Simples Life: The Life And Times of Aleksandr Orlov than for the life history of Tony Blair, six further books followed. According to official accounts, the website comparethemeerkat. com already received two million clicks a month in 2010. Aleksandr Orlov’s Twitter account has around 68,000 followers in the meantime, around 850,000 fans followed his Facebook profile until it was closed down. Furthermore, in 2010 Aleksandr’s dictum “simples!” was included in the Collins English Dictionary. According to own accounts, in the same year comparethemarket.com had increased its market share by 76%.
Emotion instead of brand
There are many examples of which stories brands tell their target groups and how they do it. For example, Red Bull relies on action and speed – in line with the claim “Red Bull gives you wings“, the company tells stories about spectacular performances on the web and in the media – most notably about the space diving feat by Felix Baumgartner in October 2012. Coca-Cola launched the “Coca-Cola Journey” in 2012: The portal with the same name recounts stories about the brand Coca- Cola and its manufacturers, its fans and its history – songs, in which the refreshing drink brand crops up, films of employees that report about the company’s commitment in India or about veterans, who explain what role Coca-Cola played in their life in the 1950s. Siemens on the other hand operated the YouTube channel /answers from 2007 to 2016. People and their relationship to technology were highlighted in the form of short films. Bosch also tells stories on the web: The “Invented for Life” stories were devised and implemented by the agency Ketchum Pleon. “We are helping the technology company become a storytelling company,” explained Petra Sammer, Chief Creative Officer at Ketchum Pleon Germany. “The starting point of this change was a website that comprised of a lot of text and that was very technical, which only managed to attract the attention of the visitors for a few seconds. Today, they surf the website, the visuality of which has been increased by photos, videos and info graphics, for minutes at a time and the visitors feel like they are being entertained, because – and this is a new feature – Bosch only plays a supporting role in the stories. Many of these stories pick up on B2B themes that are actually highly technical themes. However, if they were to be explained as was previously customary, hardly any of the visitors would remain on the website.”
According to Sammer, biographies – of companies, products or people – are extremely popular: “For us the most exciting aspect is Corporate Storytelling: Myths about the founders, exemplary stories about the company or brand that allow relations to be built. For example, our American colleagues have put together an exciting campaign for the United States Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. Among others, a very elaborate, 90-minute documentation was produced for the cinema for this campaign: Six farmers, who tell sometimes sad, sometimes dramatic and then again also some funny anecdotes about their lives. These are real stories with the sort of impressive images and material that Hollywood films are made out of.”
The knife manufacturer, Victorinox, also has plenty of movie-quality material on offer: The Swiss company not only looks back on an eventful and long history – the stories that revolve around the famous Victorinox knives are in some cases spectacular and quite literally fill a book: The volume A companion for life appears in four languages with a circulation of between 80,000 and 100,000 copies. “These stories are very important for us,” confirmed Urs Wyss, Director of Advertising and Sponsoring. “Our customers have experienced them. Because the experiences of third parties are recounted, which are documented by photos and original letters that were published in the media in some cases, they are very credible. What’s more, the knife is always portrayed as a helper. It saves lives, is decisive for the success of expeditions and even helps important repairs to be carried out in space. This is why storytelling has a high standing in our marketing measures as honest and positive advertising.” But also the B2B customers of the Swiss company use the historical importance of the Victorinox products for their own marketing, as Wyss reported: “There are many companies that rely on the most important attributes of the pocket-knife in their advertising – quality, versatility, multifunctionality and iconic design – and transfer these values over to their own products or services.”
Because storytelling no longer just works on the audio-visual level – on the contrary: Haptic messengers can be excellent “narrators”, they literally enable the recipient to come into contact with the story and play an active part. Sometimes it is even possible to really charge up a product with a story. One example here is the campaign of the Berlin-based agency Heimat for the German DIY store chain, Hornbach, from the year 2013, where an old Czech tank was taken apart and then melted down and processed into 7,000 hammers. The campaign was accompanied by large-scale above-the-line measures. The strictly limited edition was subsequently packed insidean elaborately imprinted cardboard box with a flag made of thick material and a photo set and was sold out within just a few days. “The hammer is the central idea here and the product is inseparably linked with the message. This goes far beyond what haptic promotional products normally achieve, however it demonstrates their potential: This is how you can tell a story,” said Sammer. In this way, haptic messengers are becoming the secret stars of a storytelling campaign. Aleksandr Orlov and his many pals from Meerkovo also enjoyed this fame: Because when VCCP and comparethemarket.com decided to implement the meerkat heroes as cuddly toys in 2011, the campaign really went through the roof. Ever since then every consumer, who has made a purchase via comparethemarket.com can choose his desired figure from the meerkat family as a premium. Already one year later, BGL, the parent company of comparethemarket.com, announced that the turnover of the platform had more than doubled since 2008. The meerkat figures, which are in the meantime auctioned off for high prices on eBay, contributed considerably towards this success.
However, not only elaborately produced merchandise items, but also simple give-aways can be integrated into stories: For example, in the summer of 2015 Coca-Cola launched the campaign #choosehappiness, which was accompanied by numerous spots, campaigns and contents on the “Journey” portal – where among others a psychologist analysed which sort of photos bring joy immediately. Furthermore, the consumers were called upon to capture the moments that make them happy – with the aid of 1 mil. selfie sticks that were raffled off via the retail trade. The selfie stick, the handle of which was designed in the iconic shape of a Cola bottle, allowed the brand to get involved everywhere and was also visible on numerous selfies that were shared on the web in the course of the campaign.
The basis for good stories
“A promotional products shouldn’t be chosen from a catalogue at random, but should be seen as part of the story from an early stage,” recommends Fuchs. “The coherence in the overall concept is important. For example, a starting point is the surface structure of the advertised product: Does it feel warm or cold, rough or smooth, hard or fluffy? I received a blackboard from an engineering geology firm as a Christmas present and it fitted in perfectly. However, the best promotional product is one that doesn’t even need an advertising imprint, because it is already firmly implanted inside the customer’s head.” And the better the story, the higher the chance of it getting there. As far as the implementation of haptic advertisers is concerned, the creativity is hardly set any limits – who would have thought that meerkats could stand for price comparison websites, cement book covers for sneakers or milk for concert houses (see the examples)? Storytelling using haptic advertising is a true playground for creative minds and especially offers smaller companies the opportunity to achieve legendary success with low budgets. Above all fantasy is what is required not million Euro budgets – almost like in a fairytale.
photos: Coca-Cola (1); comparethemarket.com (1); Moleskine (1); VCCP (2); Victorinox (1)