Storytelling in Advertising: 3 Steps to Influence Customer Behavior

No matter how far we get from the dawn of advertising, good storytelling in advertising will always be crucial to the success of any campaign.

Even before the digital age forever transformed advertising, industry pioneers like Leo Burnett, whose ingenuity was behind some of the 20th century’s most successful ads, leveraged storytelling in advertising to enrich content and emotionally connect with audiences.

Okay, so, storytelling isn’t anything new, but the rapid growth of social media has created a demand for effective ways to convey brand narratives. And the social ecosystem has been quick to respond by introducing immersive ad formats like Carousel and Canvas.

But new ad formats are only half the battle. The second and perhaps more critical portion is communicating your story in advertising in a way that’ll connect with your target audience. While it may sound daunting, it’s worth it. According to a study, the same part of the brain that helps us understand stories is also used to navigate human interaction and activity. In other words, effective storytelling can directly influence the audience’s behavior.

With science pointing to the fact that storytelling in advertising can be impactful, the Content Services team at Brand Networks is here to help.

3 Steps to Compelling Storytelling in Advertising

Why do we watch movies? Why do we so often become engrossed in books? When made/written well, they tell great stories, and as humans, we have an instinctive craving to form a connection with them and, in many cases, align our behaviors or experiences with their narratives.

With that in mind, properly executed social ads can have a similar effect. Here are three ways to make that happen:

1. Identify Your Brand’s Mission and Create a Foundation

To start your story, you need to know what your unique perspective is. Beyond turning a profit, why does your company exist? What does your brand represent?

Having a stated, public purpose beyond finances serves as a foundation from which you can build trust with your customers and develop deeper connections with them.

A perfect example of a brand that fully understands their mission and uses it to connect with their customers is Honest Tea*. Creating great-tasting beverages, Honest Tea connects with health and environmentally conscious consumers by being transparent about how they’re sourcing and creating their products.


With a powerful reason for being, your brand narrative will relate to your customers and resonate with them in a way that makes them want to purchase from you.

2. Be Authentic, Truthful, and Consistent

Rooted in any extraordinary story is a strong sense of honesty and transparency. But this isn’t something that will happen overnight; in fact, it’ll likely take years of consistent messaging to reach a point where people universally accept your brand as authentic.

Once you have a firm understanding of your brand’s mission, stick to it. This commitment doesn’t mean you can’t undergo change and reinvention, but whatever phase you’re in, stay consistent and persistent—after all, varying your message will only confuse consumers and lead them to find a brand that they can better identify with. What’s more, don’t change just because the industry is. Sure, every brand needs to adapt to stay relevant, but don’t forgo your brand’s identity merely to fit in, because it may come across as forced or insincere. Whenever you pivot or make a substantial change to your core brand messaging, make sure it happens organically and because it’s the right thing for your company and customers.

According to a study by Cohn & Wolfe, Disney is one of the most authentic brands in the world—and this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since their founding almost 100 years ago, Disney’s narrative has remained consistent and rooted in its core values revolving around creating magical experiences—an effort that customers clearly take note of and is reflected by Disney’s continued success.

3. Don’t Forget the Fundamentals of a Good Story

The success of any story relies on strong writing fundamentals. A genuinely compelling story should be simple and include a beginning, middle, and end.

In the context of social advertising, your brand’s story should follow a similar course.

Regardless of the ad format, your ad should have a strong opening that grabs viewers’ attention, establishes the setting and gets them invested in the content. Below, check out how Carnival Cruises* uses Facebook Canvas to immerse their viewers in their story.

Example of Facebook Canvas

The middle of your ad should propose a problem or conflict that needs resolving, and how you can solve it. Research conducted by Millward Brown found that stories that clearly illustrate a brand’s role as “necessary, believable, and integral to the plot” are the most effective.

But don’t give everything away. Just like a good book or movie, an effective ad should create wonder and leave people eager for more. Now is when a strong call to action like “learn more” is most effective at driving users to strategic destinations by promising a continuation of your story.

What this comes down to is that the ability to tell a convincing, engaging story can be a powerful tool when it comes to creating an effective social advertising campaign. Stories enhance comprehension, understanding, anticipation, and receptivity, all of which reduce friction during the path to purchase, and simultaneously help to create trust between brands and consumers.

So the next time you sit down to create a social ad campaign, make sure you’ve all the ingredients to tell a great story.

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