The Importance of Storytelling in PR: Branding to Bonding
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As the PR world advances, compelling storytelling remains one of the most powerful tools to connect with an audience. Brands must connect with their target audiences for financial benefit to build brand reputation and increase repeat consumers. When you tell stories that resonate with your target audience, you can build on consumer trust, loyalty, and emotional connection. Creating an emotional connection is particularly effective, as a brand can stand out over competing brands or products by coming across as authentic and relatable. It allows brands to sell the product or idea as an extension of a consumer’s values, personality, or both.
Let’s think about this for a second. What’s the first thing you did this morning? I know what I did. I checked my phone for texts, emails, updated news, Instagram posts, etc. Everyone I’ve ever asked the question to does the same thing. So, right away, we’re online. The world today is digital, fast-paced, and filled with advertisements. We’re constantly scrolling, seeing ad after ad. We can’t avoid them no matter where we go. They’re everywhere; as humans, we’ve learned to blur it out. It would be overwhelming to take in that many ads at once. If we had all paid attention to every ad we had ever seen, we would have all gone wild by now! The term for this is called ‘ad blindness’. We can only assume in PR, due to ad blindness, these ads are easily overlooked by too many consumers. The best strategy to grab consumers’ attention is to impact them emotionally through compelling storytelling. Consumers are more likely to remember and be influenced by a story that relates to them personally over a quick banner ad. Ultimately, it’s a win for the brand even if the consumer decides not to contribute financially to the brand or product. Just watching and getting through the brand’s stories puts the brand ahead of competitors by capturing higher views through social media platforms and campaign posts.
One of my favourite examples of compelling storytelling in PR is Heineken’s The Closer campaign. As mentioned, grabbing a consumer’s attention regarding almost anything can be challenging. Heineken pulled it off by capitalizing on the classic consumer desire for perfect work and social life harmony. A Heineken bottle opening device called ‘The Closer’ could shut down job software and work applications when you open a Heineken beer. They had a strong and unique approach by connecting with the average working consumer and with audiences worldwide. In a post-pandemic world, we’re all ready to get out and have a good time. It was a fantastic tune for this campaign.
Pepsi and Kendall Jenner
Unfortunately, but honestly, thankfully, I won’t be able to include the official Pepsi commercial that had reality star and supermodel Kendall Jenner. It’s the best example of ineffective storytelling in PR I can think of. The commercial was highly controversial. It looked to be inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a multi-racial protest. You see Jenner being photographed, suddenly wanting to participate in this protest. She removes her blonde wig, reveals her natural brown hair, and then takes off her lipstick. The video ends with Jenner offering a police officer a can of Pepsi as a peace offering. Everyone is cheering, including the police officer. Viewers questioned if the story was meant to suggest that a can of Pepsi could end police brutality and racism. It came across as offensive, tone-deaf, and unrealistic to consumers and fans of the brand. I’m still trying to figure out Pepsi’s true vision regarding the bottom line of this ad’s story. Still, being insensitive to serious real-world issues isn’t a step in the right direction if you want to step up your storytelling game in the PR community.
Side note: the storyteller is just as important as the story itself in PR. They bring voice to thoughts and ideas. By sharing their own experiences and emotions, the storyteller helps develop a more profound sense of certainty in the brand while making the story more compelling, engaging, and realistic. The storyteller doesn’t always have to be a celebrity, but whoever is telling the story should deeply understand the message.
When I started considering the importance of storytelling in PR, I remembered my earliest memories of the topic. Funny enough, the High School Musical 2 movie was about to be filmed, and I remember being able to vote for which of the Disney Channel celebrities would be in the film out of four options. The choices were Sprouse Twins, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Miley Cyrus. I voted for Miley Cyrus, Disney’s Hannah Montana, and she was in the film. I remember thinking I was the reason she got the gig. Instantly it clicked; what a fun way to connect with your audience. Make them feel like they’re a part of something as big as the High School Musical franchise. They continue connecting with their audiences through social media platforms and consistently release nostalgic remake films that speak to many generations.
My bottom line is stories inspire people. People inspire stories. Why wouldn’t that be important in PR when behind every brand and consumer is a person?
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