Television advertisements can also be examples of immersive experiences for the audience. This has recently become a big trend for TV, as John Lewis’ Christmas commercial became extremely popular with viewers, so much so that it received a lot of buzz from social networking sites, and garnered 11.5 million views on YouTube.
This is extremely effective advertising, but it has been around for much longer. John Lewis has done the storytelling commercial before, with ‘The Snowman’s Journey’. Storytelling through advertisement means that the audience can connect with what they are viewing. They can follow a linear tale, following the characters as they journey through the story.
This type of engagement means that the commercial has the viewer’s attention throughout the whole story. Immersive storytelling of the John Lewis kind has a beginning, middle, and end within the space of an average television advertisement slot. The latest John Lewis story, titled ‘The Bear & the Hare’, featured a popular acoustic version of a famous song ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, which was covered by an equally famous recording artist, Lily Allen. Not only did this aid with the popularity of the advert, it fit well with the story being told in the commercial, and in no way did it detract from the tale.
‘The Snowman’s Journey’ was John Lewis’ story advert for Christmas 2012. It was equally as popular with the audience as ‘The Bear & the Hare’ as the story of the snowman was heart-warming, and featured a cover of ‘The Power of Love’ by Gabrielle Aplin. The attention from television viewers helped catapult Aplin into mainstream attention, which shows how effective music and storytelling can be in TV advertisements.
Throughout the years of John Lewis’ commercial broadcasts, storytelling wasn’t always used. Before Winter 2011, the company hadn’t used any means of this type of advertising in its marketing; but since the success of its first ever storytelling advert, ‘The Long Wait’, which broadcast over the Christmas period, they have used this effective way for their television target market. ‘The Long Wait’, about a young boy having to wait to give his Christmas gifts, was incredibly popular when it first aired in the UK, and reached 1 million views quickly after. This shows the efficacy of storytelling in the media. Since garnering considerable public attention for advertising in such a way, John Lewis has produced more commercials in this way, more prominently, for its Christmas season, and each year the company pleases its intended audience.
Prior to storytelling, companies did not receive much talk or media attention (unless their television advertisements were controversial or just plain weird); nowadays, with the likes of the Go Compare and Compare the Market adverts, which follow the same characters in each commercial, social networking sites are the places to go to get the feedback of the adverts that air on our TVs.
The Compare the Market/Compare the Meerkat adverts particularly show the capability and effectiveness of storytelling and connecting with the audience. Not only has this company followed the characters of Aleksandr and Sergei throughout the ads, Compare the Market have used the popularity of the commercial to branch out into other marketing opportunities, which includes the selling of meerkat plush toys. In the latest addition to the advertisements, Sergei and Aleksandr adopted a meerkat baby, named Oleg. As well as the adverts following the story of these meerkat characters, the website, comparethemeerkat.com, has a blog, supposedly written by these characters, which gives the audience a personal connection to Sergei and Aleksandr, as if they are real.
BT (British Telecom) has a different angle of advertisement storytelling; following in the footsteps of the 12 Nescafe Gold Blend adverts (1987-1993), with the infamous ‘Gold Blend couple’ (starring ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Merlin’ actor Anthony Head). Each advert is part of a series, involving the same characters throughout.
This started in 2005, with the BT Retail adverts (starring Kris Marshall, known for his role in My Family). As well as telling an on-going story, it also incorporated viewer participation, where the audience could decide the fate of the characters in the commercials. In 2010, BT received 1.6 million votes from the British public in a ‘what happens next?’ ballot. The series ran for roughly 40 adverts before it eventually spanned on to the BT Infinity adverts, which began starring the BT Retail son and his friends as he moved to study at university. The premise is very clever, as the audience becomes attached to the characters as they follow them through their lives, almost like they are checking up on old friends every time a new commercial in the series is released.
The future of storytelling
A study has found that an audience nowadays would like to encounter stories in new ways. Latd.com researched this, which resulted in the following findings: participants of the study want four elements included in the future of storytelling. They are: immersion, interactivity, integration, and impact. With immersive websites, advertisements, videos, and documentaries, the criteria found is already being met, although not on a large scale. These types of storytelling (like the ones found above) are few and far between in the media right now, but in the future predictions have been made that this inventive way of narrative storytelling will make a greater impact, and grow in popularity.
Latd.com said, “By analysing our participants’ responses and the storytelling concepts they generated, we were able to uncover four elements – the “4 I’s” – that will continue to play a significant role in our experiences with narrative-based media. Immersion and interactivity primarily help an audience to go deeper into a story, while integration and impact are about bringing a story of out of the screen, into our actual lives.”
Below are some of the key findings of Latd.com’s study:
• The real world is a platform, too. When asked to develop a new way of interacting with stories, 52% of participants treated the real world as another “platform,” incorporating networked real-world objects, augmented reality, 3D projected environments, and other technologies that bridge the divide between digital and physical.
• Audiences crave more control. Seventy-nine percent suggested interactions that would allow them to alter a storyline by influencing a character’s decisions or by becoming a character themselves.
• Traditional notions of authorship are changing. The real-time, connected culture of the Web is converting storytelling to a more participatory art; 93% of participants expressed interest in submitting possible story ideas to producers, and a whopping 2/3 said they’d be willing to help fund stories they’re interested in (e.g., on a platform like Kickstarter).