The Weekly Writing Tips are a collection of best practices for writing and reporting at Global Voices. April's tips are brought to you by Elizabeth Rivera, Latin America editor.
People love a good story. Stories are the reason we stay awake late to finish a book, watch a movie or pull Netflix all-nighters. Stories engage us like little else. As we've been reviewing during the past weeks, a good story needs to be a clear narrative arc. One scene needs to influence or build upon another to tell a story.
Filmmaker Andrew Staton gave us some good storytelling tips based on his experience in Hollywood. We also analyzed how songs can tell powerful stories in fewer words than the average daily news article. Today, we'll see another form of storytelling, one I am familiar with as a marketer and where you have less time to deliver a message than in a song: TV ads.
Emotionally engaging narratives
While most people are indifferent toward brands most of the time, stories can help brands engage people and overcome their indifference.
The first job of any advertising is to engage the audience, to attract and hold their attention, and story ads do just that. Story ads typically result in greater enjoyment and engagement than non-story ads. We each see tons of TV ads every month, but only a few really grab us. Same happens with news articles: stories are much better at getting our attention than bullet points of events.
So which are the ingredients needed for a good ad? And what can we learn from them?
So you have a topic you really want to write about, what's next? I've taken some tips from the advertising world to come up with a list that could be helpful for our purpose. Also, I threw in some TV commercials to illustrate the point — no advertising intended.
- Write a premise
Once you have got the perfect idea, you should write a premise. A premise is your story in one sentence. It helps you ensure that your story is interesting enough. This is essential in a TV ad that only has 30 seconds to put across a message. Here's a great example of a great story premise and its result:
New Bell’s South Africa TV Ad: An illiterate father takes classes to be able to read his son’s bestselling book.
- Use key storytelling ingredients: Heroes and desires
A hero doesn’t have to be a single person. It can be a cause or a group of people – just to mention a few. And the hero must have a desire that will be solved in the end. In our news writing world, the hero should be the subject we are doing the story about. We cannot deviate from it. From the beginning to the end, the subject should accompany the reader and tell a “before and after” tale. Taking the example above: The hero is the illiterate father, who has the desire to read his son’s book. The story shows what the hero will do to make his desire come true.
- Make it human!
You don't want advertising to sound, look and be just about selling a product. If your piece does that, the story is over and the objective of generating positive engagement is not accomplished. Same applies to news writing. People can sense bias and research sloppiness, and they also get bored easily.
The best stories address basic human needs that are easy to relate to. Empathy, commitment and passion last longer than tons of facts and figures. In news storytelling we need to cover facts, but people will most likely remember the connection they felt to your article and not the exact figures.
Here's a great example from Vodafone UK of how a promotional ad can have a great relatable story and still manage to sell you something:
- Be simple and authentic
Nobody likes fake people or brands, let alone news writers. Be honest with your style, use what you know. Our readers will appreciate that more than a dozens of complicated words or unrelatable facts and figures.
Also, you need to keep it simple. Choose one message. Advertisers commonly get briefs where clients want an all-in-one solution: sell the product, say the company is great, include a promotion and perhaps even throw in a logo or some line to show an alliance. Good TV ads have one thing in common: a single message. Perhaps we can take a hint from this and avoid trying to show everything we know about a topic in just one piece.
This uncomplicated, dark-humor campaign from Egypt was so successful it's still a case study in many marketing schools and conferences. It isn't comprised of big budget footage, nor does it sell sexy products like sports goods, energy drinks, or luxury cars… it is all just about cheese.
Can you remember a TV ad you really enjoyed? If so, think about how its story was told and use that in your next post.