Remember the value of storytelling

Stag lying down in a green field

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Snapshot : Most advertising is ignored or forgotten. So, learn the value of storytelling with three examples from the world of whisky advertising, Masterchef and Qantas to make advertising that’s understood, engaged with and remembered. 

We all know the marketing world loves data. And there’s so much data out there about everything we do. But this week, there was one particular piece of data, we had a hard time tracking down. 

Because we do a lot of work in the advertising and media space, we were curious how many adverts people see on average each day. Because we wanted to work out the “odds” of advertising making an impact on any one consumer. This was so we could talk about one of the best ways we know to improve those odds, and that’s storytelling. 

How many adverts do you think you see each day? 50? 100? Our minds went back to some barely remembered media agency training deck, so we knew the answer would be higher than that. 3,000 was our best guess. But we’d still be lower than the current best estimates. 

Because, latest estimates put the average number of adverts per person at somewhere between between 6,000 and 10,000 a day. That seems to be the ballpark. And it’s a pretty big ballpark. But no matter, let’s split the difference and call it 8,000 adverts a day on average. 

That’s a lot of advertising. 

The success rate of advertising

But how many adverts actually have an impact? Think about adverts you’ve seen today. 

How many adverts can you actually remember? 

How many actually persuaded you to do something? 

We’re guessing a lot less than 8,000. 

In fact, you could probably count that number on the fingers of one hand. Maybe two hands at a push. Let’s call it eight, because that makes the maths easy. 

So, that means a “success” rate of advertising of around 0.1%. Or, put another way, 99.9% of advertising is not remembered and has no impact. 

Suddenly, the creative team, the client and the media agency start to feel a little nervous. Because, after all, who wants to do something that doesn’t work most of the time? Who wants to pay for something that doesn’t work most of the time? 

But, here’s the thing. 

One advertising spot doesn’t drive one sale

Thinking one advertising spot will drive sales is thinking one walk around the block will make you fit and healthy. 

That’s just not how it works. 

Advertising and media works best when its repeated over time. As we discuss in our guide to media planning, frequency of advertising is important. You’re much more likely to remember and be persuaded by advertising that you see several times, rather than one time. 

And, of course every consumer who you persuade to buy something by advertising, doesn’t necessarily just buy that one thing, one time. They’re much more likely to buy it again, so the value from advertising has to look long-term.

But there’s also many ways to make advertising work better short-term too. And one of those ways is what we wanted to cover today. 


As we cover in our guide to storytelling, storytelling works as a communication mechanism on so many levels. The value of storytelling lies in its ability to explain difficult things simply. It’s a way to make content more engaging. And it’s a way to make your audience more likely to remember your brand. 

Let’s look at the value of storytelling in doing those things. 

The value of storytelling in explaining difficult things simply

Firstly, storytelling is a great way to take complex topics, and make them easier to understand. 

Let’s, for example, say we wanted to explain some of the challenges in international advertising. Your business is based in one country, but want to expand its reach overseas. That happens a lot, right? 

And from our experience, we know that cultural norms differ internationally. Advertising that works well in one country, won’t necessarily work in another, because of culture. It’s not “rocket science” as a topic, but neither is it a simple topic either. 

How would you explain it?

We could look at studies and research and quote statistics to explain it. If we wanted to cover it in a course or training session, we’d definitely do some of that. And you’re smart, you’ll get it right? 

But that’s now what we’re doing now? How would you get the point across if you’ve only got a two minute conversation or a few hundred words to explain it? And do it in a way, that’s easy to understand. 

Well, that’s where the value of storytelling and stores come in. And that’s basically an excuse for us to tell one of our favourite marketing stories. 


Glenfiddich, Jack Daniels and Bruichladdich whisky bottles

A story about whisky. Or not.

It comes from the world of whisky, though the point of the story is not actually anything to do with whisky. It’s about international advertising and cultural norms. 

We wanted to put a link to the source of the story, and the advertising it refers to. But, despite a lot of searching on Google this morning, we can’t find either. Probably, usage rights somewhere stopping it being put up on You Tube. 

So, you’ll just have to trust us that it happened. And to be honest, it’s too good a story to be made up. We know it’s a good story, because we can still remember it. 

And that’s important. Because you can use that same principle when you create advertising. 

The story in one of the marketing magazines was about Glenfiddich, the single malt scotch whisky. It had just created a new global advertising campaign, which featured the stag (it’s their logo / symbol from the front of the bottle) walking though an eerily deserted city landscape. As we said, that ad surprisingly isn’t on You Tube that we can find, but this one is similar.  



So, the story was that they tested this advert in eight of their ten biggest markets, and consumers everywhere loved it. Like “Top 2” boxes in preference, high likability and intent to purchase, and all that other pre-test stuff that makes market researchers jump up and down with excitement. 

Except for two countries. 

Firstly, Brazil. 

The word “stag” in Brazil Portuguese is derogatory slang for homosexual. And, in Latino cultures at the time, homosexuality was way less positively accepted than it is now. That aside, the word can also be used to mean f*cker. And not in a good way. That’s probably, not the association Glenfiddich would want. So, the advert didn’t run there. 

But more interestingly, it didn’t work in Germany, either For an entirely different reason, though. 

Because, Germans culture and thinking is strong on literal thinking, but much less on lateral thinking. Advertising that features analogies or symbolism generally don’t work there. 

In this case, research showed the respondents querying how the stag could be in the city. “Because, stags live in the forest, not the city.” Imagine that sentence in a German accent. 

That logically makes sense. But clearly, German whisky drinkers just couldn’t get what the advert was trying to symbolise. This ad never ran in Germany. 

Now, if someone asked us to explain how advertising works in either Brazil or Germany from a cultural perspective, before we heard this story, we’d have struggled. We’ve have probably ended up talking about football or something, given both countries are among the most successful World Cup contenders. 

But with this story about the Brazilian slang word, and the German literalism, you get the point quickly, right? It’s a nice easy way to show the value of storytelling to make difficult topics easier to understand

The value of storytelling in engaging people 

So, this lesson in storytelling, we step away from the world of advertising, and in to the world of reality TV. No, not Celebrity Love Island, But our favourite show of the last few weeks, and that’s Junior Masterchef.

Watch the Australian or UK versions of Masterchef, and when you know a bit about the mechanics of storytelling, you can see that the producers are as much Master-Storytellers as the contestants are Master-Chefs.

The story arc of the series always starts off with us meeting the “heroes”. The contestants, in this case. We get to understand their “quest”, one of the 7 story types that Christopher Booker outlines in his book, the 7 Basic Plots.

Their quest is to win the competition, and show they are the best cook. We meet their “guides”, the judges and guest chefs and food critics who help them along the way. We follow their journey as they have ups and downs along the way. 

And here’s the masterful part of the storytelling. 

The downs and ups of Masterchef

If you focus on the “downs”, the contestants who hit a wall, or something goes wrong so they need to re-do a piece of the recipe, they’re almost always the ones who succeed in the end. Those tester fondants that don’t ooze. Those tester panna cottas that don’t wobble. Or, that risotto that they don’t get the texture right on. It’s the comeback from these set-backs that make your route for those contestants. 

Much more so, than the ones who get it right every time. You know those ones. The perfectionists. Undoubtedly talented. But less interesting to watch. And you don’t root for them. You root for the ones who overcome challenges. The ones who show more character. They’re more watchable. And, more likely to make it to the end. 


If you know about character archetypes from storytelling, you could argue the contestants were all playing the role of Child / Innocent. But this season’s Junior Masterchef did a great job of bringing out the additional character types behind that. 

We had the Joker / Jester archetypes of Filo and Ben. Two future comedy stars, if they don’t make it in the food world. 

We had the Caregiver archetypes like Carter and Dev. They went out of their way to be supportive, polite and helpful to the other contestants. 

And we had the Creator types like Ruby and Laura who experimented with what’s possible with food. Their character type was to push the boundaries and take the cooking skills to another level. 

And then of course, finally, Georgia, the eventual winner. The tiniest contestant of the group, but fiercely determined, proud to bring her Sri Lankan and Australian food heritage to the competition, and one who battled against the odds to win. 

A great Hero / Heroine story to remember. 

The value of storytelling in making things memorable

We close our little article on the value of storytelling with a brand that’s clearly going to be in pain right now, and that’s Qantas. But as we covered recently, they are just about surviving, and we did hear one of their planes fly overhead as we were writing this. 

Qantas advertising could talk about the features of their planes. It could talk about their safety record or the friendliness of their staff. 

But they don’t. 

Because those stories would be about Qantas. And actually, they see what they do for Qantas customers as more important than what Qantas does. Because the stories in their advertising, they make the hero is the customer, the people who use Qantas. 

And that leads to some memorable advertising, just like this one.   

We first saw it in an Adobe marketing technology conference at the Sydney Opera House. Qantas do a lot with Adobe, and the Qantas marketing director gave the audience a sneak peak of this, their new advertising. 

And safe to say, when it was done. you could literally feel the impact in the audience. Because that long journey home is an experience anyone who lives in Australia has felt. It tapped into deep emotions that people feel when they reconnect with friends and family when they get home. And Qantas is there as the guide to help their customers along the way. 

The way, they tell the story in this advert? 


For Australians, there’s no one else you’d want to come home with, than Qantas. 

So, if you do want your advertising to be in that 0.1% of advertising that’s understood, creates engagement and is memorable, it’s worth building up your skills in storytelling

Because that’s what the value of storytelling can do for you.

The end. 

Photo credits

Stag PhotoJuan Jose on Unsplash

Glenfiddich, JD and Bruichladdich Photo : Ridham Nagralawala on Unsplash

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