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Seven Tried and True Ways to Build Compelling Brand Stories

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"Tell me a story!" It's the request of children at bedtime that parents loyally indulge; yet it's also an implied request from consumers and clients that we often miss. Not telling a compelling story has the potential to weaken those relationships that are so valuable to us.

During Advertising Week 2012, Rob Schwartz, Global Creative President, TBWA Worldwide, led a panel on "The 7 Stories That Rule the World and the World's Best Brands." The book The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker was used as a springboard to assess advertising messaging. He spent 30 years writing his book, and it covers story-telling over 5,000 years. With a historical timespan of 5 millennia, it's worth paying attention.

There are seven archetypal stories that are told over and over (just with different characters and twists) in advertising, books, films, anecdotes, etc. Here are the definitions with pop-culture movie references:

1) Overcoming the monster -- classic hero vs. villain approach (Star Wars)

2) Rebirth -- renewal (It's a Wonderful Life)

3) The Quest -- overcoming obstacles to achieve objectives (Lord of the Rings)

4) Journey and Return -- go somewhere and come back with changes (Wizard of Oz)

5) Rags to Riches -- from the depths to a rise (Cinderella)

6) Tragedy -- outcome that is not so positive (many Shakespeare stories)

7) Comedy -- laughter (Zoolander)

Schwartz made the case that all ads boil down to these seven stories. One way to validate this hypothesis is to take a look at the 13th annual Best Global Brands report, which generated a lot of buzz this week. Each brand is a story, and the ones with the most powerful story lines appear to be the ones with the most movement or staying power. Apple, which rose to No. 2 from No. 8, represents Overcoming the Monster, a David and Goliath story of Apple vs. IBM. Coca-Cola, which is No. 1 for the 13th consecutive year, is all about Rebirth and the transformation that Coke brings to individuals around the world. Tellingly, Coca-Cola's Facebook fan page has more likes, 51.98MM, than any other brand, so its story-telling prowess extends to the social media realm, as well.

Customers expect to know the stories behind our brands -- the stories that make our brands meaningful and relevant. Whatever the medium, the need remains the same. The fact that digital, for example, is such an important part of their lives doesn't mean the stories are any less important. In fact, they're more important because sharing is easy and compelling; after all, people are social creatures at their core.

With all the gadgets, mobile, social media and constrained time in consumers' lives, customers don't have very much time (or attention), so they're looking for simple, concise stories and messaging -- and we have even less time than before to get our message out. Sometimes we only have 3-5 seconds before they tune out. What we say and how simply we say it, is critical.

The same goes for our clients. Having been a client for over 10 years before joining a digital agency, I can tell you 00 clients have no extra time for extraneous messaging. Instead, clients want their agencies to tell simple, relevant, timely and compelling stories to their consumers -- and compel consumers to take action.

Share this story with your colleagues and post a comment below on which of the seven archetypal stories applies to your favorite brand. Telling compelling brand stories is, after all, The Quest for each of us.

Barry Sands, is VP/Group Media Director at Moxie a Publicis Groupe, full-service digital agency.