It is the dead of night and the sounds of revelry have long since quieted to a distant susurrus. Standing tall amidst the remnants of celebration, illuminated as if a statue to victory, looms a wooden statue built to represent the city’s emblem. A soft scrape breaks the silence and suddenly, from the belly of the structure drops first one man, then several more. They converse briefly before splitting up to head toward the gates.
The story of the Trojan Horse has long been ingrained in Western culture. Immortalized in Homer’s Odyssey and later in Virgil’s Aeneid, the tale has been retold across literature and cinema. Today the Trojan Horse is synonymous with cunning, intrigue, and infiltration. The computing world has even dubbed an entire sector of malicious viruses after the well-known figure – specifically those designed to disguise themselves as legitimate software or mislead users as to their true purpose. For marketers, this timeless tale has a great deal to tell, even beyond its iconic deception.
The Power of Storytelling
“[Stories] equalize everybody,” said Oscar Eustic, Artistic Director for The Public Theater. “Kids can enjoy Shakespeare just because they are following the story.”
Historians tell us storytelling has been around since the start of human existence – that it is an intrinsic human characteristic. It is believed that, even before the development of verbal languages, early hominids shared through the use of visual imagery such as cave drawings. Eventually, this tendency developed into oral traditions where stories were passed from person to person, generation thru generation. It is this very practice that provides us the opportunity to discover the tales of Gilgamesh, a famous Sumerian king…and the Trojan War.
But a story is more than simple entertainment. For human civilization, it was a way of teaching lessons, instilling social norms, and growing social cooperation. What may now be considered a children’s tale such as the tortoise and the hare, in which a rabbit takes its speed for granted and is beaten in a race, are purposely memorable while containing a moral message. The story is memorable because it is ridiculous. But there are multiple lessons packed in this extremely short and silly fable.
- Perseverance/Determination – Win or lose, the tortoise intends and does cross the finish line.
- Respect for Others – The hare’s disdain for the tortoise affects his ability to take the race seriously.
- Laziness has Consequences – Depending on the version of the tale, the hare plays around, takes naps, or finds other ways to distract from the race. It is due to this lack of focus that he is passed and defeated by the tortoise.
Neuroeconomist Pal Zak has performed extensive research on the “Why” behind the human drive to communicate through stories. A decade ago, his lab found that a well-constructed story causes the brain to release oxytocin, a chemical directly linked with the human desire for cooperation and empathy. When elevated levels of oxytocin are introduced, the human brain is more willing to voluntarily listen, interact, and work others. Emotions, situations, lessons, and messages told within these confines are then internalized more deeply – motivating listeners to act.
Creating a Powerful Story
Picture fades in on a quiet suburban street and a sidewalk corridor of foliage. A jogger turns the corner, making her way toward us through the trees. A quick flash of a quaint, green, craftsman-style home. Then back to our jogger, making her way down the street. “The little green house with the big porch,” says the narrator. “Tracy loved it so much, she always added a special stop to her daily jog.”
It is one of OnPoint Community Credit Union’s most talked about commercials. You see Tracy’s favorite house is finally for sale and, excitement nearly palpable, she instantly calls her OnPoint mortgage representative. She knows the mortgage representative by name and she can be there in ten minutes.
It’s only a commercial about buying a house. Why did it have such an impact?
Because it utilized the powerful vehicle of story and leveraged one or more of the other five guidelines of creating contagious content. In his book, Contagious, Jonah Berger, Marketing Professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses his analysis and study of communication and advertising to discover what and why things are shared and remembered - distilling his findings into a group of basic guidelines.
- Social Currency – What people find interesting or unique is what they share. Facts, unusual occurrences, games, and special rewards are just a few options to generate social currency.
- Triggers – Even boring things can gain traction if people are reminded of them regularly. KitKat, for instance, was able to boost sales by linking the brand with coffee. However, the more products associated with something (like coffee), the less likely it is to stick.
OnPoint utilizes an important trigger in their “Jogger” ad – houses. People who are in the market for a home purchase are usually very aware of the structures around them and sure to think of the ad regularly.
- Emotion – Feelings are a significant driver for social interaction. But not all emotions are created equal. Berger and his team found a significant increase in sharing for stories and messages triggering high activation emotions such as awe, excitement, humor, disgust, anger, and anxiety. Low activation emotions such as contentment and sadness saw far less reach.
In OnPoint’s “Jogger” commercial, viewers see and share Tracy’s excitement at the prospect of owning the home she has always wanted.
- Practical Value – People love to be asked for advice or spread useful information. Whether that be something as simple as a sale or as complex as stocks, humans are driven to help.
Someone you know needs of a home loan? Have the seen the OnPoint ad?
- Public – One of the reasons loyalty programs have difficulty increasing loyalty is because they operate privately. How often do you tell people how much you saved by having a membership at your grocery store? Do you even know if your friends or family have a grocery store loyalty card? When given a choice of restaurants, do you enter the one that has visible seating or the one that looks close to packed? In order to increase communication, you often have to push the private into the public eye.
While moving and even house shopping are things often discussed, actual home loans (and other financial discussions) are often eschewed. OnPoint’s “Jogger” ad normalizes thoughts about mortgages in direct relation to the desire for home ownership.
OnPoint’s “Jogger” commercial was effective because housed its message – “OnPoint is your local, available, trusted source for home loans” – within a compelling story utilizing emotion and linking to a common trigger. But, most importantly, the story kept community credit union and mortgage as the foundation. To tell the story without these key elements would leave it lacking.