Brands need to stop advertising and start storytelling

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Advertising has helped many brands become category leaders. Brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, General Motors, Microsoft and more have produced ad campaigns that have made their products household favorites.

So what could be wrong with following proven advertising techniques such as theirs? Plenty.
More than ever before, people are tuning out advertising campaigns. The traditional approach to “telling is selling” and using creative techniques to grab consumer attention really don’t work anymore.

Let’s consider the stories of two fast-food brands.

McDonald’s is an iconic brand known for its advertising. According to Kantar Media, McDonald’s spent $963 million on advertising in 2013. The most ad spending of any restaurant chain. “Bah dah dot dah dah … I’m lovin’ it.”

And how is this campaign helping McDonald’s business? Global sales increased just 0.2 percent and comparable sales in the U.S. decreased -1.4 percent in the 4th quarter and -0.2 percent for the year .
Nearly $1 billion dollars in advertising to stay top of mind with fast food eaters and McDonald’s lost ground with U.S. consumers.

As a result of this McDonald’s has announced a number of executive changes, including the departure of the U.S. Chief Creative Officer who was instrumental in creating the “I’m lovin’it” campaign.

Here’s McDonald’s real problem: their story isn’t a good one.

The press, healthcare professionals, filmmakers, foodies and many other influencers who shape consumer attitudes and opinions have framed McDonald’s story as “unhealthy and bad for you.”
The hard truth is eating too much McDonald’s isn’t good for you. And how their food is prepared and processed concerns many people.

Now let’s look at another fast food company that isn’t spending much on advertising at all, but has a much better story that is winning over consumers.

In 2013 Chipotle spent just $9.7 million dollars on U.S. measured media. Chipotle has the fastest growing sales in the fast food category. Sales increased 5.6 percent in 2013 and revenues increase 17.7 percent

This simple headline directs a story that talks about fresh, high-quality raw ingredients, classic cooking preparation and an environment where food served fast is not “fast food.”
In my opinion, this is a powerful way to illustrate how a good story can drive brand growth.
McDonalds spent 100x more to jingle their way into our heads. Yet Chipotle’s simple and powerful story is striking a chord and driving rapid growth.

Chipotle is not trying to out advertise McDonald’s. They have embraced a smarter strategy – tell a better story.

If McDonald’s were my client I would advise them get back on story. To re-establish their rich legacy and roots as a company committed to delivering a simple menu of great tasting, high quality food prepared fresh and consistently.

Somewhere along the way McDonald’s has lost sight of the brand’s core story. “Cheap” replaced “high quality” and “fresh.” And clever advertising replaced delivering a clear and meaningful story that connected with customer needs and values.

For brands like Chipotle, traditional advertising isn’t the path to faster growth. They recognize that people love a good story. And they understand how a story well told stirs people’s emotions and inspires them to talk about, share and try new things.

Why not challenge conventional thinking? Stop advertising and get your story right.  A clear, focused and meaningful story will engage consumers far more effectively, and efficiently, than another jingle, clever tagline or traditional ad campaign.

Jason Patrick Ross / Shutterstock.com

Rich Taylor
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Rich Taylor

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