May 5, 2014Long copy is back. Storytelling is here.

Long copy is back and boy, don’t you know it.

Check this out: It’s not a print ad, it’s the tiny type on an enormous billboard. The only other thing on the board is a pint.


It’s not unusual for a billboard to tell a story. But it’s bloody unusual for it to tell it exclusively with words.

But that’s what’s happening. The power dynamic has shifted away from the high-gloss world of beautiful visuals and captivating imagery and back to the slower, more thoughtful, yet often more engaging world of copy.

I don’t think this is a very good ad. The copy isn’t very engaging and it doesn’t make me want a beer. But it’s indicative of the way the word “storytelling” is fast becoming the order of the day.

Here’s a story on a Tube card. Tell me what sells the product better. A picture of the product and a five word tag, or this beautiful story?


“There’s more to life than hair, but it’s a good place to start”

So why the sudden shift?

I bought a new camera last week. A Lumix LX7. It’s got a built in brain, so you don’t need one. A Leica lens so beautifully crafted it’ll take perfect shots in the dark with an aperture of 1.4. It’s a fast camera, and it’s smart too.

It set me back less than three hundred notes.

My point is that anyone can create a halfway decent picture these days. Instagram is chock full of ’em. Give anyone a two grand DSLR and sooner or later they’ll take a perfect photo.

But how many people can actually craft a story?

You could post a half dozen images to Instagram, but do they add up to anything? Twelve frames — do they tell a story, or are they twelve identical selfies or cat photos or whatever?

You can write a thousand words, but do they have a start, a middle and an end?

Storytelling is an art that can’t be aided by computer. But it can take advantage of the digital medium.

Storytelling is back because in a world that’s saturated with images, stories have the power to engage people and hold their attention for longer.

As Gary Vaynerchuk says in this brilliant video (it’s worth watching the full 16 minutes), storytelling is like knowing “you can sell somebody a dime bag of weed right now and a ton of coke later on”. Digital and social gives us the ability to tell those stories in exciting, engaging new ways.

Digital and social gets a bad rep because of things like “the social song” and the relentless pessimism of the otherwise brilliant Bob Hoffman and Sell! Sell! — whose criticisms of the failings of social media are often startlingly accurate, but whose solutions are old school at best, atavistic at worst.

Because digital and social hasn’t paid immediate dividends, they say we should return to a TV spot, print ad, billboard, ‘above the line’ past that focuses on old school advertising putting the product first.

I agree. Put the product first. But there are other ways to do it than by putting the product in every damn shot on a goddamn billboard or in a 15 second TV spot.

Digital and social are new mediums in advertising. It’s only natural that it’s taking time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Did we write off television advertising in the first five years? No. We refined our art and made it work.

And the refinement of our art in digital and social isn’t “brand engagement” or “native advertising” or any other buzzword you might hear.

It’s about using the power of the medium to tell stories that captivate and engage, allowing people to share and interact.

ATL advertising is returning to storytelling because it works. Digital and social, when done correctly, tells incredible stories too.

I was blown away by this video by McLaren:

And this reimagining of American Psycho by Denham Jeans put the brand on the map for me:

But how did I find these gems? Through Twitter and Reddit. Social spaces where yes, people do talk about brands, people do share and post branded content.

Naysayers like The Ad Contrarian are right about what’s wrong with digital and social advertising. But the future of digital and social isn’t display media any more than the future of advertising is giant product shots with the words “BUY THIS NOW” scrawled underneath.

It’s about creating stories with depth and character that people can engage with.

I’ll leave you with one last example of a beautifully integrated campaign that perfectly illustrates this future: Beat Phil.

It’s a campaign to get people to take professional courses to beat their bosses, who speak in buzzwords.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 19.24.05

The campaign hooked me with a billboard. But it took me to a website that contained far greater depth, as well as an incredible digital activation: a simple website,, a hashtag #beatphil, and even a Twitter account where you can interact with Phil, @PhilsFeelings — an integrated campaign you can interact with.

Campaigns like this are the future. Integrated campaigns that tell stories across a range of media, from ATL to digital and social, creating unparalleled rentention times and levels of engagement. Or, to cut the Phil-style buzzwords, holding your customer’s attention for longer.

A return to old-school ATL advertising is not the future. It’s the past.

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This entry was posted on Monday, May 5th, 2014 at 7:26 pm and is filed under Advertising, Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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