Standing mostly unoccupied on one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in New York City is One Times Square. The building, once the headquarters of the New York Times, is a shell of its former self. Inside is nothing more than exposed steel, dusty concrete columns and wiring hanging like entangled wild vines from the ceiling. To the casual observer, it’s not hard to see why it would remain vacant -every window on the building is covered by billboard advertisements. While it’s a famous landmark that represents the city, it can also be seen as a symbol of the advertising cluttered world we live in.
Advertisers often say that the greatest ads have a way to “cut through the clutter”. In order for a brand to be successful, it has to overcome the noise of a highly saturated market. Jay Walker-Smith, Executive Chairman at the Futures Company, estimates that consumers on average are exposed to more than 5,000 ads a day. The reality is that it’s not just enough to simply break through the clutter, a brand has to be remembered. It’s for this reason, storytelling is essential to brand strategy.
Storytelling in society goes way back. The practice is older than recorded history, with most findings dating it back as far as 30,000 years ago to intricate paintings left on the side of cave walls. The ritual is so ingrained in the fabric of mankind, that science has even proven that our brains are biologically wired for it.
In two studies done in 2006 and 2012, researchers found that when subjects read phrases that involved texture or smell, the sensory cortex of their brains became active as opposed to just the classical language regions of the brain. Phrases such as “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” caused the subjects to recall the way these surfaces felt.
Researchers have even found that the brain doesn’t distinguish between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life. The same regions of the brain are stimulated in both cases. When the brain hears or reads a story, it wants to relate it to one of our existing experiences.
But why is increased sensory brain activity important to your brand?
This question is answered by a 2005 published report that uncovered that positive emotional memories contained more sensory details than neutral memories. Additionally, a 2003 report found that memories with emotional ties are “recalled more, remembered better and the brain dedicates more attention to them.”
In a nutshell, tying your brand to an emotional relatable story leaves a positive, lasting impression on a consumer.
The findings didn’t just stop there. Not tying your brand to a positive emotional experience had the complete opposite effect. A brand could be more easily forgotten. A 1997 article in Applied Cognitive Psychology reported that negative and neutral memories fade faster than positive emotional memories.
We live and work in environments that are so completely saturated with advertising that sunlight is literally prevented from entering the windows of an early 20th-century skyscraper. A brand has to do more than simply cut through the clutter out there. It has to be remembered. Consumers won’t always choose to make a purchase decision when your ad is near them. Your marketing needs to leave a lasting impact on them so that when they are ready to pull out their wallets, it’s your brand that they recall. If your company wishes to leave an impression on consumers, making storytelling a priority in your brand strategy.