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 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 in 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”. A brand has to overcome the noise of our highly saturated market in order to be successful. 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 enough to simply break through the clutter. A brand has to be remembered. It’s for this reason that storytelling is so essential to brand strategy.
Storytelling is older than recorded history, dating back more than 30,000 years to intricate paintings left on the side of cave walls. It’s so engrained in the fabric of mankind, that science has even proven that our brains are biologically wired for it. In studies done in both 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?
A 2005 published report found that positive emotional memories contained more sensory details than neutral memories. Additionally, a 2003 report discovered that memories with emotional ties are “recalled more, remembered better and the brain dedicates more attention to them.” So tying your brand to a great relatable story that delivers an emotional impact can leave a positive, lasting impression on a consumer.
Not tying your brand to a positive emotional experience has the opposite effect. A brand can 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 saturated with advertising that sunlight is prevented from entering the windows of an early 20th-century skyscraper. A brand has to do more than simply cut through the clutter. 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 make a purchase, it’s your brand that they recall. If a company wishes to leave an impression on consumers, making storytelling a priority in its brand strategy is essential.