Storytelling and Subliminal Advertising

Tom earned his master’s in IMC from WVU and his bachelor’s in public relations from Utica College of Syracuse University. He joined the Site-Seeker team in 2013 as an account manager.

I read BuzzFeed every day. I don’t care for all the political banter, but I do enjoy the funny material about pop culture and advertising. One article caught my eye from this past Wednesday.

The headline reads: Do You Know How to Kiss a Girl? Then Learn! In step-by-step fashion, the copywriter goes into detail about the anxious yet glorious moment before a first kiss with a girl. The simple images on the left column help the reader visualize the advice being given in the text. It’s not until the last paragraph that the copyrighter slips in a hit about the product. “BUT WAIT,” the ad says. “Do not kiss her until you know that she uses Listerated Pepsin Gum…” And then you realize it…Dang. They got me!

It’s an extremely clever approach. No logo. No indication that it was an ad. It looks and feels like a piece of editorial content. “Oh cool, an article to help me in that could-be awkward moment when I’m about to make my move,” you think. Then the copywriter subtlety bops you on the head with the ad impression. You’ve already read the whole thing. Might as well finish reading. “If she is a Listerated Pepsin Gum girl, kiss her!” the article concludes.

It’s genius.

The ad is from 1911. It’s more than one hundred years old ad and it’s using a tactic that marketers today *still* haven’t begun to adopt. And that tactic is the art of storytelling.

We are seeing the need, now more than ever, to break through the clutter of today’s noisy world with more creative advertisements. There are ads everywhere we look. With the heavy use of social media and mobile technologies, we are exposed to more than we can even recall. Think about your typical day:

  • Wake up and grab smartphone to scroll Facebook. See ads.
  • Open the news app on your tablet to see the latest headlines. See ads.
  • Take a shower and turn on the radio. Hear ads.
  • Make breakfast. See ads on cereal box.
  • Eat cereal while watching TV. See ads.
  • Drive to work. See billboards.

I’m only at 7:30 am, friends! Statistics vary but it’s safe to say that a typical American adult is probably exposed to a good 1,500 ads or so each day.

Today, it’s vital that we are using alternative techniques to nab consumers’ attentions, other than blasting them with traditional commercials or banner ads. In the “Kiss a Girl” article from 1911, they provided value and entertainment in their commentary. This storytelling approach has seen successes with other companies over the years too, and is becoming a very popular method today. Why? Because we automatically tune out when it comes to advertisements. I’ve been watching YouTube today and can’t tell you one ad that I’ve been forced to watch so far! So when you rope in readers with something more clever, you can find a subliminal way in.

Content marketing focuses a lot of this method. Give users content. Let them find value. Let them be amused. Let them enjoy what it is they are reading/watching/participating in. Then impress them in a more subtle way. Don’t let your logo and your messages be at the forefront. Instead, let it take the backseat. If delivered properly, it will have just as much, if not more of an impact as it would if it were the central theme of the ad.

Here’s a great modern day example. In this ad from Nike, teens plug sneakers into their DJ equipment. By bouncing and twisting the shoes, they are able to create a really neat song. Nike relies on the sneakers and the sneaker boxes (which prop up the speakers) for the impressions. But the focus isn’t on the product. Not many are going to try to hook up their sneakers to make music. Instead, it’s pure entertainment and Nike looks to be associated with a cool, hip music style.

Likewise, Listerated Pepsin Gum didn’t make a big to-do about its product in the “Kiss the Girl” ad. However, once we finished reading the article, we associated the brand with fresh breath and one that makes kissing more enjoyable (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t want that!). Boom. Right in line with their messaging and it certainly was more effective than a generic, forgettable branded billboard ad. Listerated Pepsin – for the win!