I saw the latest Purina Friskies video "Dear Kitten, Regarding the Dog" and wondered if this was the future of political ads. Not only did the three-plus minute video prove, once again, that cats rule the internet, it also exemplifies the rise of storytelling in branding and persuasion ads. In a throwback to the golden age of radio and TV, commercials are now telling complete stories as part of a sponsorship (as contrasted to an advertisement), complete with strong product placement in a sometimes otherwise irrelevant story. The Friskies ad (one of a series), features a Seinfeld-quality script that sucks you into the cats' world, a world where Friskies makes repeated cameos. The result was lots of laughs and more than five million views in the first five days.
The rise of storytelling ads shows that we are entering the Age of Social Media Theater (Twitter Theater, YouTube Theater, etc.). Social Media Theater is a whole new way of storytelling that is transforming advertising. Sometimes the ads tell a story with obvious ties to the product or brand. Other times, the story may seem like it has nothing to do with what is being sold. For example, while probably too risqué for politics, this video ad, "Swarovski and Sister by Sibling present a film by Ellen von Unwerth," pushes the limit of a YouTube story video to sell a brand.
These slick video stories are longer than the YouTube video we were told to make and far more polished than most of us can afford, but they both use the power of a compelling story to suck the audience in, where they deliver us a sticky brand. We remember the cats were eating Friskies and the twins were sparkling with Swarovski crystals. In political ad history, Reagan's "Morning in America" and "The Bear in the Woods" ads approach this storytelling ideal as it brands the Reagan presidential campaign as a fresh start at home, while subtly reminding us of the big, bad Russian bear out there that wants to eat us.
Creating stories with social media-social media theater, if you will-comes in many forms. The examples above start with a video. The video telling the story can be posted to YouTube, Facebook or any other social media video platform. Then it can be shared on a variety of other social media channels. The videos can be viewed within the platforms of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, tumblr, Pinterest and blogs. In other words, the video is on a social media platform and then shared via other social media platforms.
Regardless of the venue, the construction and delivery of a story with multiple characters, a crafted script and effective product/brand placement is the vehicle for conveying the message to the audience. If we applied the Dear Kitten motif to an election, we might have one candidate crafting a Dear Voter, Regarding the Other Candidate story to highlight the opponent's flaws in a comical way. And if the actors are all cats and dogs, well, you know it will rule the internet.