Advertising vs Storytelling

People talk a lot about telling brand stories. They also talk a lot about the idea that traditional advertising is dead. I agree with the former, whilst not entirely agreeing with the latter. But today I came across something that illustrates the tension between the two ideas pretty well.

I read with interest that the Union of Concerned Scientists have decided, in the wake ofclimategate, to run a series of ads to make themselves appear a little more ‘cuddly’.

Their ad campaign ‘curious for life’ begins, unsurprisingly given the name, with the premise that scientists were curious from an early age, remain curious, and are therefore ‘curious for life’. To get this point across, they have created little story-style profiles of climate change scientists, appended to print ads featuring the profiled scientist as an inquisitive child or youth, checking out insects, mud, and, of course, the stars. It’s a neat little campaign and gets across, via the medium of a story, just how normal these scientists are: not cosseted academics in ivory towers, but regular Joes just like you and me. Here’s one featuring David Iounye.

Union of Concerned Scientists

The campaign is in response to accusations levelled in the media (and, crucially, blogosphere) that they are not open with the public and not engaged enough with politics.

Here’s the thing though. They’re using storytelling techniques to achieve their objective (getting regular members of the public to identify with them a little more, appearing more human, open and honest), but they’ve picked the wrong medium in which to tell that story. As Randy Rieland over atGrist (via Damian Carrington at The Guardian) points out, the real issue is their engagement, or lack of, with the blogosphere. The blogosphere is ‘the real crucible’ for climate scientists, and the onus is on them to start dealing with it. If you want poeple to think you’re open, act like it: engage with the most open debate in the history of mankind – don’t whack some posters up on a subway or take out full page advertisements in newspapers. It’s a classic case of the right approach but the wrong audience and the wrong medium.

This post originally appeared on my company blog, here.

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