The Power of Narrative (Consuming Desire)

    May 30, 2007

It’s well accepted in marketing that people buy on emotion. They purchase on emotion, and then justify the purchase with logic. As Barry Feig puts it in his book Hot Button Marketing:

People don’t buy products and services, they buy the satisfaction of unmet needs. 

When I see branding ads for items like clothing that feature scantily clad models, I often assume such images would be better targeted to those of the opposite sex. Not true. It’s not what the prospect wants, it’s what they want to become. They project themselves into the ad.

The same element is at work in cinema and in books. We project ourselves into the story and become the hero. When the plot resonates with the longing of unmet desires, it’s magic.

This week the New York Times ran a feature on the topic of narrative psychology. The endless internal dialogue that produces plot points that structure our own identities – the stories people tell themselves about who they are and why.

But the personal narrative is not just about who we have become. The story, as it unravels, becomes entwined with our needs and creates the dramatic tension that is who we want to be. And who we want to be is a marketing goldmine.

So consider ad copy as story and the prospect as hero. Is it the endless testimonials and before and after pictures that sell diet pills? No. It is the stories that those pictures and testimonials tell that move the product. The happy ending is grafted onto the stories of our lives as they unfold, and the product becomes necessary to the plot.