Bob Hoffman
Feb 24, 2020

The Ad Contrarian: Storytelling or personalization (pick one)

The same people who babble on about 'personalization' also won't shut up about 'storytelling. They don't understand that storytelling and personalization are enemies.

The Ad Contrarian: Storytelling or personalization (pick one)

For the past couple of years, the advertising industry has been fixated on two themes: the creative side of the business has been preoccupied with "storytelling," and the media side has been hooked on "personalization."

What no one seems to realize is that these two goals are contradictory. We'll get to that in a minute. First, a little overview.

The dumbest idea of advertising's digital age has been "interactivity." Consumers who could barely stand to watch or read ads anymore were suddenly going to want to interact with them and join conversations about them.

Because people wanted to interact with pop musicians, famous athletes, and movies stars we thought they'd want to interact with us. Not.

The idea that the same consumer who was gleefully clicking her remote to escape from TV ads was going to joyfully click her mouse to interact with online ads is going to go down as one of the great marketing fantasies of all time.

Our second dumbest idea is "personalization." Somewhere marketers got the idea that personalized one-to-one targeting is superior to mass media reach. (I have a lot to say about this in my new book "Advertising For Skeptics".)

Amazingly, the same people who babble on about "personalization" also won't shut up about "storytelling." They can't see the contradiction. They don't understand that storytelling and personalization are enemies. Storytelling is about shared, universal narratives. Personalization is about individualized messages.

Jesus on the cross, Joan of Arc at the stake, George Washington and the cherry tree are not "personalized." They are powerful storytelling because they are universal. They are known by masses of people. That's their power.

If you want to create successful stories you have to tell them out loud and in public. If you want to get all personal you have to do it privately.

We have become so absorbed in our own insular feedback loop that we have lost any sense of the connection marketing has to the basics of human communication. You can't be pro-storytelling and anti-mass media.

As usual the marketing industry is so far up its own ass with its new technology toys that technology trumps common sense. The fact that we can do personalized, one-to-one advertising is not a compelling reason why we should.


Bob Hoffman is the author of four best-selling books about advertising, a popular international speaker on advertising and marketing, and the creator of 'The Ad Contrarian' newsletter and blog, where this post first appeared. Earlier in his career he was CEO of two independent agencies and the US operation of an international agency. His latest book, 'Advertising For Skeptics', is now available.

 

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