Home » Book Excerpt: Most Ads Suck – Chapter 5

Book Excerpt: Most Ads Suck – Chapter 5

Chapter 1 – Most Ads Suck
Chapter 2 – It’s the Message, Not the Media
Chapter 3 – Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad
Chapter 4 – Make Only One Point

Chapter 5 – Tell a Story

“Gurganus is right. The truth happens to everyone, but stories only happen to people who can tell them.” – Roy H. Williams

Your best friend texts you, knowing you were up late the night before for the Super Bowl party.

“We still getting lunch?”


“Usual place?”


Just like everyone else, the first words out of your friend’s mouth are, “So which was your favorite ad?”

You don’t even get to the table. Your mind is racing. Do you tell your friend what you’ve discovered in the last twelve hours? Do you explain how you can’t focus on anything else? Or do you give the quick answer while you’re still letting your thoughts settle?

“I liked the Kia ad with Melissa McCarthy,” you blurt out. It wasn’t your favorite, but everyone agreed that ad and the Skittles ad were the funniest that actually tied back to the products. They were funny stories used to make a point. Funny stories used to make just one single point.

They were also the first ones that popped into your mind. In fact, all the ads that you remembered best were stories. The one about the immigrant who goes on to make Budweiser beer. The one about the Mexican mother and daughter crossing the border that left you hanging because their website crashed. The Audi commercial that hit you in the feels thinking about your own daughter. They were all stories with a narrative. They were all thirty- and sixty-second plots.

You spend the rest of your lunch hour laughing with your friend about the good, the bad, and the ugly from the night before while part of your mind wanders off in search of the story. All the good ads told one.

After lunch you decide you aren’t going to be productive in the usual sense. You have research to do. What is it about stories that make them so much more memorable than facts and figures?

You sit down at your desk, open up Google and immediately stumble across Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Gottschall tells you, “Stories powerfully hook and hold human attention because, at a brain level, whatever is happening in a story is happening to us and not just them.” (10-16-2013, www.fastcocreate.com)

You find Rachel Gillett’s article from 2014 where she says, “When we read a story, not only do the language parts of our brains light up, but any other part of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing what we’re reading about becomes activated as well.” (6-4-2014 www.fastcompany.com)

You find Pamela B. Rutledge, Ph.D., M.B.A. writing for Positively Media, “Stories are how we are wired. Stores take place in the imagination. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions, presence (the sense of being somewhere), and behavioral responses.” (1-16-2011 www.psychologytoday.com)

You read Catrinel Bartolomeu’s article and are blown away by the line, “Unlike statistics, stories trigger emotions—actual physical and chemical changes in our body.” (11-10-16 www.contently.com)

Stories trigger actual physical changes. Stories happen to us while they are being told to us. For ads, stories activate parts of the brain that would otherwise ignore those ads. Stories are a must if you want your ad to be remembered.

At least, you think as you add this to your list, most of the big companies get this one right.

Principle #3: Tell a Story

One of the few auto ads that you can remember was that Dodge Charger ad with George Washington leading the Continental Army against the British from the front seat of his Charger. You also remember Eminem and Chrysler and the feeling Detroit was getting back on its feet. Stories.

Budweiser has been using the Clydesdales to tell stories for decades. That puppy ad gave you goose pimples. Coca-Cola has done the same. You can still sing that feel-good song they used back in the seventies. Stories.

You figure you probably don’t need to tell the big guys about this principle, but you’re putting it on your list nonetheless.

  • Most Ads Suck
  • The Message Is More Important Than the Media
  • Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad
  • Make Only One Point
  • Tell a Story

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Up next … Chapter 6 – Speak to the Heart

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