7 Years Later: The Rebirth of Advertising as Storytelling

Katelyns Sketches of Books[1]A Millennial’s Perspective on Finding Purpose in 2017

Change comes every seven years.  In fact, some believe the human body will completely replace every cell over the span of seven years, giving birth to an entirely “new” person.  If change does come every seven years, the advertising industry is proof.  I’ve been in the delivery room myself to witness the painful yet beautiful rebirth.

Let’s rewind seven years to 2010.  We’ll remember this was the year of “Marketing with Meaning”.  Brands and agencies were searching for the philanthropic angle, the charitable partnership, the “one-for-one” business model.  Jamie Oliver was giving TED talks about the importance of healthy school lunches, P&G had revamped their Dawn dish soap packaging to feature baby wildlife, and Warby Parker had just launched with the promise of donating a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair sold.   It can be argued the 2009 release of Bob Gilbreath’s book “The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connecting with your Customers by Marketing with Meaning” fueled the rapid-fire growth of brands trying to reconnect with consumers in a more meaningful, valuable way.  It was my first year in the business and I was immediately swept away by this exciting and “meaningful” tide of change.

Seven years later, however, a new and much more complex tide has risen.  And with it comes a new audience, new expectations, and new technology, all of which has redefined what “marketing with meaning” actually means.  In fact, marketing, in many ways, is a moot term.  We are no longer marketers.   We are storytellers.  And our audience demands an experience, a bond, a purposeful journey with our brands.  One that they, and the brand, believe in.

And so, the next evolution is here and it transcends marketing with meaning.  It is instead storytelling with a purpose.  And while understanding how to be an effective storyteller can be challenging, the following ideas help to identify ways to step up your storytelling game and connect with this new audience in an authentic, impactful and evocative way.


  1. Have a Purpose IRL (“in real life”): The rise of Millennials and Gen Z has completely changed the way we speak with our consumers.  In fact, 88% of consumers believe brands have the power to address important issues.  It is no longer enough to have a Brand Purpose that exists only in an internal, confidential deck after a three-day workshop.  Even a baby duck on a bottle of dish soap won’t be enough.  Instead, the Brand Purpose needs to be woven so tightly, so expertly, into our real life narrative, that it becomes more important than air for our brand.  In fact, our brand cannot – and will not – live without it.  We must embrace and bring to life our purpose throughout all storytelling – not just on paper.


  1. Walk the Walk. Even the best brand purpose will not stand a chance, however, if our new audience does not believe us.  Brands must augment their strategy with storytelling they actually believe in.  If we look back to SuperBowl 2017, we’ll remember Audi’s ad that pushed to showcase the German automaker is committed to gender equality in the workplace.  It had the makings of a great ad and yet it failed.  While Audi promoted a story of gender equality, Audi has no women on its six-person executive team. Its supervisory board is only 16% women, significantly lower than BMW’s 30%.  How could consumers believe in Audi’s storytelling if Audi didn’t believe in it themselves?  Whatever story we tell must align to our core brand identity.


  1. The End of “The Beginning, Middle and End”. Once we stake out our authentic positioning, we must remember that storytelling is no longer linear.  Consumers want an experience, and we must reach them across all platforms in a compelling way.  This might be starting backwards and working our way to the answer through multi-channel storytelling.  We have the power to allow consumers to feel as if they are discovering the story themselves.  In Virtual Reality, we can take exploration and discovery a step further.  The audience can choose their own endings, or they can leave the story and come back to it later, uncovering something new each time.  We want our audience to become lost in an immersive experience.  Like being at an art show, we want them to get lost in the story.  Just remember that story might not always have a linear beginning, middle and end.


  1. Make them feel something. Millennials and Gen Z have grown up believing that experiences outweigh material items, and that life is meant for finding what lights your soul on fire, what moves you, what makes you feel.  At the same time, they have been exposed to the most content daily out of any other generation.  They have an intense longing to feel something new, and yet the constant influx of new information desensitizes them.   It is safe to call this new audience our Skeptical Dreamers and we must recognize they are becoming harder to reach.  In order to break through, brands must tell a story that is new, purpose-led, and moving.  We want to create a memory with our audience.  Whether its happy, sad, funny, raw, or simply relatable.  But we need that memory to be tied to our purpose as a brand.  To leave a lasting impact long after they have stopped thumbing through their newsfeed.   


The rebirth of advertising has created a world of opportunity and has made room for a new generation of artful storytellers.  The narratives we tell can allow our brands to tap into and even reshape culture.  However, these stories, if not genuine, can be the kiss of death for brands.  We must engage, learn and listen and then tell our story (and our purpose) in a way that authentically connects with our audience.  We want to be the J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) – and not the Stephanie Meyer (Twilight) – of advertising.


— Katelyn Lurvey is an Innovation Strategist at The BAM Connection.  She is inherently curious about the world and spends her time tapping into culture, human insight and technology to help facilitate big ideas.  She is still unsure if she is considered an older or younger Millennial, but either way, she embraces it and enjoys helping brands find new ways to connect with her own generation.