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Ten Stories That Can Sell Anything

By Jerry Bader

Advertising is all about telling your marketing story: a story that your audience can relate to, so that it builds confidence and credibility in your ability to deliver your product or service.

A well-crafted business story invites your audience to open a dialogue with you, a line of communication that will ultimately lead to a customer and sale for you, and a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment for your new client.

Effective marketing stories are about universal truths and primal needs; they provide a cathartic emotional experience for your audience. There is no point in spending a lot of money on advertising until you have identified that fundamental change your product or service provides to your audience.

Once you have isolated that hidden quality in what you do, you can then develop a video, audio, or print campaign that delivers your message in a memorable, meaningful manner that audiences will respond to.

There are only so many stories you can tell and the art of advertising, or corporate storytelling, is the ability to present that story in fresh new ways.

How Many Marketing Stories Are There?

An acquaintance of mine once pitched a Hollywood studio executive on a movie idea and was turned down flat. The executive told this fellow, "there are only seven movies and yours isn't one of them." When I first heard this I was appalled at the lack of imagination from someone in a creative business, but when you think about it, what financial backer is going to invest tens of millions of dollars in something that nobody knows anything about, certainly not the people financing movies. And when it comes to advertising the circumstances are the same; if you're paying the shot, you at least want a fighting change at success.

Where's Your Product On The Hierarchy of Needs

There are some disagreements as to what these seven stories are, and if there are really only seven. This magic number seven is interesting as it coincides with noted psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow identified seven basic human motivations that guide peoples' conduct: physical needs, safety needs, social needs, self-esteem needs, cognitive needs, aesthetic needs, and self-actualization needs.

Develop a marketing campaign consisting of stories that satisfy one of these motivational triggers and you have a campaign that your audience will respond to and consider relevant.

Blake Snyder's Ten Story Scenarios

Not everyone limits the number of prime stories to seven, Blake Snyder, professional screenwriter and author of "Save The Cat,' says there are ten. Snyder approaches the problem with a more flamboyant flair than Maslow, but still based on fundamental emotional and psychological criteria.

Snyder's ten basic story scenarios are: Monster In the House, Dude With a Problem, Fool Triumphant, Superhero, Buddy Love, Out Of a Bottle, Institution, Golden Fleece, Rights-of-Passage, and Whydunit. This is all very interesting but does it help you develop an advertising campaign that delivers your marketing message?

If we look at Snyder's list of ten story scenarios and relate them to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs we can see how you can develop a marketing story that can be delivered on a website with a Web-video marketing campaign that will be remembered by your audience, and will likely generate an increased interest in your company.

Physical Needs - "Dude With a Problem"

Before people can concern themselves with intellectual or spiritual matters, they must first satisfy their physical needs: water, food, shelter, and procreation. If individuals cannot satisfy these basic needs they have a problem, hence your marketing story can be delivered using the tried and true "Dude With A Problem" scenario.

If you are in the business of selling bottled water, packaged food, physical fitness, real estate, or vitamins you are supplying your audience with a solution to one of life's most basic needs.

Safety Needs - "Monster In The House"

The need to be safe, to protect your family and yourself from harm, is fundamental to how people behave and what they deem important. The marketing of products and services that fulfill safety needs requires the audience understand the dangers that your product or service is designed to eliminate.

The "Monster In The House" scenario is your standard monster movie featuring some scary, frightening entity. This kind of scenario is based on our need to secure a safe and secure environment and life-style.

From a marketing perspective this approach is how you sell insurance, tires, health care products, alarm systems, or anything that protects you and yours from harm. Instead of some imaginary boogeyman or alien, your monster is disease, fire, accidents and crime.

If your product protects, then it can be sold by showing how it safeguards your audience from the "Monster In The House."

Social Needs - "Buddy Love" & "Rights-of-Passage"

We are social animals, we live in communities, we form family units, and we crave meaningful relationships with others. These types of basic needs are played out in scenarios that are commonly referred to as buddy and rights-of-passage movies.

If you run a dating service, nightclub, restaurant, or bar, or if you sell products like beer or wine that involve social gathers and interaction, then you can use the buddy movie scenario to tell your story.

If you sell products that clear-up acne or solve other kinds of teen related problems relating to becoming an adult, then perhaps the rights-of-passage scenario is the story to tell.

Self-esteem Needs - "Fool Triumphant" & "Superhero"

We all need to feel good about ourselves. If you sell a product that allows people to overcome some insecurity then you have a sure-fire hit if you tell your story in a convincing, compelling fashion.

The "Fool Triumphant" scenario delivers the message that no matter what your short-comings you to can be a winner. The "Superhero" tale tells the story of ordinary people who have been transformed into extraordinary achievers through some incident or action. In either case, if your product or service supplies that conversion from loser to winner then that's the story you want to tell.

Prime examples of businesses that could use these storytelling scenarios are exercise equipment suppliers, nutritional supplement companies, and self-help and motivational product and service businesses.

Cognitive Needs - Institution

The "Institution" scenario is the story of 'Everyman' versus 'Big Brother:' how we cope, or don't cope, with the demands of a complex society where we are worn down by bureaucracy, incompetence, and arbitrary rules and red tape.

Dealing with Big Brother, the government, or large oligopoly businesses can be traumatic and in some cases seemingly impossible. Telling this story is the bread and butter issue for companies that provide solutions to dealing with "The Institution."

Whatever the rules were yesterday you can be sure that they'll be different tomorrow. The skills you learned in school or on the job are no longer in demand, no longer relevant, and no longer work. Whether you're a homemaker, entrepreneur, accountant, or doctor, you have to keep pace with changing technology, and an ever increasing demand to know just about everything.

Knowing what you need to know in order to compete, comply, and to accomplish in a world dominated by remote, faceless institutions governed and managed by petty officials is a significant impediment to success.

As a result, products and services like private schools, self-help programs, and books and DVDs for self-confessed nincompoops can be sold by delivering a message that solves the "Institution" scenario.

Aesthetic Needs - "Out Of A Bottle"

Once we have satisfied our more basic needs, our desires move on to more aesthetic concerns. We all want to feel good and one of the best ways to feel good is to look good.

The "Out Of A Bottle" scenario provides the marketing message for cosmetic, beauty and health care products and services, weight loss and exercise products and programs, or any aesthetic issue that can be resolved with a pill, potion, or patch.

Self-actualization - "Golden Fleece" & "WhyDunit"

In an affluent society the basic needs of most people are for the most part available, but affluence doesn't mean happy. People need more than food, shelter, companionship, and a small waistline. They need to be the best they can be and they need to find some meaning in their lives.

The "Golden Fleece" scenario is about the search for personal recovery, while the "WhyDunit" story is about the search for insight and meaning. These approaches are similar, but one deals with personal salvation, while the other deals with more metaphysical concerns.

Self help and motivational businesses can deliver their messages using the "Golden Fleece" perspective, while religious and charitable institutions can deliver their message through the "WhyDunit" approach.


There is more money wasted on bad advertising than on any other business function. The reason is we try to apply rational, factual, and statistical criteria to a fundamentally emotional and psychological hierarchy of needs. Determine the appropriate need your product or services fulfills, apply a suitable storyline to its presentation, and your audience will sit-up and take notice.

See Also:

10 Tips To Higher Response Ads
Check your draft of the advertising through this 10-point check list. Cover off these basics, and you can be sure you're off to a running start.

Boost your selling power with your call-to-action phrases
Is there something missing from your marketing material? If you don't have a call-to-action phrases, you're missing an essential component to great copy.

5 Fast Tricks For Making More Sales!
You've got a killer headline -- lined up benefit after benefit -- but it won't make you a dime unless you can close the sale and make the reader of your sales letter hand over their cash.

Get Specific with Your Pitch Letters
The query letter is your sales tool. What you include in the letter should only be your best so that editors cannot turn down you or your idea.

Use The Most Powerful Force In Selling To Magnetize Customers To Your Products
What is the most powerful, irresistible, GUARANTEED way to get customers interested in your product or service?

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About the Author: Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit http://www.mrpwebmedia.com/ads,

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