Does Storytelling Sell The Product?

shakeologyThe latest issue of BusinessWeek offers the feature, “The Adventures of Superfood Man.”

The lead takes from one of those life-is-better-than-fiction moments:

On a good morning in Paradise Cove, Malibu, the water is so clear you can see halibut lurking in the kelp. Little Dume Point rises from its cliffs to the north, and beneath it a few surfers on stand-up paddleboards rise and fall on the swell waiting for their wave.

Darin Olien, who looks like a Tarzan action figure, is talking to a surfer in his early twenties named Igor about the health benefits of alkalinization in the body. He tells Igor, who’s trying to balance his board and blinking back the sun, that 7.4 is where the pH of our body wants to be and that most of our diets are far too acidic, which leads to inflammation and degenerative disease. Red meat is very acidic; coffee, corn, and wheat, too.

That’s the piece in a nutshell.

Teaching the Igors (and Igorettes) of the world there’s better fuel than T-bones and Starbucks. It’s called Shakeology.

Yet, the science supporting the claim is nowhere to be found according to the FDA and nutritionists.

Here’s the part that got my attention.

Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council (trade group for herbal remedies), answers his own question on how the company justifies a premium price for a concoction that isn’t much better than a placebo:

“Construct a compelling story.”

I don’t think this was meant as a compliment or rallying cry for all business communicators to jump on the storytelling bandwagon.

Just to be clear, business storytelling should be grounded in truth.

But as an academic exercise, let’s evaluate whether Beachbody, the company behind Shakeology, delivers on the “compelling” part of the story.

The core sales pitch comes in two components:

Shakeology®, an ultra-premium nutritional health shake provides the widest array of nutrients from around the world in a nutrient-dense but low-calorie formula. One that can’t be replicated anywhere.

Wouldn’t call this a riveting narrative.

Part two:

We searched the world for the most potent ingredients your body can easily absorb and utilize, creating a perfect combination of enzymes, prebiotics, antioxidants, and many rare ingredients like adaptogens, Camu-Camu, and Sacha Inchi. Here are all the different kinds of nutrients you’ll get from a single glass of Shakeology.

Camu-Camu?

Really?

I suppose the idea is to mesmerize the potential buyer with exotic ingredients he or she hasn’t heard of.

Next, we dig into the customer testimonials, pulling the one from Caterina P.:

I feel so energized!!!! (Yes, those exclamation points are real energy! :) Drinking Shakeology has given me so much energy-which I used to get from drinking coffee or Red Bulls-not anymore! Throw those nasty things in the trash where they belong and pass me my shaker cup!

One sign that shocked me was how ridiculously fast and strong my nails have grown. I used to wear acrylic nails for years, which forced them to be weak and yellow. They would never grow, and I had a terrible habit of biting my nails and the skin around them. Well, now I get asked, “Are those your real nails?” and I can say yes! I’ve even stopped the habit of biting! So Shakeology can help break bad habits and treat your body well.

Now, that’s “savvy” marketing, striving to touch all the major demographics including women under 40 who bite their nails.

And someone should alert the copywriter that a bunch of exclamation points doesn’t hone realness.

I do like the way they doctor up the nutritional value in such an official manner. Still, the power of the packaging loses something when you’re told:

Keep out of reach of children.

After careful analysis, I have to disagree with Mr. Blumenthal.

The story is not compelling.

I wonder if Igor agreed.

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Yamini March 1st, 2012 2:43 pm

    Hi Lou
    Thanks for your insightful post. “Construct a compelling story’ is definitely a move in the right direction. While the premise is sound, it’s much harder to tell an authentic compelling story than most people imagine. As storytelling is HOT the other sad trend is to stick the ‘story’ label on stuff that clearly isn’t, in the hope of making it sizzle. Our post ‘Is Storytelling the new black” struck a chord, as yours did with me. Please check it out http://tiny.cc/93c5k
    Thanks & Regards
    Yamini Naidu
    Australia

  2. Lou Hoffman March 1st, 2012 9:05 pm

    Yamini,

    Thanks for weighing in.

    Loved your post, “Is Storytelling the New Black?”

    I think the answer is yes which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not realistic to think everyone will develop a true storytelling mentality. Yet, just awareness should increase the wrinkles that go into communications.

    Your point is well taken-

    “… stop calling everything that moves a story! Just calling something a story doesn’t make it a story.”

    But I would argue one can apply storyteling techniques to communications without a full-blown story arc.

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