Human beings gravitate to “train wrecks.”
How else can you explain the popularity of “Breaking Bad”? Or people flocking to watch “Shrek”?
Even though advertising has limited real estate — often 60 seconds of video or one static print page — the discipline finds a way to set the stage, surface the “bad stuff” and advance the story in a way that plays off of the “bad stuff” and ends with a happily ever after.
Consider the classic story arc in the Budweiser “puppy love” ad that ran during the Super Bowl a few years ago.
The “bad stuff” comes in the form of a stranger adopting the puppy. The product, Budweiser, sits above the story, basking in the emotional glow of the happy ending when the puppy and the horse are reunited.
What happens if you put the “bad stuff” at the start of the story?
More intriguing, what if the “bad stuff” directly pertains to the product?
The Swedish company Oatly answers both questions with an ad that falls under the “kids-don’t-try-this-at-home” category.
With the headline shouting and a huge photo of an Oatly carton, the reader knows exactly what tastes like sh*t.
Whoever crafted the copy knows her/his way around language:
“That’s a real comment from a real person who tried one of our oatmilks for the first time. Some people just don’t like it. They think it tastes like oats, because it does taste like oats. Here’s the good part. If you don’t like the taste of our oatmilk, you don’t have to drink them. Taste is personal which is why we don’t take it personal if you don’t like how they taste.”
Then comes the payoff, that there are also people find oatmilk delicious for a lot of reasons, so why not give it try.
It’s an effective ad. Consumers don’t come across brands that say their product tastes like sh*t. It jars their senses even if they know deep down that somehow the story will find a way to end on a happy note.
The same concept applies to public relations and constructing a story on a company.
If you already know the company has course corrected the “bad stuff,” where’s the risk? You have 100% certainty that the story will enjoy a positive ending.
Still, I recognize that executives often don’t want to relive the negative. They instruct the communications function to only discuss the positive part of the story. The problem is the drama in the story comes from the gap between the before (bad stuff) and the after (success).
And you can’t create a gap with only one point of reference.
It takes two to dramatize.