The CHEMISTRY of great story telling

While attending a recent parent teacher interview, I drifted off momentarily while staring at the periodic table of elements on the wall. Perhaps still haunted by failed titration experiments, I reflected on how unnecessary it had all been in my current role as a marketing strategist. But then it hit me like only a 30-year delayed learning outcome could. I realized in that moment that solids, liquids and gases were great metaphors for traditional, social and viral media campaigns. Stick with me here. I think I’ve found use for chemistry in marketing…



Perhaps on a subliminal level I was reflecting on the BCAMA Vision Conference theme ( this year being “liquid content,” highlighting the concept of stories being told between web, mobile, TV, radio, print, outdoor and more. Essentially winning campaigns now strive to use cross-platform storytelling, rather than creating content for a particular medium.

Back to chemistry for a moment.

We know solids are rigid, containing particles with little free space, which are locked in place. Solids are like traditional media. We can buy, measure and control them, refining a combination of vehicles to target a defined segment of the market.

Liquids can move, containing particles that slide past one another, with little free space between them. They spread and assume the shape of the container they occupy. Liquids are that state of transition, where campaign messages flow into storytelling across a variety of media, both traditional as well as electronic.

Gases contain particles that move and slide with lots of free space between them. They are compressible, but ultimately prefer to be free. Gases are that final stage of transition where having moved through solid and liquid phases, the air born message has gone viral and moves about freely, uninhibited by word of mouth.

Perhaps this is why we can say that great campaigns start with good chemistry. They utilize the seamless transition between solid traditional, liquid electronic and social and ultimately become gaseous word of mouth to effectively combine multiple media platforms into rich storytelling.

Okanagan Springs Brewery was a regional brand with a limited budget. They decided to sponsor small private events such as “Jeff’s weekend fishing trip” rather than large corporate events like most national beer brands. The campaign started with traditional newspaper and radio ads driving people to the website where they could submit a video requesting sponsorship of their event. Visitors to the site were encouraged to vote for the events that they felt deserved sponsorship. Of course social media efforts by hopeful applicants further fueled the word of mouth on the campaign. Sponsorships were handed out monthly to the events with the most votes and those deemed worthy of free beer and supplies. The events themselves then became the ad campaign with photos being used on billboards and print ads, and recorded audio became radio spots. While there was a fluid mixed use of traditional, electronic and social media, arguably the unique storytelling element is what gave the campaign legs to achieve word of mouth viral success.

Challenged with telling people about the upcoming “Treasures Exhibit”, Science World affixed 2 oz of real 22k gold on the surface of a single billboard in downtown Vancouver and stamped it with a message about the show. While the value of the gold hammered micro thin was estimated at $11,000 – and the price of media placement for 4 weeks added significantly to that, as well as the work involved to actually create the billboard, the value it achieved in traditional newspaper, TV and radio publicity coverage as well as social media and viral storytelling was priceless. One simple idea combined with one traditional media billboard, spawned an irresistible story that was shared across multiple fluid platforms and ultimately went viral.

On some level all companies are telling a story. Consumers live and move seamlessly through different media environments in their day-to-day lives. Having your story follow and interact in different modes along the way makes it more compelling and a natural fit in their lives. And ultimately when you do that, it becomes more shareable. In the end, it really is all about the “chemistry of good storytelling.”

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Mary Charleson

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