My husband thinks I’m obsessed with Korean TV dramas (‘K-dramas’). That’s probably a fair assessment. He’s often on-call, so I unashamedly spend a lot of time on Netflix once the kids are in bed.
But why K-dramas specifically? After all, this is the age of on-demand TV, with an abundance of English-language shows to choose from. Why fast-track my descent into myopia by watching tiny sub-titles flit, rapid-fire, across my screen?
It all comes down to what makes a good story.
Working in marketing communications, I have pretty high standards when it comes to what defines a good narrative. I also appreciate that the craft of writing narratives is actually quite mechanical. It takes real skill to solder the different parts of a story together into a seamless whole – for a seemingly innocuous line in Episode 1 to become artfully poignant many episodes on. Any writer will tell you that putting together a story arc that (a) makes sense at all points along the way but (b) also represents an interesting journey for the audience to travel, is a bit like trudging through snow; you know you will get there eventually but it’s damn hard work until you do.
The purpose of any narrative – fact or fiction – is to tell a story that informs, educates, motivates or simply entertains. This is just as true for brand stories as it is for fairytales. Often, the ‘corporate’ stories we have to tell are not new – just like in TV dramas, our plots can represent tales as old as time. But that’s okay. Because the success of any story is ultimately in its telling. A good narrative well-told – even when the storyline is a familiar one – will charm you long before you realise you’re hooked. It will immerse you and keep you immersed, then stay with you long after you’ve stopped watching.
And really, that’s the number one task for all brands. First, to gain attention, and then to be remembered; to charm and captivate your audience so well that you can’t help but stay with them, even among all the other distractions and noise of daily life.
This is what K-dramas do so well. In a world where Trump can become President and landfill is about to become a country in its own right, the producers of these shows are experts at reeling you in, tugging at your heartstrings, keeping you engrossed until the very end, and creating scenes that reverberate around your head for days and weeks, and sometimes months, after. They weave their make-believe world around you like a warm blanket, convincing you that life can be altogether grander, more wholesome, more meaningful. That all adversity can be overcome, that no truth will be left untold, and that yes, most people are good and kind and fair.
The plot is at once cozily familiar yet entirely novel, producing a kind of sensation I like to refer to as ‘sweet relief’ – a heady mix of feeling positively inspired yet comforted at the same time.
This is a feeling that most brands would do well to recreate. Indeed, brands that do use storytelling in their promotions (e.g. case studies, short films) often have a much better chance of convincing their audiences to believe in their product or aspire to their cause – even when the idea is foreign or new or scary. They are successful because storytelling has the tendency to resonate rather than alienate. Stories pull people in, eliciting empathy, affinity and consideration, dampening down those pesky ‘fight or flight’ reactions we all tend toward when someone tries to introduce us to something new. In fact, this is a strategy commonly employed by the creators of public health campaigns, as they seek to raise disease awareness and engagement without scaring us all senseless in the process.
So, when you’re next putting a promotional brand campaign together, ask yourself the following:
If your campaign was a TV show, would it draw your audience’s attention and stand out among all the other shows they have to choose from? Does your campaign tell a story with the power to ‘tug’ – if not at heartstrings, then at your audience’s curiosity or intellect? By telling this story, will your campaign release your audience from the here and now, transporting them to another place – if only for a little while? And perhaps most importantly, will your campaign leave an impression, staying with your audience long after they’ve stopped watching? Because, if not, what is there for your audience to covet and ultimately have the confidence to buy –– or buy in to?
P.S. Here are some great health advertising campaigns that had a story to tell and told it well:
P.S.S. If you’re curious and want to check out a K-drama for yourself, here’s my top 5 (all available on Netflix):