Research and Storytelling in Advertising

Research and story telling are two concepts that advertising cannot do without, and with diligent research and great storytelling mechanism, your advert is bound to sit well with your target audience and set them up as a loyal customer to your brand for life

Research which is simply the diligent inquiry on a cause in advertising can be likened to the foundational block of a house, and without it, it is hard for an advert to to stand strong.

Advertising isn’t done haphazardly, instead, it requires step by step process of which, the root of it all is RESEARCH.

The point here is all those adverts that you see on the screen were not just recorded based on someone’s imagination (most of the time).

Some people (advert experts) sat down with other people (target audience) to discuss and they reached a conclusion. The result is what you see on the screen.

Without researching about your target audience and you go ahead to develop your advert based on assumption, chances are that it wouldn’t get to the targeted audience are very high.

Hence it is important that when you get a brief from your client, (brief is the request document of the client), the first thing you’re expected to do as an advert expert is to make research on the targeted audience, those who the product or service is meant for.

As a creative person, your advert must meet people at the lowest point of the pyramid and to do that, you need to research on them.

This is because you cannot cast out a demon whose name you do not know! You need to know and understand the language of the people you’re dealing with.

In advertising, no matter your years of experience, you cannot base your work on assumptions or past experiences because human are dynamic beings who are constantly affected by situations.

The same audience that informed you they are die hard lovers of colour green last two years might have a better knowledge about colours and will be interested in different shades of blue this year.

So in a case where you’ve assumed that your client’s like remains the same, and then you go ahead to present an advert dominated by colour green hoping that your audience are still the same folks of two years ago, you know the advert is set to hit the rock.

And the human mind is shaped in such a funny way, the smallest of things gets to it.

I’m reminded of a drink advert (It’s not proper that I say the name but if you figure it out yourself, its fine)

In that advert in which children are the supposed target audience, the main character is a full grown man who took a sip of the drink and danced till the end of the advert.

It particularly interests me to inform you that one day, I asked my neighbor’s son who was around 7/8 years of age at the time, I asked him what he makes of the advert and the boy simply said “the man was tired and he drank so so drink then he started dancing

I  just laughed as the boy didn’t even get to notice the few kids like him in the advert because of course, the man was the main character that was displayed in all the scenes throughout the ad. I still have a few questions for the creative director who allowed that advert to be aired really:

1) Why would you think dance is central to all children? Most of them wouldn’t even dance when they are out, they are just as perfectly shy as their age.

2) It’s a children’s drink so why do we have a full grown man with beards:(a) In the video (b) As the main character…

(a) In the video (b) As the main character…?

I’m hopeful that I’ll meet him or her one day, maybe there’s a reason we all don’t know about.

However, no matter how we try to patch it, the advert exposed the organisation’s lack of research and they merely assumed that dance is central to children, maybe because the MD’s daughter likes to dance. 

There are other things around children that they could have used like how little kids love to share and so many other options that their research could have opened them to had it been they were diligent with it.

Diverse research strategies help advertisers understand consumers and what they (advertisers) need to do to effectively channel their advert messages to the consumer.

The particular kind of research conducted for an advertising campaign are always tailored to serve the purpose of helping the organisation know what and what to do to attend to the  needs of those who the products are meant for. E.g Diapers – Nursing mothers, Insurance services – Family, Wristwatches – Men, Hair/skincare product – Women etc.

According to the 80-20 principle as propounded by one of my Ad mentor, Ifeanyi Dibia, deputy creative director, X3M Ideas who is also an alumnus of Maimi Ad school. You all should check him out!  His 80-20 principle helps ad creatives understand that when you get a request from an organization (client) to run an advert for them, 80% of the time you spend to get the work done should go to research while the remaining 20% should be focused on execution.

His 80-20 principle helps ad creatives understand that when you get a request from an organization (client) to run an advert for them, 80% of the time you spend to get the work done should go to research while the remaining 20% should be focused on execution.

When you subscribe to this, you’d realize that ideas are even trooping in better. I’ve questioned advert professionals on this and they agreed to it.

It could be during the research process you find the captivating tagline to use, the perfect angle of approach and the mind blowing storyline.

So research in advertising doesn’t mean you have to gather the whole world.

Actions that are seen as little matter.


As I move on, I’ll share a few advert links with you so you can check them out.

However, I want you to have it at the back of your mind and feel free to quote me anywhere in the world 😹😹 that – the Coca-cola brand, Airtel brand and Johnnie Walker brand are great researchers and storytellers!

One of the common misconceptions about advertising is that it is just about getting a product, service or brand in front of a customer. 

I’m not sorry to burst your bubble, because that’s not everything about advertising.

The goal of every advert is centered around integrating that particular product or service into the daily life of the target audience, making it something they can’t help but think about.

Or something that once a related need pops into their head, their first go to is that product or service out of the numerous options that they have and that’s where great story telling comes in.

Johnnie walker Advert

I’m not a fan of scholarly definitions, pardon me I like my definitions simple.

So simply put, Storytelling in advertising is the bridge you use to connect your ideas, products, and services with the reality of your audience.

Without a compelling storytelling mechanism, even the most valuable and powerful ideas will get ignored.

Storytelling is a tool you can use to enter the mind of your ideal customer, to show them a better world with your product or service and to inspire them to take action.

This is where the Airtel brand comes in.

Those guys sure know how to trigger us to take action!

Their storytelling strategy is one that places Airtel as the ideal telecommunication brand. They know how to rub it in our faces very well😹😹

Airtel advert

Moving on, most of the time, people fall in love with a brand because of their storytelling mechanism.

That year, the advert was the rave of the moment because sky bank was able to tell people’s story just like they love it.

The advert featured different age grades wishing for things that were just the urgent need of those age grade and in the end they told us that, for all of those needs, Skye bank has got us covered! That’s great storytelling!

Skye bank advert(I wish)

People love brands that tells their story and this is because as far as our mind is concerned, hearing a story and imagining ourselves in the character’s shoes makes it just as authentic as our reality.

 With a powerful story , you can break through the noise of your competition (Airtel does that constantly!) and leave a lasting impression on your customers (the coca-cola brand never falls short of this!).

Instead of trying to force facts about your product or service on your audience and trying so hard to rub why your product is important, you can create an experience with a story that allows them to discover those facts for themselves.

And we have brands doing absolutely well in this regard.

In an interview I recently watched, Kate Santore, the lead digital strategist for coca-cola’s global content said a large percentage of their storytelling adverts are not created by them, but by their fans whom they research closely on. 

That’s research again coming to play in storytelling!

So the next time you wonder how brands are able to tell stories so well in advertisements, remember that they did their research so well too.

Kate Santore said upon getting the life experiences of their target audience, upon getting the report on scenarios that they go through everyday in their work life, family life etc, they at coca-cola sit and work on creating a compelling story.

And everyone here would agree that coca-cola adverts always have a way of showing our reality.

I agree that it’s like recycling the same thing e.g giving us back what we already know about ourselves but the good news is that as humans, that’s exactly what we love to see!

We love to see stories that we can almost immediately relate with! That is the kind of story would last in our minds for a very long time and that’s exactly what coca-cola does with their adverts!

Coca-cola advert

For all these adverts that we see and we fall so much in love with, understand that these brands are able to tell stories so well because they’ve done their research so well too.

So the next time you see an advert enthusiast or who knows, maybe you might become one yourself, don’t every forget the power of R&S plus how far research and storytelling can take your advert.

This is the end part where I remind you of the take home idea again: 

Research and storytelling are two concepts that advertising cannot do without, with diligent research and great storytelling mechanism, your advert is bound to sit well with your target audience and set them up as a loyal customer to your brand for life.

Written by Omolola Saka.

President, Association of Mass Communication Students – University of Ilorin, Nigeria.

Contact Her via:

This was first presented at SMPN UniJos in July, 2020.

Enjoyed this post? Join my Telegram community were I share daily tips, tools and resources on how to stay productive using digital tools.

2 thoughts on “Research and Storytelling in Advertising”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: