“Since Skylark introduced emotions and story into our adverts we’ve seen television advertising play an increasingly important role in driving sales and generating new business at Middletons.”

Ricky Towler, MD

Ever wondered how to set your business apart from the crowd? Pondering how to truly connect with your audience? Tell them a story. Over the last year Skylark Media has been producing a series of slick, narrative-led TV commercials for the Middletons showroom which have had an undeniable impact on their audience and, consequently, their sales.

Middletons is a Bristol-based furniture showroom, specializing in rise-and-recline chairs, adjustable beds, scooters and stairlifts. Their company ethos is one of empowerment, helping their customers to achieve comfort and retain their independence as they enter later life. We started producing TV commercials for Middleton Mobility (as it was then called) in May 2014, with each subsequent advert building on its predecessor’s success. The concept was simple: a brochure brought to life. Bold graphics, clear price points, an upbeat voiceover and the Middleton Mobility catalogue models demonstrating each product with a smile. The overall impression was this is a place that is friendly, trustworthy and reasonably priced. Mission complete.

As the year came to a close the decision was made to change the name of the showroom, removing the ‘Mobility’ stigma that often comes with the products. The newly named Middletons needed a new look for its TV advertising, a more sophisticated, subtle and engaging approach. It needed a story. This was good news for us at Skylark Media as we love nothing more than telling stories to get to the heart of a business. The January 2015 campaign showed the journey of a couple’s first visit to the showroom from their perspective. Testimonial-style voiceover didn’t just tell us what, but why. Why do people come to Middletons? What do they make of the experience? The models became characters, becoming more than just dressing for the products. Soaring jib shots were replaced with a more current, documentary-style aesthetic that emphasized that impression of authenticity.

The following summer we built on the emotional storytelling angle even further by following the perspective of a daughter who has started to realize that her parents need some extra help getting about. It was a great opportunity to explore a situation familiar to many Middletons customers through a simple character arc: Mum and Dad’s initial reservation is eventually replaced with delight when they see the range of products available for improving their quality of life. As in the previous commercial, a gently humorous final scene left the audience feeling uplifted and keen to experience it for themselves. This advert has been re-aired several times since, testament to its success.

As we enter 2016 we’ve continued the tradition of blending humour with a simple narrative for the January Sale ad. This time we focused on a member of staff offering a rapidly diminishing plate of biscuits to a horde of eager customers before taking the last one for himself. The sales results have been exceptional.

So why does emotional storytelling work so well for promoting a business like Middletons?

First of all, the experience of reading or watching stories results in what is referred to as ‘proper pleasure’ or catharsis. If the audience is able to believe in something they are able to care. Promotion is all about persuasion, and the best way of persuading somebody of almost anything is to get them to engage emotionally.

“If you can harness imagination and the principles of a well-told story, then you get people rising to their feet amid thunderous applause instead of yawning and ignoring you”

Robert McKee

Traditionally advertising utilizes intellectual rhetoric to convey ‘convincing’ information to the viewer. Bold price points, strong statements and maybe even statistics or scientific evidence emphasize that their product is worth the viewer’s attention. But this kind of rationale only goes so far. Nowadays, shouty sales ads with a red-faced business-owner screaming that “everything must go” are usually greeted with snorts of derision. Modern audiences expect a little more subtlety. But one thing hasn’t changed. Since we were drawing pictures on cave walls human beings have loved a good story. After all, we are social creatures and like to relate to others. This can be a powerful tool. You see stories being utilized every day to influence and educate, from social media to TED talks to political speeches. Stories about are 22 times more memorable than facts alonebecause they have the power to resonate on an emotional level.

“Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories”

Jennifer Aaker

So, if you want the viewer to remember your advert you need to create a memorable feeling. A study from Psychology Today in 2013 made a compelling case for emotional storytelling when it comes to influencing consumer behaviour. MRI neuro-imagery shows that, when evaluating brands, the consumer’s emotional response has far greater influence on their intent to buy a product than the ad’s content — by a factor of 3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print ads. Studies also show that positive emotions toward a brand have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgments, which are based on a brand’s attributes. In other words, if you can get the viewer to really like you then you’re on to a winner.

“A joke is a very serious thing”

Winston Churchill

A good way of getting people to like you is to use humour. After all everyone loves to laugh, and laughter can be infectious. Just look at Uncle Albert. People often pay more attention to a humorous commercial, opening themselves up to be influenced. However, judge your audience carefully because humour is a matter of taste. A joke can die along with your product if poorly judged. It all comes down to understanding your audience. A savvy brand needs to carve an identity for itself by making it clear to its audience exactly what it stands for before trying to tickle them.

Of course a successful advert needs to deliver substance along with style. Embracing storytelling doesn’t mean completely abandoning features, functions and sales messages. The Middletons’ ads use simple storytelling as the framework for conveying a whole brochure’s worth of information in a way that is digestible and, most importantly, fun. And that is why Middletons’ customers remember them long after the ad break comes to an end.

If you’d like to chat more about how we can get your brand on TV, get in touch!

Jo Mar 2nd, 2016

About Jo Haywood

Jo is the Managing Director at Skylark Media. Before starting Skylark in 2005, Jo ran the BBC Lifestyle website and prior to that directed science documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4. To switch off she can be found on the tennis court, at yoga, or planting trees in the forest garden.