An images story appeal is its ability to cause viewers to imagine the story surrounding the captured moment. What happened before and after the moment depicted in the painting of photo, and, by extension, what’s the meaning of the moment being captured?
The idea is for people to see the image and ask themselves, “What’s the story here?” That’s story appeal. And at least according to David Ogilvy, story appeal is crucial for advertising imagery, which makes it a skill worth studying.
And with that in mind, is there anybody in the world better at creating images with story appeal than Norman Rockwell?
Just take a look at the following:
Any chance you could look at any of those and NOT understand the story that’s being told, not “picture” the immediate before and after moments belonging to these images?
How He Does It
Rockwell’s depicts rituals.
It is the easily recognized and self-identifiable nature of these American rituals that give his paintings their emotional appeal. And because we recognize the ritual, we also instantly know what took place just before and after the moment captured in the picture. In our minds, we enter into the storyland Rockwell illustrates for us.
Without ritual it’s much harder for an audience to have that reaction, or for an image to exert that kind of story appeal.
Show me a car driving down the road and I feel no automatic urge to enter into the story of that car and it’s driver. There’s no ritual there. Show me a car driving down the road that’s dragging a bunch of shoes from the bumper and has a “Just Married” on the back window, and the story becomes clear — both of what happened before the couple got into the car and what’ll most likely happen when they get out of the car at their destination.
That’s the storytelling power of ritual. But ritual isn’t just limited to sacraments and formalities. We all have our daily rituals, too. Show me a guy climbing into his car with his travel coffee mug and a briefcase, and I’ll think “commute.” Our take lunchtime for example:
Why This Matters
While the importance of story appeal is obvious for visual ads, it’s important for radio (and TV) ads, too. Here’s why:
Just as every writer has heard the advice to “Show, Don’t Tell,” every writer of drama has heard the adage to “enter late and leave early” when writing their scenes. Basically, skip the exposition at the beginning (enter late), and let the audience figure out the obvious conclusions while you move onto a new scene (leave early).
But that sort of begs the question: how do you do that?
Answer: tap into the power of ritual — show recognizable situations.
And how do I know this works and is sound advice?
- Famous, working screenwriters have offered it up as sound practice
- The two most famous directors of our era, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, see Norman Rockwell as a kindred spirit and brother storyteller, and
- Spielberg specifically mentions the importance of ritual when discussing the influence of legendary director John Ford on his work: “Ford’s in my mind when I make a lot of my pictures. I grew up with John Ford movies and I know a lot about his work and have studied him. I think the thing that might resemble a John Ford movie more than anything else is that Ford celebrated rituals and traditions”
An Advertising Example
Want to see an interesting example of a commercial that taps into the power of ritual and both enters late and leaves early? Check this out:
So what about you? How are you harnessing into the power of ritual and story appeal with your ads?