Fashion Story - beautiful woman and castle - fashion campaign photographed in Milan, Italy

Stories Work: How to Reach People at Times of Ad Fatigue

Stories work. Advertising does not work. Nobody likes ads. Everybody avoids them like the pest. But why is it that so many fashion companies still rely on ads? There are better options than to send out buy messages. Why is nobody using those infinitely more effective methods? Don’t they want people to be interested in their brands and what they have to offer?

Smarter, not Louder

The good news is: people want to hear from your fashion brand. They want to know what new designs you have. They just want to be contacted on their terms. Ads are always focused on the seller: how can you get them to buy. Open your wallet. Draw your credit card. Show me the money.

The alternative to this blunt approach is to take a look what people really want and then give it to them – in your style.

This sounds too easy, doesn’t it? If it were that easy, why don’t more companies do it? Well, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds. Advertising is easy. Stories need much more oomph to work. And how many creatives do have that oomph?

What People Want

The first thing a human being wants is respect. Then they want absence of pain and suffering. They want a meaningful life. And a few fantasies so they can fly away from their real life into an imagined life – and come back to their real life refreshed.

We call that relief by fantasy: stories. People want stories more than anything. Stories are the fertile ground for fantasies and imagination, the catalyst for a good life.

Just to be sure: when I argue against advertising I don’t argue against renting public space on the web or in the real world. I think renting space is necessary for most companies. But what you put in this space is essential. Let it be a story – and not advertising.

Why Advertising Does Not Work

Advertising does not work because we dislike anyone who pushes us to do something. If someone pushes us, we resist. We go to great lengths and avoid anyone who pushes us, even fight them. In this world you can achieve a repulsion effect with advertising that is stronger and longer lasting than any ad could ever be. It’s the self-destructive force of advertising.

Feelings are key and the only feelings advertising can arouse is repulsion. Why would a fashion company spend money on things people hate and will resent them for?

Why Stories Work

Stories work because they do not push us to do anything. They give us something, no strings attached. Stories are an invitation, not coercion. They never ask us to pay anything except attention. And they give us so much. They give us an experience. They give us ideas and inspiration. They make us feel.

But be careful: advertising agencies and their pretentious cousins, the “creative agencies”, run scam operations where they call the same old ads they have been doing for 50 tired years something else: stories. Of course this re-packaging swindle doesn’t work. You can call a dog pile a truffle, but you won’t get anyone to eat it. There are no exciting toilet paper stories and no inspiring thin and tasteless beer stories.

Ads will remain ads, no matter what you call them. We hate them for a reason.

And we love stories for a reason. They connect us to the world. They make us feel the world out there. They make us fell alive.

So we tell them Stories – What’s in it for us?

People love storytellers because they give them something beautiful and meaningful without asking for something in return. This act of generosity builds a strong and good reputation. Can you remember one case in history where a strong and good reputation has been a bad thing to have?

Stories attract and build a reputation and this attracts even more good reputation. Stories create a community of people who love them and respect the storyteller. If your company is the storyteller it will be loved and respected.

Stories spread in a way most viruses could be envious about: from mouth to ear to mouth to ear in an endless, inspired chain of messaging that you do not need to pay for. The attention and reputation stories create compound by interest and the relationship with the audience deepens. And after a while you don’t even need to spend money on having your stories heard. People will come to you.

This is in it for your company if you pay forward to audiences in an act of generosity. And when the time comes to buy a dress, shoes, a handbag or a suit, whose name will come up favorably? Yours, the storytellers whom they learned to love, or your competitor’s who has been spamming them for years and stalked them around the web with creepy ads?

Stories are a Win-Win Situation

Stories are a win-win situation for both the company and its audience and it leads to a relationship that deepens over time. It will not only get you a much better audience, you will also save a lot of money. No more overhyped pitches of nonsense by advertising agencies and “creative” agencies, no more branding snake-oil salesmen rubbing in their word fudge, no more sales funnels turned meat grinders.

Just respect, inspiration, imagination and an audience who loves the world you are telling stories about and buys your designs as tokens of that world.

This is a sustainable solution for great companies to become lighthouse companies to whom all other companies look up to and speak their names with respect, that respect they have paid forward to their audiences, their future customers.


Soon to be published here: How fashion companies (and any high quality company) can build stories.

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