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The art of telling one story well

young boy painting on his hand with paintbrush

Focusing on a single narrative can make for a powerful and effective ad.

In a nutshell

  1. TRA regularly surveys people about their favourite TV ads and identifies common patterns of high-performing campaigns.
  2. Ads that focus on a single narrative are consistent favourites.
  3. To hook your audience and keep them thinking about your ad, consider the power of a singular narrative.

Every three months, TRA, in partnership with ThinkTV, asks 1,000 regular New Zealanders a simple question: “What is your favourite ad on TV at the moment?”

The most frequently-mentioned favourites make up our top ten list. 
You can see our most recent survey results here.

There's a lot that we can learn from the survey in terms of what work is resonating, and which creative is going the distance. 

Our most recent observation is that we haven’t seen any montage-style ads make the list.

Whether it’s a brand platform launch or a retail spot, all featured ads rely on a character (or handful of characters) to tell one story well.

Montage ads don’t follow a single-narrative approach. They feature lots of scenes with different people, from different settings, or at different times to convey a brand message.

Despite there being lots of examples out there, we haven’t seen any of these types of ads make the list.

There are inherent strengths to a single-story approach that might help explain why they outperform montages.

1.    Stories hook people in and hold attention 

A recent study from Neuro-Insight and the Commercial Comms Councils noted that good storytelling was a consistent theme across Effie winners. "Each of the winners analysed had driven emotion and memory through captivating storytelling."

This is because a well-told story gets people invested and wanting to find out what will happen. And unlike a montage, it gives people time to really care about the characters. 

2.    People are hardwired to remember them

We think in stories, remember in stories, and turn just about everything we experience into stories.

They’re a powerful, if not the most powerful tool for creating emotional and memorable advertising.

3.    They’re easier to talk about 

An ad with a good story is generally easier to chat about with a friend than something more abstract like a montage video.

Talking about an ad with others further cements the story in the minds of your audience and can create a long-lasting connection with your brand.

However, there are obviously no steadfast rules as to what approach works best creatively. 

There are powerful and effective ads that have used a montage approach. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re all ground-breaking in some way. 

  • Apple’s ‘Think Different’ was completely revolutionary at the time. It was focused in its message of challenging the status quo. The voiceover was particularly magic. And its use of archival footage of famous innovators was attention-grabbing and inspirational.
  • PlayStation’s ‘Double Life’ has to be one of the best gaming commercials of all time. It was visually-striking. And genius in its reframe of playing videogames as being a way to live another more extraordinary life.  
  • 'Everyday People’ cemented Toyota as an iconic New Zealand brand through reflecting Kiwi culture and humour in a fresh way. It challenged conventions of automotive advertising, taking the focus away from just the car to the people and their unique relationships with it.

These examples avoid the traps that montage-style ads are prone to falling into. 
And importantly, they were chosen and made because they were focused, disruptive, and provocative.

Montage ideas are often chosen for a different reason - they’re the ‘safe’ option on the table.

  • Safe because they allow stakeholders to cover off more messages.
  • Safe in their promise of being all things to all people.
  • Safe in their avoidance of going all-in on one focused angle.

This type of ‘safe’ is risky because it leads to work that blends in.

In many ways, it’s more difficult to create a montage-style ad that will stand out and be effective. It requires an exceptionally interesting creative idea, and an execution so remarkable that it stops people in their tracks.

If you’ve got a montage idea that is truly ground-breaking, then go for gold. But if you don’t, it might be worth asking, “What if we just told one great story instead?”

Want to know more?

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Lloyd Thomason
Lloyd Thomason is a Communication and Brand Strategist with 6 years’ experience working at some of the best creative agencies in New Zealand. Lloyd has helped deliver highly effective work for government clients including Fire and Emergency and Movember, and commercial clients including The Warehouse Group and 2degrees. He is well-versed in marketing effectiveness, New Zealand cultural codes, and applying behaviour change principles.

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