Mac Schwerin

A Story about Public Relations and Advertising

With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

Public relations and advertising are separate disciplines. Sometimes fiercely separate. It is fun to see the virtues of both come together to tell a brand story.

Subaru is airing a TV commercial for its Forester model titled, “A Life Story on the Line.” In a brief 30 seconds, the ad traces the life of a young couple through school, marriage, the birth of twins and a devasting traffic accident. The family survives and credits their Forester for “keeping their story going.”

The commercial conveys the Subaru brand promise in a nutshell or, more precisely, in a story line.

In previous years, Subaru storytelling ads talked about their vehicle’s durability through the eyes of a dad cleaning out memories from a car he is giving to his grown-up daughter. In a well-known series of ads, a dog family puts a Subaru through its paces in human terms from vacation traveling to a front-seat first kiss.

TV advertising earns its way by pushing messages in a visual envelope. But the creative instincts needed to produce an eye-catching 30-second spot are closely related to those employed by filmmakers to produce movies. They also are the stock and trade of public relations professionals. Storytelling may not work to announce a furniture sale, but Subaru used it effectively to promote the safety of its cars in flesh-and-blood terms.

Mac Schwerin, writing in Adweek, pans the use of storytelling in advertising. He says globalization has eviscerated brand stories, which tend to be tied to a specific place. Stories, Schwerin claims, are parochial and advertising needs to be global.

“Advertising is an objectively terrible format for storytelling,” he adds. “Commercials are not given enough breathing room to reward characterization, voice, humanity and a bunch of other nuanced literary stuff.”

Ana Gotter of Disruptive Advertising disagrees. “Stories communicate messages in highly specific and emotionally impactful ways,” Gotter says. “They’re memorable and give us something to identify with and hold on to. Statistics tell us what the reality is – stories tell us why it matters and why we need to care.”

Subaru has taken Gotter’s advice, not Schwerin’s, when producing TV ads. A simple, fast-paced narrative with a beginning, a moment of truth and a happy ending gives viewers a potent 30-second brand message: Subaru vehicles are safe.

The ad doesn’t try to lure you to a dealership with a discount or special promotion. It only tries to convince you that could save your family’s life by driving one of its cars. By anyone’s measure, that’s a powerful story – and an effective brand story.

The age of content marketing has achieved a lot, including bringing PR and advertising professionals closer together. The notion of paid advertising no longer is the exclusive territory of the Don Drapers and creatives who work on beanbag chairs. Paid advertising extends to storytelling in print, video, audio and social media formats.

Stories can sell, often better than confetti, screaming typefaces, overbearing announcers and unbelievable celebrity endorsers. Check out your own brand story and think about ways to share it with your customers and prospects.