The American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Advertising Research Foundation published a white paper on Measuring Emotional Responses to Television Advertising. The AAAA/ARF compared advertising benefit-heavy approaches with story-based approaches. While the paper itself is academic, the findings it holds are surprising: audiences remember entertaining, story-based advertising messages better (this was in 2007, before the smartphone explosion gave everyone in the world A.D.D.).

That story evokes powerful responses is not surprising – language and storytelling developed side-by-side. What is surprising is that memories are tied so closely to our emotional responses in ways that we do not even realise.

“Neuroscience has proven that our actions are subject to greater non-rational decision making than we ever thought possible. Going beyond the facts, the emotional elements in communication are incredibly important and meaningful, something we as an industry have felt instinctively for years.”
– Ken Kaess, 2004

Ira Glass gives excellent advice on storytelling. He spoke at Gel Conference 2007 about building emotional responses into stories. One of the gems in his talk was about how the power of a story can be amplified by underpinning the story with a human truth (between 9:32 and 19:41 in the video below).


The narrative of a story creates a context around a controlling idea – sometimes called the “moral of the story”. Without a controlling idea, the story would be meaningless. Similarly, an idea with a poor context is ineffective. The message that you create needs to be powerful, and the narrative that carries that message needs to be relevant.