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"Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best --and change-- from hearing stories that strike a chord within us....Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves." - John Kotter, Harvard Business School

One of my favorite traditions every year is to watch the American Super Bowl, both on the personal level for the game itself, and professionally to view the latest batch of TV commercials. Some quick statistics on this year's XLVII edition (1):

  •  USA TV audience was approximately 109 million people. NFL, the league that runs the game, claims that this game was viewed in 180 countries.
  • CBS which is the TV network that broadcasts the game charged a record high $4 million for a 30 second commercial.
  • Twitter announced that a record 24.1 million tweets were sent the night of the game.

The costs and audience for this annual sport event make it not just a football game, but also the Super Bowl of TV commercials. Consider (2):

  • 16% of viewers pay more attention to the commercials than to the game itself.
  • 50% of adults 18-20 watch with six or more other people and 77% say they pay more attention to the ads during the Super Bowl than they do on an average day.
  • 44% of adults 21-24 watch with groups of six or more and 72% say they pay more attention to the ads.

Post the game itself, my other favorite activity is dissecting the patterns being used in the latest set of commercials to understand the evolution of effective communications (as it is getting impacted by technology changes). One barometer that is a good indicator are the top commercials as measured by audience response. This year, the top 3 ads that received the highest audience score in the USA Today Ad Meter were (3):

  1. Anheuser Busch - Brotherhood -
  2. Tide (P&G) - Miracle Stain -
  3. Dodge RAM - Farmers -

The following communication themes were prevalent in each of these three winning ads:

  • Anheuser Busch "Brotherhood" - Uplifting music, great story line, tie into core brand image of Clydesdale's, fast paced, emotional conclusion
  • Tidc "Miracle Stain" - Thematic to game, fast paced, colorful characters, surprise ending
  • Dodge RAM "Farmers" - Somber message, USA known storyteller, great product tie in at the end.

A surprise additional barometer for the top 3 ads this year is their current viewership on YouTube:

  • Anheuser Busch "Brotherhood" - Almost 11 million views to date
  • Tide "Miracle Stain" - Over 1.1 million views
  • Dodge RAM "Farmers" - Over 10 million views

The key effective messaging takeaways from the above data and this year's flock of Super Bowl XLVII top ads include:

  • Serious positive messaging has a greater viral impact. Stories of struggle and triumph resonate, especially in tougher economic times or periods of uncertainty, and remain popular longer. Messaging tied to specific events, even if effective short term, will have limited shelf popularity life. The number of YouTube views are a clear indicator of this insight.
  • Great messaging is really great story telling. History has always been about stories. The art of telling these stories, while it is changing, will never wane.
  • The time required to effectively tell a story is getting shorter, requires more visuals, and many less words.
  • The venues where you need to tell your stories to reach a broader audience are also changing. YouTube and Twitter trends cited above are two examples of new mediums that reach a substantial audience.

"Stories build connections, explore ideas, ask questions, and establish relationships. They are extremely powerful by nature -- but the most effective stories are intentional.(4)" A weaving tale with a clear message that builds on each step in your presentation leaves a lasting impression with the audience. To succeed on your storytelling journey, following these three simple steps (4):

  1. Be Genuine
  2. Consider Your Audience
  3. Define Your Goal

John Kotter was correct. We do learn and yes we do change from hearing stories that strike a chord within us. As a leader, it is time you grasp the concept of story telling, practice it, and deliver it with passion. Transfix your audience by taking them on your storytelling journey to a defined call to action to win in the game of life.

Storytelling Image

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