It’s the same elements in any story that move us toward action.

When a story reaches off the page or screen and folds us into the journey, we can’t help but come out changed on the other side. There’s nothing new about this, certainly not in marketing. Even Donald Miller concedes in his intro to StoryBrand (definitely worth a read), that the formula is as old as time!

But, if you’ll geek out with me a bit, I’d like to posit that some of the best communicators (of late) have figured out how to shortcut narrative marketing by focusing on three emotions: Aw, Ah and Oh.

Empathy (Aw)

The marketers behind tear-jerking superbowl ads aren’t just trying to take you from zero to blubbering mess in 30 seconds for the heck of it. They’re leveraging empathy to create a sentimental and (usually) positive emotional response that you’ll forever associate with their brand. It’s deeply emotional because they want it to be sticky.

There are three types of empathy:

  1. Cognitive empathy – basically the ability to think as though you’re in someone else’s shoes
  2. Emotional empathy – literally sharing the emotions of another
  3. Compassionate empathy – sharing the emotions of another in a way that drags you into action

It’s the third that’s gold for communicators, using that emotion to change your behavior or buy a product.

There are many great examples. Here’s two video ads I love. *If you’re generally an emotional person (or maybe if not, these might make you cry… you’ve been warned)

Awwww. Seems a little crying from a 60 second story is shaping our behaviors…

Nostalgia (Ah)

Sorry Don Draper, nostalgia does not mean “pain from an old wound,” and it’s not really a Greek word, though the best scene from Mad Men is worth a watch if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Nostalgia does however mean “painful homecoming” e.g. acute homesickness. In modern times, we basically understand it as looking back on past memories with joy, but mixed in there’s also the pain of the distance we have from those memories. It’s a good hurt.

Our culture has accelerated so quickly in the last few decades that we barely have time for trends/designs/stories to become popular before they’re lost to the next big thing. My guess is that furniture designs in 1490 looked a lot like designs from 1450, but in modern times, a 40 year swing means virtually nothing looks the same anymore or it’s “vintage.”

Brand or product nostalgia is a new emotion, and I think the reason it’s become so rampant in marketing is that creates a pathway to satiate our impossible desire to relive the past.

Ahhh… the 90s were fun. Microsoft was there for me then, and they’re here for me now.

Astonishment (Oh)

As in “oh, wow!” “oh, I didn’t know that” or “oh, I didn’t expect that.” What I love about astonishment is that can start as shock, surprise, revelation or even fear, but it’s always rooted in a moment of being completely, stupidly baffled.

In a technological age that has either explained or given us control over most aspects of our lives, astonishment is more important than ever. It shows us what we didn’t know was possible and invites us into the story of how to get it!

Oh… did not see that coming (as the camera pulls out to reveal the famous splits). My guess is you’ve seen this one. I’ve seen it several times, but I never noticed the trucks were driving in reverse until my latest viewing, which left me once again astonished. Apparently, backing up a tractor rig with that level of accuracy was not possible before Volvo invented this system.

Make your stories emotional

What makes Aw, Ah and Oh work is that they’re complicated, often mixing two or more emotions together to create an imprint in our minds that can last a lifetime. Creating them well takes good storytelling and time, but it’s worth it to create a meaningful connection.

What’s the takeaway? Make your stories emotional! Connect the story of your product/service to the story of your audience through a sense of wonder, longing or compassion. If your story is unemotional to you, then you can be sure your audience will ignore it.

Allison Matz

Matz joins the Boileau team with writing and communication experience from her previous role as Academic Department Coordinator at Grand Valley State University, her alma mater. She earned her degree in English literature and writing and enjoys being able to express creativity and storytelling through her chosen career.

Berkeley Benson

Prior to joining Boileau, Benson worked as a writer and illustrator for both agency and in-house organizations. In 2018, she graduated from Cedarville University with a bachelor’s in professional writing and information design.

About the Author

Vince Boileau
Vince is a strategic thinker, communicator and leader. He is passionate about helping others to tell complex stories with nuance and authenticity. Vince is dedicated to growing a company that creates meaningful change for our clients, team and the communities where we work. He earned his bachelor's in communications from Grand Valley State University in 2008, served for three years as editor and assistant director at a media production company and joined Boileau & Co. in 2012. In his free time, Vince enjoys playing and recording music, socializing over nerdy board games, watching good sci-fi, and doubling as a jungle gym for his three kids.
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