The Ad Campaign: Using Storytelling in Science Marketing and Communications

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The Ad Campaign: Using Storytelling in Science Marketing and Communications

Reading Time: 6 minutes
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This blog post is the second in a series about using storytelling in advertising and marketing your science-focused business. Refer to the previous post, “The Case Study: Using Storytelling in Science Marketing and Communications,” for tips on how to ensure your case studies are crisp, concise, and compelling.

In our last article in this series, we reviewed how humans are wired to tell and respond to stories. When we do, our brains release neurochemicals, such as oxytocin. One reason a story works so well is that it introduces a main character — the protagonist. It also introduces the obstacle preventing the main character from completing a journey or achieving a goal. As readers, we identify with the hero of a story because we come to learn vicariously through the hero’s feelings, thoughts, and beliefs as we travel with them on their journey.

This is the heartbeat of narrative persuasion, a concept that says stories can reduce barriers to accepting alternate ideas and worldviews. In advertising, narrative persuasion shows how a product or service can enhance our lives, decreasing objections to making a purchase. Character-driven advertising is one of the most powerful weapons in the marketer’s arsenal. When other storytelling elements, such as setting, tension, plot, and theme are used skillfully, ads can be elevated to a near art form.

How can you apply storytelling in advertising your science-focused business?

First, start by revisiting the basic question of how your product or service helps your customers succeed. Then think about how you can convey the answer through a story. It’s a given that your products and services solve customer challenges with their unique features. The key is to frame the story so that the customer becomes empowered and able to overcome their challenges because they acquired your product or service.

Using storytelling in advertising campaigns can make even the most industrial products more approachable by adding emotional impact and inspiring your audience. When you add an unexpected twist to your ad copy, your audience will remember your brand and think of it whenever they need the services or products you offer.

Successful Storytelling Ads

Let’s use a real ad concept to demonstrate. In the summer of 2018, Gore PharmBIO Products, the life sciences division of W. L. Gore & Associates, launched a new product — the GORE® STA-PURE Flexible Freeze Container. The Gore team engaged Cobalt to develop a creative campaign that would introduce these innovative storage containers to the market as a new platform for biopharmaceutical cold chain handling. Ultimately, their goal was to encourage target prospects to order a sample container and test it themselves to validate its durability and stability at between -40°C to -86°C.

Cobalt’s “Not That You Would, But You Could” concept placed the STA-PURE containers in extreme environments to emphasize the product’s strength and durability in extremely cold conditions. Photography featured scenarios such as an astronaut on the surface of Mars and a mountaineer in Antarctica. The tagline, “Because these containers can take it, no matter where you take them,” reinforced the concept. Deliverables included an integrated set of advertising and marketing communications, including a campaign landing page, an email marketing campaign, display ads, tradeshow creative, and social media messaging.

Challenge and Solution

In this example, rather than focusing on the product features and benefits, the ad headline sets up a ‘what-if’ scenario that takes the product out of the lab and places it in real-world situations. The campaign shows that a common customer challenge — pharmaceutical storage bags breaking at very low temperatures — is solved with the very sturdy STA-PURE containers. The images invite imagination and evoke emotion and inspiration, key elements of storytelling in advertising.

The campaign was very successful, creating a buzz among decision-makers and influencers. It led to a number of inquiries and sample orders, even before Gore’s trade show event officially launched the product. The clients at Gore told Cobalt, “The marketing team had such a strong feeling about the campaign creative that we pushed leadership to accept it even though it was out of our comfort zone. Because the creative aligned with the value proposition and was true to the product positioning, they decided to proceed — and we were rewarded with a significant number of qualified leads.”

Effective Advertising Storytelling: 7 Techniques

Consider the following tips to ensure your ads are memorable, emotionally engaging, and inspiring.

1. Use setting to your advantage.

In the ads for Gore, we chose extreme environments — Mars, Antarctica, and Mount Everest — that achieve temperatures rivaling those found in pharmaceutical cold chains. We combined this satisfying parity with an effective headline that captures the reader’s attention. The evocative headline “Not That You Would, But You Could” is a cheeky recognition of these very cold places where pharmaceutical manufacturing is unlikely to happen but could occur if you used Gore’s extra-strong containers.

2. Use characters to promote identification and infuse an emotional element.

In this ad campaign, the aspirational photos of explorers engage the audience. Most people perceive astronauts and mountain climbers as heroes and will readily adopt their perspectives. By associating the Gore products with heroes, the concept immediately establishes an emotional connection between the audience, the hero figure, and the product pictured in the ads.

3. Target a specific audience.

In this case, Gore was targeting prospects in biopharmaceutical manufacturing companies who were involved in cold storage and transportation. These professionals face significant challenges in maintaining product stability across their global distribution networks. The copy speaks directly to this very specific audience: “If you are responsible for making cold chain decisions…”

4. Raise the stakes by creating tension, then describe how the product’s unique selling proposition meets the challenges.

In harsh environments like Mount Everest, there is no margin for error. Only the best equipment will ensure survival. These ads rely on this high-stakes adventure for full effect. For example, “GORE® STA-PURE Flexible Freeze Containers aren’t like typical single-use storage containers. They have been designed to protect bulk drug substance with greater crack- and impact-resistance during cold chain handling, even after freezing at -86 C°.”

5. Select visuals that help tell the story.

For the Gore campaign, our designers selected strong ‘hero’ images to spark the imagination.

The Elements of Story

Mia Couto, a Mozambican writer, observed that
“… we are made not from cells or from atoms. We are made from stories.”

But what exactly are stories made from? Here are the six basic elements of a story:

  1. Setting: Where a story takes place. Settings can be specific (e.g., Times Square, New York City) or general (e.g., an island somewhere in the South Pacific).
  2. Characters: The people who occupy a story. Typically, you have a main character (i.e., a protagonist) and someone who opposes him or her (i.e., the antagonist).
  3. Plot: The sequence of events that drives a story forward. Plots are sometimes thought of as scenes connected along a timeline.
  4. Conflict: These are the obstacles that prevent the main character from reaching his or her goal. Without conflict, stories would not be interesting.
  5. Theme: The main idea or key takeaway communicated by the story. For example, a theme could be The Power of Friendship or We’re All Savages at Heart.
  6. Narrative Arc: The classic Beginning, Middle, and End, which all successful stories must possess. The ending of a story is known as the resolution or denouement.

These elements define fictional stories, but they can be used to great effect in marketing and brand stories.

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6. Use technical and scientific data.

Use technical and scientific data to support the story. In this ad campaign, we included container sizes and other relevant information such as options for tubing and connectors for many pharmaceutical and bioprocess applications.

7. Include a strong CTA.

Use a strong call to action (CTA) so that customers can take action right away after they see your ad. In this series of ads, prospects are invited to order a sample container to begin the process of validation testing.

Want to keep reading?

See other blog posts in this series:

Connect with us to learn more

Visit our GORE STA-PURE Flexible Freeze Container Success Story to learn more about how we helped Gore PharmBIO Products, the life sciences division of W.L. Gore & Associates, launch their new product — the GORE STA-PURE Flexible Freeze Container.

To learn more about using storytelling in advertising and science marketing for your science-focused business, and how Cobalt helps science-focused companies with all aspects of communications, visit the Cobalt services page or contact the Cobalt team.

As a strategic communications agency serving science- and R&D-driven organizations, we specialize in highly technical markets where complex ideas and information must be conveyed with clarity. Our team includes writers, designers, strategists and content architects, all working together to help you reach — and engage — your internal and external audiences.

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