Once (dramatically) upon a time … a PJLM interacted with a brand …
That’s how the most engaging brand stories begin. PJLM is the indispensable element to make your narrative effective, the vital component that actually converts prospects. So, what is it?
Here’s a hint: what do these ad campaign samples have in common?
• An anxious teenage boy sprays on Axe, is instantly hounded by hot babes on the beach.
• An investor/dad is peppered with questions by his child about why he pays so much to his financial advisor.
• A clueless insurance shopper meets quirky, relentlessly cheerful Flo, in her palatial insurance showroom.
Among the things these have in common, they are all exaggerated, way beyond realism, to provide entertainment: hot babes, inquisitive children and insurance salespeople simply do not behave that way on the planet Earth. (Reality has no place in art, I always say.)
Entertainment is not the reason these brand stories connect with prospects. We’ve all seen gorgeous-or-funny-or-arresting ads that fail to sell anything.
What else is going on?
They all are careful to include a Persona Just Like Me, what we call a PJLM. If I am a socially anxious 14-year-old male (yes, that’s redundant), the story’s fantasy is my fantasy. If I’m an investor paying fees I don’t really understand (also redundant), I can identify with the dad. I would like potentially unpleasant buying experiences (insurance, cars, cell phones) to be giddy fun, dealing with perky Flo, or perky Toyota girl, or perky AT&T girl. Manic pixie dream girl as customer service representative?
Watching a PJLM interact with a brand is why good testimonials are so reliable, even if the technique is overused. It’s not a brand yammering on about benefits. Hey, I can identify my colleague-brother-stunt double who is living this experience, so I suspend disbelief to participate in the narrative.
The “personae” don’t even have to be human beings.
There are countless brand stories told by dogs, cats, robots, gods, devils, cartoons … as long as they react in a human fashion, the way I would react, I will align myself. Critters can speak to us: “just like me” is the hurdle to overcome to open me up to the message.
It doesn’t need to be positive, either. A PJLM could also have a bad experience from ignoring the brand, or using a shabby alternative. It’s a common trope to see the envy, shame or suffering of that schmo who chose the wrong chainsaw, toilet paper or grass seed. Bring the wrong chicken sandwich to the break room and your co-workers will show you no pity.
What you can no longer do, by and large, is tell no story, but just sell-sell-sellity-sell, old-school style. I don’t know what smirking pitchman Papa John could possibly say to persuade me to try his pizzas, but just saying “better ingredients”? I ain’t buyin’ it. Marketing is a dialog, not a sermon.