Are British chains better storytellers than American retailers?

Discussion
Nov 21, 2014

Every retailer has some story to tell about its brand. Some do it quite well and others not so much. Two things seem clear from the increasing number of Christmas commercials popping up on YouTube and elsewhere: British retailers have vastly more interesting stories to tell than their American counterparts and, by and large, people are attracted by interesting stories.

Just going by the numbers (YouTube’s) you can see that popular spots from British chains are way ahead of U.S. retailers.

John Lewis’ "Monty the Penguin" took in over 16 million views in two weeks. Sainsbury’s controversial new commercial has over 10 million views in about a week’s time. Burberry’s "From London With Love" has been viewed by over seven million in a couple of weeks. Even Tesco’s "Lights On" has nearly 600,000 views.

[Image: Sainsbury's ad]

By comparison, Walmart’s "Showtime" commercial, which debuted on Halloween, has 2.2 million views. RadioShack’s "Toyland" spot starring Weird Al Yankevoich has 119,000 views, while Target’s excellent "Alice in Marshmallow Land" has about 60,000. Best Buy’s "Our Best" commercial has 32K+ views and Big Lots’ "Nailing This" has just over 8,000.

Do you think that British chains are better storytellers, at least at Christmas time, than their American counterparts? Why do you think storytelling is so evident in British spots at this time of year and less so in the U.S.? How does storytelling affect sales?

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8 Comments on "Are British chains better storytellers than American retailers?"


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Chris Petersen, PhD
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget
how you made them feel.
—Maya Angelou

The British chains tell better stories because they make you feel something.

The question of whether storytelling drives more sales depends upon whether the consumer feels something different in-store or online. Said another way, a great ad does not an experience make.

Mohamed Amer
Guest
Mohamed Amer
7 years 6 months ago

A good storyteller moves the audience to another place and time, and taps into emotions and feelings that define us—our hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations.

Videos are a great medium to infuse history, family stories, faith and humanity into a sensory feast that triggers interest, and the commercial element of selling the brand during the holidays is a byproduct of, rather than front and center in, the story.

The second question on storytelling in British vs. U.S. spots requires much more space to develop properly. But a gross oversimplification goes something like this: the U.S. has had a pre-eminence of quantitative, rational, economic approaches (and successes) to business vs. a more tempered one in the U.K. (and on the continent) that honors the emotional human elements in life (just because you can’t measure with precision doesn’t mean it is not important).

Frank Riso
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Yes, the Brits are doing a great job at telling Christmas-type stories and we need to learn from them. They seem to have no problem saying the word Christmas while we say “holiday,” or worst yet, “Xmas.” Happy Christmas American retailers.

Lee Kent
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

The top-viewed British spots were all story and very little sales. That, methinks, is the difference between what goes viral and what does not. OK, I know there are a lot of different reasons but you get the picture.

We in the U.S. seem to be too sales-focused. While that’s not a bad thing, the holiday season is a time when retail has permission to tug at something besides our wallets. And that’s my two cents.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
7 years 6 months ago

Storytelling is one element, but originality is key. For some reason, the only time U.S. marketers seem to feel safe straying from literalism and the tried-and-true is during the Super Bowl. Stateside marketers could stand to sprinkle a bit more fairy dust onto the holiday season.

Kai Clarke
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Perhaps. But the true emphasis and finesses is being created now, for the biggest television event of the year, and that is Super Bowl. We will see a plethora of US-made incredible commercials, that have unbelievable numbers of views both on TV, and online, like the Budweiser commercial with the puppy and the clydesdale—53 million views on YouTube…not counting the TV. When it comes to creativity and telling a story, the USA triumphs, many times over….

Naomi K. Shapiro
Guest
Naomi K. Shapiro
7 years 6 months ago

Yes, the British chains are better storytellers than their American counterparts. The British are better at telling stories in general. (Think Masterpiece Theater). The essence of storytelling and its end product is feeling. The feeling captured in the Sainsbury ad is the commonality of humanity.

RIchard Hernandez
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

British chains in general are better story tellers than American retailers. The British chains emphasize the meaning of Christmas—subtle, but emphasize the meaning of family and friends. For American retailers, it is all about the sale. The closest commercial I found to the British counterparts in the last few years, was the Meijer commercial a few years ago with the family putting on the Christmas lights for an elderly neighbor before she got home. That is the meaning of what Christmas is all about….

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