Mixed Signals: The Power of Selective Storytelling

Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.

Crafting a marketing message is all about crafting a story—preferably for consumers this story will be true and told in a captivating way.

The difficult thing about story development for a marketing platform is that time and space are limited. Writers need to determine which elements and facts make for the most compelling piece. Some facts are highlighted while others are downplayed.

Case in point: The TV spot for the new Mitsubishi i, an electric vehicle. Mitsubishi has a manufacturing plant located in Normal, Illinois, and with a town name like that, advertising firm 180 LA found its story for the i: a town called Normal becomes the leader in electric vehicles, making it anything but normal. See the story unfold here:


Here’s the thing. I live in Bloomington, which is Normal’s sister city. What is represented in the spot is true of Normal, but that’s not all there is. The message had to be narrowed down to Ruth and the quiet farm town with the funny name because time was short. And this angle was compelling—it wouldn’t add to Normal’s story to add in other facts to show it’s more than a quiet farm town (i.e., population is actually 110,000, home to State Farm Insurance headquarters and 22,000 college students, stoplights, traffic, etc.). You can’t tell a good story by downloading every fact upon the audience.

A good storyteller knows which facts to include and when to share them. That’s why Jesus was such a powerful teacher. He used stories and parables (see Matthew 13:10–15) to tell compelling stories that were focused, making them easy to process and remember. Jesus even told His disciples just before His crucifixion, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12, ESV). So Jesus didn’t share every detail of knowing God, but He told the core message in a way that was engaging (for those who wanted to hear, anyway) and memorable.

And this is why Mitsubishi used 96-year-old Ruth and the small town of Normal to tell a story about a town with 1,000 electric cars roaming the streets. There is more to Normal, Illinois, but those facts will have to be for another story on another day.

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