FINDING TRUE NORTH
commercial—but if it provides this kind of profound value or utility, it will move us powerfully. Like children, we want to understand the lesson, the “gift” of the story, to “get it,” and to integrate it into our lives. Great Stories, Great Ads The idea of the story in advertising is as old as the “slice of life” construct ﬁrst pioneered, to great advantage, by Procter & Gamble. It was assumed, and often proven, that the vehicle of the story did more to engage viewers and involve them in the inherent drama of the product than did a simple exposition of features and beneﬁts. But the principle of the advertising story providing more than an effective sale—in fact, providing a “gift”—was ﬁrst studied in a systematic way years after the Procter & Gamble invention, in the work of Mary Jane Schlinger at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. Analyzing viewers’ responses to hundreds of television commercials, Dr. Schlinger discovered that the most effective ads demonstrated a principle of “reciprocity”: When the viewer was “given” something (beyond the information necessary to consummate the sale) in return for his or her time and attention, the running of the ad constituted a “fair exchange,” a kind of quid pro quo in return for the viewer’s time and attention. Viewers were then more likely to consider rewarding the advertiser with their business. On the other hand, if there was nothing in the ad for the viewer beyond a selfserving sale of merchandise, the exchange was shallow, unfulﬁlling, and ultimately ineffectual. Working with Dr. Joseph Plummer at Leo Burnett, Schlinger identiﬁed numerous dimensions of “viewer reward” and developed a unique instrument, or testing system, for quantifying subjective responses to television advertisements.* Using that technique to repeatedly explore different consumer groups’ responses to a huge range of commercials for wildly divergent categories of products, the two researchers demonstrated that advertising was not exempt from the principle of “story utility” that Bettelheim or Joseph Campbell applied to legends and tales or—the principle that Carl Jung used to * Mary Jane Schlinger, “A Proﬁle of Responses to Commercials,” Journal of Advertising Research, Volume II, September 1984.