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In analysing an advertising campaign, it is essential to understand how meaning is produced and which techniques were implored to impact the audience and achieve the campaign’s objectives. Nike’s ‘Come out of Nowhere’ campaign was created in 2016 by advertising giants Wieden + Kennedy, Portland (W+K). The campaign centres on professional and popular basketball players, including Lebron James, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who refused to take no for an answer. The campaign includes a range of media types and tools that look at the journeys of these players from birth to their success and stardom in the National Basketball Association (NBA), including the struggles and obstacles they faced and endured throughout their lives.
The nature of this campaign demonstrates the power of storytelling and rhetoric in advertising, as we analyse how narrative strategies engage the viewer, evoke thought and shape thinking, as well as the campaign’s incorporation of America’s cultural context, and overall effectiveness and reception by the audience.Headlining the ‘Come out of Nowhere’ campaign is Nike’s video commercial of LeBron James. The promotional video is narrated by James, and delivers an inspiring message to continue to pursue greatness to everyone who has been overlooked and faced obstacles and negativity.
The advertisement encapsulates the key concepts of narrative storytelling and rhetoric, and Nike’s use of James is compelling and true, due to the relevance and similarities of his underprivileged upbringing in Cleveland to overcoming the odds and becoming a global superstar. The advertisement successfully stands as a boulder of hope and motivation for young aspiring individuals from ordinary and humble backgrounds, who are “…not even supposed to be here. And yet, here you are” (LeBron James, 2016). I believe the campaign was successful due to the power of focusing on individual breakthrough stories, as Nike chose to promote an attitude of hard work and determination over a specific product or shoe, staying true to its promotional origins, which broke away from cultural orthodoxy and pursued innovative ideologies in the 1900s(Holt and Cameron)
Narrative storytelling is a powerful concept used in advertising. Narrative framework or storytelling in advertising in heavily utilised in Nike’s ‘Come out of Nowhere’ campaign. It is an essential framework to analyse as we argue that the meaning ascribed to products and brands such as Nike can be devised by narratives (Escalas 2004, p. 168). This is because individuals create stories to organise and order their experiences, evaluations and perspectives (Bruner 1986, 1990). In relation to advertising, individuals tend to impose a narrative structure on events or advertisements to interpret their meaning (Escalas 2004, p.171). Narrative thought is also likely to relate such brand experiences to their beliefs and values because individuals tend to create and process their self-identity via self-stories (Escalas 2004, p.171).
A qualitative study by Gilliam and Flaherty in ‘Story telling by the sales force and its effect on buyer-seller exchange’ found that stories told by salespeople are appreciated and reciprocated by buyers. This allows information to be transferred and absorbed effectively, as well as credibility and rapport to be established. Just like we see in Nike’s ‘Come out of Nowhere’ campaign, storytelling plays a key role in personal selling, as stories are processed differently from other forms of communication (Gilliam & Flaherty 2015, pp. 132-142), and I believe more efficaciously. The effectiveness of narrative advertising can be evaluated through analysing its arrangement and order. Narrative advertising leads to narrative processing, which enhances self-brand connections (SBCs), which have positive correlations to consumers brand attitudes and behavioural intentions (Escalas 2004 pp. 168-169), in other words, individuals consuming and endorsing the advertised product or service, like purchasing and wearing Nike merchandise.
‘Narrative Processing’ is the term for how an audience is able to create meaning from the structure of narratives (Escalas 2004, p.169). Narrative thought allows individuals to organise events in terms of a temporal dimension or a dimension of time. Time can be configured in narratives as episodes (Escalas 2004, p.169) which are structured into a beginning, middle and end (Escalas 2004, p.169). Narrative thought then structures elements into an organised framework that establishes relations between the story’s elements and allows for casual inferencing (Escalas 2004, p.169), or concluding and drawing connections of an event or effect. To summarise, this structure is termed “episode schema”, whereby events create responses in people that can be physical and or psychological, and in response to this, the individual develops goals that lead to courses of action that result in certain outcomes (Escalas 2004, p.169). In relation to advertising, when the consumer looks to buy Nike shoes, this is the course of action, and when the consumer then purchase a pair, this is the outcome. This narrative processing enhances SBCs which enhances a brand in the eyes of a consumer. In contemporary society, people use products and specific brands to create and represent their own desired self-images as the construct their self-identity for themselves and to present to others (Escalas 2004 p.170).
Consumers gain symbolic benefit (Tan et al 2018, p.77) from the brand, which provides self-esteem and allows them to differentiate and express themselves how they want to in society, overtly or covertly aligning themselves with the narrative that was portrayed to them in an advertisement, such as the depiction of LeBron’s work ethic in the ‘Come out of Nowhere’ campaign. For this reason, we can understand the potency of storytelling in advertising, and its capability as a tool to create meaning and to persuade the audience, whether they realise it or not.The use of rhetoric in advertising is another compelling tool that helps corporations such as Nike achieve their campaign objectives. A rhetorical figure in advertising can be defined as an artful deviation in the form taken by a statement, (McQuarrie & Mick 1996, p. 424).
In my own words, rhetoric in advertising is a creative expression that seeks to add interest and difference to an advertisement. In advertising, rhetorical figures can be distinguished into a three-level taxonomy, with all the rhetorical figures located at a given point sharing certain properties (McQuarrie & Mick 1999, p.39). The top level of taxonomy is characterised by the property of artful deviation, with a gradient of deviation with more deviant figures having a greater impact on the audience, however only up to a point of diminishing returns (McQuarrie & Mick 1999, p.39). The next level of taxonomy distinguishes schemes from tropes as two different modes of figuration (McQuarrie & Mick 1999, p.39). Tropes deviate by means of an irregular use, such as using a word in an unusual or unexpected way. Schemes on the other hand deviate by means of excessive regularity, and is usually a change in standard order or pattern.
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