Multiple-choice marketing ticks all the right boxes

The new trend in choose-your-own-adventure marketing is allowing brands to make consumers feel more empowered.

One of the most popular cultural phenomena of the Eighties is making a comeback and inspiring a whole new generation of brands, from pop bands to car companies. Choose-your-own-adventure kids’ storybooks are back, but this time the multiple-choice storytelling technique is leading a new wave of personalised marketing.

Music act The Streets is the latest group to use the strategy. A viral marketing teaser for the new album Computers and Blues sees singer Mike Skinner use a series of interactive videos to illustrate his new tracks. As people watch the video online, they can click and choose different story paths, which lead to different songs from the album.

You might expect musicians to have an interest in telling a personalised story. But last month Samsung adopted the same technique to promote its Galaxy Player 50, a function on its Android-enabled phones. The choose-your-own-adventure marketing campaign uses YouTube to host videos of a “robbery”, where viewers can stop the crime by picking a character such as “the nerd” or “the grandma”. Each character uses a different feature of the Galaxy Player to stop the robbery.

The choose-your-own-adventure marketing strategy isn’t just suitable for brands focused on entertainment. To raise awareness of the Haitian earthquake, Inside Disaster allows consumers to follow a story choosing the role of aid worker, journalist or survivor. The educational content is aimed at consumers from teenagers upwards. And even the UK government dabbled briefly in the area, with an anti-knife crime campaign on YouTube inviting people to choose a different ending (resulting in a nomination for last year’s Marketing Week Engage Awards).

Even the most utilitarian of products can benefit from some choose-your-own-adventure storytelling. One of the most popular online ads last autumn was a campaign for stationery brand Tippex that involved a video where the consumer can suggest (and see instantly on the video) what a hunter and bear should do together, leading to scenarios where the pair hug and others where, well, let’s leave that to your sick imaginations.

So why is choosing your own adventure striking a chord with brands and their buyers? Part of it is the way the technique fits with the marketing platforms available right now.

The iPad is the perfect device to update traditional choose-your-own-adventure tales, whether editorial or advertorial. Download the Touching Stories interactive book app and by shaking, swiping and turning the iPad, you can control the direction of the tale. It won’t be long before more companies are using the touchable power of the iPad to tell personalised stories about their brands. This would work particularly well for brands with great tales of their own. Cadbury could have an app where you swish, tap and shake your way to different paths that create chocolate bars.

Twitter, too, lends itself perfectly to the choose-your-own-adventure format. While Twitter does not have the tactile qualities of the iPad, its quick, short nature means it can easily lay a breadcrumb trail to set up a storyline. Last year, Jonah Peretti of the Huffington Post (just bought by AOL) experimented with this idea.

Peretti set up a system where people could click on links in his tweets to go on divergent story paths. For example, one tweet asks followers to choose whether to “accept a mission” or “go on vacation”. Depending on their choice, a new tweet offers the choice between “parachuting into North Korea” and “being chased by trained assassins”.

This could be a perfect introduction to a choose-your-own-adventure for many brands. Twitter is a lot cheaper than a fancy interactive video or game and it only involves being in a place where consumers are already spending plenty of time.

The 140-character updates mean that it’s a quick and easy – but potentially addictive – way for people to get involved. It would work perfectly as part of a giveaway promotion, with those people taking the “correct” path winning products or services. Imagine following a tweet adventure from British Airways all about dealing with a mysterious airline passenger with the first 10 people to successfully retweet one particular ending receiving a free flight. Or winning a BMW test-driving day for navigating a cops-and-robbers car chase around Twitter.

The choose-your-own-adventure idea not only fits with the newer marketing platforms, but also the mood of the nation. Last month, the GfK NOP index revealed what it descried as an “astonishing collapse” in consumer confidence, with a plunge in optimism among Brits as VAT rates rose to 20%.

Against this alarming backdrop, the idea of having control and choosing your own destiny is particularly alluring. At a time when the government is asking people to accept unpopular economic and social decisions, any brand that can make people feel more empowered and able to alter the outcome of events is especially welcome. Alright, you can’t have that pay rise (again) but you can be in control of something after all.

Now for your own chance to choose a story path. Do you think this trend is: 1) Something for marketers with bigger budgets? 2) Something you’ll keep an eye on in case it could work for you? 3) A technique worth exploring right now to please your customers at a difficult time?

If you chose option two or three, you can congratulate yourself. You’re continuing the marketing adventure.

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