How Advertisers are Finding Success Through Narratives

Following the Seattle Seahawks’ victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Conference Championship game in the NFL playoffs, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman made national news for his polarizing postgame comments concerning the game. However, more intriguing than the comments themselves is the national fallout that followed the comments. As Dan Levy of the Bleacher Report explains, “Twitter burned up with instant reaction to Sherman’s outburst, on the heels of his ungracious interaction with Crabtree on the field after Seattle’s interception in the end zone. Many people admonished the All-Pro for being a poor sport, a bad winner and generally classless.” A second sports blog, Deadspin, listed more than twenty profanity-laced, racially-toned public tweets concerning the Sherman incident. In a matter of just a few seconds following the game, a narrative was established. Using the Sherman incident as a foundation, this blog will briefly describe how the narrative paradigm works to facilitate persuasive advertising.

Richard Sherman's Divisive Postgame Interview

Richard Sherman’s Divisive Postgame Interview(click for video)

Before moving forward I would like to introduce communication scholar, Walter Fisher’s (1984) definition of narrative as, “A series of symbolic actions or deeds that have sequence and meanings for those who live, create, or interpret them” When thinking about narrative in this way, we can begin to see how narrative is imperative to any persuasive argument. Narratives help affirm people’s values and, more pertinently, are used as symbolic decision-making guides. With the right narrative, directed at the right audience, companies can influence consumer purchasing decisions through advertising. Communications professor Dr. Danielle Stern (2009) adds to this idea when she claims in one of her essays, “Narratives have long been of interest in accessing an individual’s subjectivity, experience, and reflections of the past.” If narratives access our subjectivity and experiences, surely they can be used to influence our present decisions. Having now established the relevance of the narrative paradigm, the next section of this blog will focus on how Beats Electronics capitalized on the Richard Sherman narrative.

Richard Sherman's "Beats  By Dre" Commercial..

Richard Sherman’s “Beats By Dre” Commercial (click for video)

Beats Electronics posted a new commercial on their YouTube channel the night of January 19th, only a few minutes following the Richard Sherman incident. The commercial (which you can view by clicking the image above) features Sherman responding to reporters about personal questions, concluding with a reporter asking the cornerback “What do you feel about your reputation as a thug?” Following this question, Sherman puts on his “Beats” headphones, which drown out the reporters’ questions with Aloe Blacc’s song “The Man.” In answering the question of why a narrative matters to advertising, Jon Hamm (2013) of AdWeek argues that “companies are now evaluated by much more than their products. We are in a world where a brand’s value and the emotions they evoke are narrative material”. Narratives evoke the consumer’s emotions because it is much easier to trust stories than it is to trust branded content. Consumers witnessed the Sherman narrative, that story is reality. With their commercial, Beats Electronics is simply using our reality to help sell their product. To be more concise, advertisers are essentially working to cloud the line between our reality and the reality created by the advertisement. Through the narrative paradigm, advertisers have finally bridged the gap between consumers and brands. As Beats Electronics have proved, rather than trying to sell consumers a contrived story, successful advertisements will integrate their products into real-world narratives.

Works Cited

Fisher, W.R. (1984). Narration as human communication paradigm: the case of public moral argument. Communication Monographs, 51, 1-22.

Hamm, J. (2013). Why Agencies and Brands Need to Embrace True Storytelling. AdWeek, http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/why-agencies-and-brands-need-embrace-true-storytelling-152534

Levy, D. (2013). Richard Sherman’s Outburst was Rude, Brash, Disrespectful and Totally Awesome. BleacherReport, http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1929469-richard-shermans-outburst-was-rude-brash-disrespectful-and-totally-awesome

Kalaf, S. (2013). Dump People Say Stupid, Racist Shit About Richard Sherman. Deadspin, http://deadspin.com/dumb-people-say-stupid-racist-shit-about-richard-sherm-1504843629

Stern, D.M. (2009). Consuming the fractured female: Lessons from mtv’s the real world. The Communication Review, 12, 50-77. doi: 10.1080/10714420802716353


Nader Nekvasil

Nader is a former CCT student. His research focuses primarily on communications and media theory, specifically as it relates to the art of persuasion.

  • Danielle Stern

    I wondered how they moved so quickly in getting that ad out. Since we know Sherman is an adept communicator, has there been any discussion of the possibility of him of strategically performing the “thug” so soon before that ad was dropping?

    • Nader Nekvasil

      That is honestly what surprised me the most about everything. Beat’s YouTube channel posted the video that night. I have a hard time believing that’s a coincidence coincidence. Maybe Sherman was putting that Stanford comm. degree to good use.

      Also…furthering this idea: Dr. Dre was on the sideline during the NFC Championship game. This could be due to the Kaepernick commercial, but still makes me wonder if this was all just a huge marketing ploy by Beats Elecronics..

      • Valerie Miller

        Hmmm…That reminds me of a scene in the movie The Game Plan, starring Dwayne the Rock Johnson. The Rock plays a football player whose team makes it to the Superbowl. This is not really central to the plot, but based on the fact that he is a star player his agent pre-negotiates a million dollar deal dictating exactly what he is to say when he is first interviewed after winning…Thanks for introducing me to some new thoughts Nader and Danielle.