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Advertising’s Breadcrumb Theory

6 Mar, 2018 Alex Naylor Brand & Traditional Advertising

Don’t give it all away in one fell swoop.

Have you read a crime novel or a good mystery lately? If so, you may have noticed something that many have in common when it comes to structuring the story and managing the plot. Every chapter seems to end in a tantalizing cliffhanger that just dares you to turn the page and continue reading, making it near impossible to put the book down. By choosing to include certain details and exclude others, the tension builds until it becomes unbearable and our minds go nuts trying to figure out what happens next. So, you start the next chapter eager to find some kind of resolution, turning through page after page, only to hit the same tease again at the end of the next chapter. And so you continue on through the night until you finally finish the last page, come up for air and realize it’s 5 a.m. and time to get ready for work. It’s a clever trick these writers are pulling on us, and one that the advertising industry could learn a lot from.

Gillian Flynn in particular is a master of this, and if you haven’t read any of her work, I highly recommend doing so posthaste.

Gone Girl: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/gone-girl/id468717454?mt=11

Dark Places: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/dark-places/id419251147?mt=11

Sharp Objects: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/sharp-objects/id420048236?mt=11

But, alas, that’s a bit off topic, so stick with me here while we tie this all back to advertising.

As a copywriter working for an advertising agency, I’m tasked with telling the stories of the clients we work with at Fluid over the course of months- and sometimes years-long advertising campaigns. So I’m constantly fighting this battle of balancing intrigue and piquing curiosity with informing and educating consumers about a particular product, company, etc. As a result of these experiences, I’ve developed what I call “The Breadcrumb Theory.” Here it is in a nutshell:

Start with an interesting idea.

What’s going to catch a consumer’s attention? What will draw them in, make them stop, take notice and want to read just a little more? That’s where your story should begin.

Hand out bite-sized chunks of information at a time.

The main thought behind this theory is to string your audience along, giving them just enough to want to find the next crumb, read the next line, go to the next page, and follow the trail back to your brand.

Give the reader a way to continue the story.

In a novel, you can turn to the next page and continue the story. In advertising, a call-to-action serves the purpose of the proverbial “page turn.” So it’s critical to make sure every interaction with a consumer leads to another one, and another one and another one. First it’s a TV spot or a billboard, then it’s a digital ad, then an email, then a visit to the website, and it continues through the process.

Connect each part of the story together.

There has to be some kind of theme, concept or connective tissue that holds each part of the story together. The consumer needs to be able to trace back where they started and see where they might be heading at the same time. We call it the user experience or the buyer’s journey, and if each piece doesn’t do its job, then the whole story falls apart.

Above all, don’t give it all away in one fell swoop.

Eagerness and impatience are your enemies here. As the person responsible for increasing sales and growing your company, of course you want to make that happen as quickly as possible. But your consumers aren’t necessarily moving along that same timeline. And remember, advertising is about them, not you.

The Breadcrumb Theory is a simple one, yes. But it’s proven over and over to raise awareness, generate leads and improve sales no matter what industry you work in or what consumer you’re chasing after. And at Fluid, we’re masters of it.

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