Onward is an exclusive content series authored by broadhead’s thought leaders, highlighting their unique perspectives on adapting, adjusting and pushing forward during unprecedented times.


Written by Walt Burns | VP, Creative Director

It can be disheartening, as people who create advertising, to see so much data telling us that people hate advertising. Not that it’s any surprise – of course they do. Ninety-nine percent of it is insufferable. And it’s only getting worse.

How can that be? We have all these new super cool digital goodies, innovation out the yin-yang and the ability to target our audience based on something as detailed as what they had for breakfast yesterday. How can we not be creating messages that people love? And at a time when every dollar spent has to work harder than ever, this is not a good time to throw money at something people hate.

It’s really not too complicated. We’ve distorted Marshall McLuhan’s notion of “the medium is the message,” into believing what we talk about isn’t important – just get it online and let the algorithms, ad-blocker blockers and spy tech tracking digital intruder gizmos do the rest. Every medium has its advantages. Understanding those advantages and how to tailor a message to best utilize those advantages is one part of the equation. But just one part.

More and more, our messages are guided by nothing more than numbers, graphs and charts without stopping to think about our messages on a human level. To cover up this flaw, many advertising people started calling themselves storytellers. That sounds much more approachable, right? Much more human. More interesting.

But if we’re going to call ourselves storytellers, we better tell a good story.

As crushing as it may be, that is probably not the story of a company’s history of innovation.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but a story is something you WANT to read. It’s interesting and relevant to my experience. It’s not necessarily the story of how a brand came to be. Or the story of the inner construction of its flagship product. It’s not our story we should tell, but the human stories surrounding our brand. That’s how we connect our brand to people who might buy what we’re selling.

Watch a YETI® video sometime. The stories are about interesting people doing interesting things. They are not about YETI® coolers. Even though they completely changed the way people think about the role of a cooler in their life, and I’m sure there’s some amazing story of innovation to tell. By connecting to the audience on their level, YETI® convinced people they should spend a significant portion of their paycheck on something they used to pick up at the gas station while grabbing snacks and gas. Granted, they have an amazing product, but they focused on connecting it to their audience with human stories.

Last year, when we started thinking about how to bring the discussion of the meth epidemic in South Dakota to a broader audience, we felt the best way was to put the community – neighbors, friends and family – right in the middle of the crisis, and that is how the “Meth. We’re on it.” campaign came to be. It focused the attention on the community and got more people talking about what was happening in their state than ever before.

During a time where the fundamental commonality we all share is a dramatic decrease in human interaction, the messages that connect are going to be the ones that speak to people on a human level and not simply treat them as a number.

If you’re going to tell a story, make sure it’s interesting.