The Best Content Marketing Story Ad Ever

I was recently talking to a friend about content marketing (yes, ok, fine, I’m a marketing geek, but them I thought that was already established) and he asked me if I recalled a specific content ad that struck me.

Again, you have your groups where you talk about Dr. Who, gardening, or life changing books, this is just the weird stuff we like to do when we’re around those who have similar interests, and life stops us from shoe shopping.

I expected it would take a while to come up with something, but it didn’t, it popped right into my mind, clear as a bell.

Ralph Lauren Story AdLong before people talked about content marketing …. well, there’s no way around this, I have to date myself here … I was in college in the 1980s and came across a 3 page ad by the quintessential lifestyle marketer, Ralph Lauren, in Vanity Fair magazine. It was a story ad that played on everything we are now talking about in the industry as if it where a new approach.

Over 20 years ago Ralph Lauren (or rather, their ad company) took a chance and placed this story ad in and amongst their standard cinematic vingette ads that set the tone visually, never really mentioning the products, but focusing on a lifestyle, and a common theme. The story in the ad was narrated by the husband, who’s wife came to him just as they were about to welcome guests into their home for an elegant party and said to him that afterwards they needed to talk.

Right there it started with a relatable situation, even when most of us couldn’t begin to relate to the Gatsby-esque lifestyle they were promoting. The story continued with the husband commenting on the party but as a backdrop to his obsessing over what his wife would tell him was wrong, what was missing in their marriage, how she no longer loved him and wanted a divorce. By the end of the story the reader had connected with him in such a way one connects with the main character who is victimized in a novel, but this was only a few short paragraphs. It was genius.

And more than 2 decades later I remember the details, the images, the environment, and even remember the person I was when I first read it. I remember how engaged I was with the characters, and how his love for his wife was unending, even if she wasn’t happy, and how he had sadly convinced himself he had let her down in some way.

I liked him. I even liked her. The copy, the story was perfect, and to this day remains the standard by which I measure all content marketing, all response marketing.

I remember the story, but I didn’t buy their products, and am not a customer of theirs, so perhaps it wasn’t that successful, but for me … it made a difference in my day then, in my outlook, and as it turned out, my career choice and standards.

How did it end? Oh, I can’t tell you that. You have to guess.

(yes, I liked the ad so much that even then I copied the ad copy into my notebook, which I still have, so I will reveal the ad, once I find the book.)

How do you think it ended?

Edited 10/8/12: Read the full text of the story ad here.