Back to the Future with Creative Marketing

Welcome to the future!

Today is the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrive in the future in Back to the Future II (1989). 
When I was growing up, a trip to the gas station was almost like a drive through safari. You’d sit inside the car and watch as a commotion stirred all around you. It began by driving onto the gas station property, which sounded a bell and alerted an attendant that there was a car in need of service.

You’d roll down the window and shout ‘Fill ‘er up!’ and the gas was pumped for you. In the movie Back to the Future, a team of uniformed attendants checked the air pressure in each tire, lifted the hood and checked the belts, oil and other fluids. In real life, I only remember one service person per car.


Back to the Future © Universal Pictures (1985)

I remember the service attendant bringing the oil dipstick around to the driver’s window and presenting it like a piece of fine jewelry over a rag to let you know you were “running a little low and to keep an eye on it”, suggesting to top it off with a quart of oil next time you fill up. They’d bring the charge card receipt over for your signature and wish you a nice day as they tore off the “customer” copy and handed it to you.

As I got older, we eventually ended up buying the same brand of gas because I insisted on collecting the entire set of “free” NFL logo glasses one by one with each fill up. There were fewer teams back then and I’m not sure I ever collected all of them.

If you look back at the print ads for oil and gasoline in the 50’s and 60’s, several things stand out. Among them the number of different brands of gasoline – Atlantic, Richfield, Esso, City Service, Flying A, Standard Oil, and many more. If you look at those ads, you’d be hard pressed to find a big difference between the actual product – the gasoline. Oh sure, they were creative. But creativity cannot be the only thing that distinguishes your brand from others. If it is, you may end up going the way of the (Sinclair) dinosaur.

Today’s gas station experience is very different. What happened? Gasoline became a commodity. Today, most people just opt for the lowest cost provider. I dislike paying more than I have to for gas. One of the most frequently used apps on my phone is Gas Buddy. It uses my location to find the nearest gas stations and then allows me to sort the results by price or distance from where I am.

In 2015, I pump my own gas and swipe my credit card myself – except when I’m in New Jersey and the last time I filled up there my credit card number was stolen! True story, I swear! I had to negate charges for EuroRail tickets within 24 hours of filling up. The “service station” of yesteryear has become today’s “convenience mart” – convenient for theft or a place to pick up eggs or milk on the way home.

old gas ad fv640znixwjtor

Creative marketing taps into your expertise

Things we create from scratch are not the only way to be creative. Start where you are. You have an advantage: your experience with customers. Each one can become a story. Telling stories about your experiences with customers is extremely persuasive. Sometimes we take for granted the things we do naturally. Telling a story well doesn’t mean you have to be or should try to be Shakespeare or Hemingway. You can tell a good story with simple sentences and clear ideas. When stories aren’t simple, or ideas aren’t clear, the message is weakened.

But, what if I’m not creative..?

So among all the other tasks you have as a businessperson, you must also tap into your creative side. Before you cringe and mentally walk away, let me assure you that we all are creative. While every once in awhile a story flows easily from your brain, being creative is work. There are times for all of us when we sit down to type, fingers poised over the keyboard, and nothing happens. It becomes easier, though, if you realize it is a process that can be broken down. Fulfill the requirements of each step in the process, and you will end up with a good story to tell.

old gas ad 5188l373hoepjr

It’s story time

Story telling allows you to show potential clients that you have the best approach to solving their problems. You have the experience and the ability to convert your experience into their answers. Theoretically, you could lay out the information in a no-nonsense list:

  1. Here’s your problem
  2. This is what I can do to solve it
  3. Hire me

That would be easy, but if you did it all the time, you wouldn’t stand out or catch anyones attention, which is one of the goals of marketing. Many of us wish we could present information in a dry and clinical way because we don’t think what we do is special. We all tend to discount our abilities and the trove of information we have compiled. But that information and experience is what makes you a Subject Matter Expert. It proves that you are the one who can provide the best solutions for your clients and prospects.

Conveying your information in a compelling, entertaining way makes your ideas more clear and useful and serves to separate you from the competition.

Steps in the process

Here are some tips that will help when you sit down to ponder the next story you are going to tell.

Every question begins with a problem. You have solved many of them, and some can be turned into stories. Notice how adding the following enhances the three steps above:

  • Set the stage
  • Introduce the characters
  • Provide background on the situation
  • State the problem or challenge
  • What did they try before you got there?
  • How did you overcome it?
  • What did you do?
  • What happened?
  • Then what happened?
  • Quantify the results

Now, you have a descriptive story that overcomes struggle, is meaningful, and is something your prospects can relate to. You are an expert at solving problems for others. Let the rest of us know about it.

Emotions help you sell

But which emotions should you use positive ones or negative ones? Positive emotions appeal to our sense of belonging, our desire for gratification. They build trust and align with our values. They supply relief and happiness. Negative emotions raise fear, uncertainty, doubt, greed, guilt, and lack compassion.

In my experience, negative emotions are more persuasive drivers of behavior, but they create short-term gains. Preying on someone’s vulnerability or weakness does not foster healthy, long-term relationships. Integrity and honesty matter, and create business success that you can live with.

Some of the decision of which emotions to use is situational. When I worked for a software company, our competition sometimes gained customers by telling them scary and untrue stories about us.

I recall a television public service announcement that did a good job of using fear to motivate drivers to wear seat belts. The camera showed a couple in a convertible driving down a two-lane highway on a sun-splashed day. As they pulled into the left lane to pass a truck, the announcer broke in: “Guess who Bob and Carol ran into this weekend?” The screen went to black as a shiver ran down your spine.

Michelin evoked a different emotion with a 1990 commercial that showed a happy toddler frolicking in a tire. The tag line: “Because so much is riding on your tires.”

You don’t have the opportunity every time you write about your service and product to cause your potential customer to shed a tear or laugh out loud. You can, however, be straightforward and create a bond with every communication. Show your human side. Admit when you’re flummoxed and then describe how you solved the problem anyway. If you have a sense of humor, use it. Honest storytelling, listing accurate facts and answering questions without equivocation creates trust.

Getting back to my former competitors: When their product failed to do what it was advertised to do, their customers would inevitably come to us and ask about our product. After getting to know us, they expressed surprise that we were not the demons the competition had made us out to be.

Although creativity can be making something from nothing, it doesn’t have to be. People buy because they want to get from their current state to a future state. Help them see their future by telling stories. Emotionally charged storytelling is a creative and successful tactic that motivates potential customers to act on your call to action. Stories based on end user experience of those who use your service and product – or an example of what happens when customers don’t use your product – are equally compelling. Just don’t try selling them a flux capacitor.


Share your storytelling attempts, success, or failures, in the Comments section below. A real person reads and responds to all comments.



To learn more about Crest, go to or contact me anytime. At Crest, we help companies:

  • Create content that separates them from their competition
  • Become subject matter experts in their field
  • Measure the effectiveness of their marketing $$
  • Generate a consistent pipeline of high-quality leads for less
  • Turn clients into evangelists