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WHOGAS & WIIFM: What a Pair of Absurd Acronyms Reveal About Effective Business Storytelling

Everyone knows about the classic 5 W’s of journalism — who, what, when, where and why — and that it’s the last one that’s so crucial to a good story. I’d add another helpful, if not nearly as alliterative, mnemonic device that helps drive a good journalist: WHOGAS, an acronym that stands for “Who gives a ----?” (I’ll spare everyone the obvious expletive.)

WHOGAS, however, leads us to an important part of storytelling — context and meaning. If someone is writing a school board recap, what makes it more important than any others? Journalists must find context that draws in the reader, so even if it’s not their community’s school board, they’re still intrigued to click the link and devote a few minutes to reading the story.

In the marketing world, we have the WIIFM test, or “What’s in it for me?” This is another decent test for meaning. When we ask it of ourselves or answer it on behalf of audiences, we’re trying to ensure the stories we share are matching their own nuanced perspectives. When we fail to do that, we’re not connecting with audiences on a truly elemental, personal level.

For example, a beer commercial featuring a trio of unshaven 30-somethings acting like 12-year-olds can be funny or even award-winning, but it is unlikely to be representative or provide the full context of a brewer’s authentic story. Such an ad does not distinguish the beer from any other on the market or answer WIIFM.

On the other hand, think back to Budweiser’s 2017 Super Bowl ad. The highly produced commercial reenacted founder Adolphus Busch’s immigrant journey to the U.S. Millions of Americans have similar stories of grandparents or great-grandparents coming from “the old country,” and thousands of immigrants become new citizens each year. We’re a country of immigrants who added something special to the fabric of the nation, and enjoying a Budweiser is a part of that story and connects us with a piece of our past — at least, that’s the goal of the ad.

Before diving too deeply into any marketing campaign, ask yourself WHOGAS or WIIFM. The answer might just help you learn more about your own story and your audiences.

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