Brand storytelling is important to connect with your customers. Advertising campaigns are most successful when they’re memorable (for the right reasons).
It’s important they’re relatable to watch, i.e., they elicit some kind of emotional reaction from the audience, be it joy, curiosity, or humor, but also that they accurately reflect your brand values.
To get you started, we went over what brand storytelling is and why it’s important in our companion article, ‘Build up your brand image using effective brand storytelling’, and now we’re going to give you our top five examples of brand storytelling.
We focused on campaigns that sold a narrative, had memorable sets, characters, or slogans, and made a mark on the history of that brand. In no particular order, here’s our top five picks for memorable brand storytelling in marketing and their takeaways.
No. 5 - Always - “Like a girl”
Always is a company that produces period products alongside other hygiene products for women. The slogan on their website read: “We Care About All Women and Girls: We're on a mission to unleash girls' & women's confidence”.
This is a principle that is quite often reflected in their ad campaigns, particularly in the last few years. Their 2014 campaign, which aired during the Super Bowl of that year, ran with the slogan “Like a girl” and focused on the underlying misogyny of describing a certain action as behaving “like a girl”.
The ad shows a group of young adults and teenagers acting out certain actions such as “Can you throw like a girl?” or “Can you fight like a girl?”. It shows them acting soft, wimpy, exaggerating movements as sloppy or gentle.
It then contrasts this image by then asking the same questions of young girls. The girls this time run and throw and fight normally. The ad intersperses these interviews with statements. The first being, “When did doing something “like a girl” become an insult?”
Comments on the YouTube video for this ad described it as “not just a commercial” but a “life lesson”, an “eye opener”, and “a powerful message”. In our previous article, we used Patagonia’s “Don’t buy this jacket” as a great example for why companies should establish and stick to the core values of their company and Always reinforce this statement. The ad also won an Emmy in 2015 for “outstanding commercial”.
They also created the #likeagirl hashtag for social media for women to share their real-life stories of experiencing this phenomenon. It was a great way for the target audience to get involved and share the brand message through the conversations being had.
On their website, Always have blogs dedicated to particular topics around menstruation, including materials on your first period, how to talk to your children about their period, and pregnancy.
They also have a program called “Always Keeping Girls in School”, which is dedicated to providing period products to people in vulnerable communities so they can go to school regularly.
No. 4 - Nike - “Find your greatness”
Nike is a familiar name in the sportswear industry and their slogan goes hand in hand with their logo as immediately familiar and identifiable. The slogan “Just do it” was created in 1989 by Wieden and Kennedy to accompany Nike’s first major television campaign.
The slogan has since stuck and produces a simple message, intended to motivate those looking to get into exercise and those already doing it. Not only does the slogan remind you to keep things simple, but that beginning the fitness journey is only one choice away from starting; you just have to do it.
With sports being more competitive than ever, Nike needed a way to reclaim its motivational origins.
The ad opens quietly with only the sound of cicadas. You see a rural landscape with a purple and pink sunrise. From the horizon, an overweight runner is seen jogging slowly toward the camera.
Then the voiceover kicks in: “Greatness is just something we made up. Somehow, we’ve come to believe that greatness is a gift reserved for a chosen few… greatness is no more unique to us than breathing. We’re all capable of it. All of us.”
When it was first released the ad sparked some controversy surrounding it. Some saw this as a way to criticize overweight bodies, that the ad places obesity as something to fix about oneself. However, the intention behind it was far different.
The ad itself seeks to present viewers with Nike’s core value. It’s a different version of the “Just do it” campaign and celebrates the everyday athlete with its choice of model.
This ad also tells a story with no cuts, no dialogue, and little sound. The rising sun and the rural area shows how far this lone runner is pushing himself for his goal. He’s up early and has run so that no other houses can be seen. Though his gait is slow, it’s consistent and unstoppable. The story told is one of everyday greatness, where this runner has motivated himself to push for the goal he wants.
For many people, this ad was uplifting and a refreshing change from the picture-perfect athletes that usually grace Nike’s ads. This style of brand storytelling also took advantage of the 2012 Olympics. During the Olympics, there’s usually a spike in interest in sports from people of all ages, and Nike drew from this worldwide inspiration to fuel their campaign. In 2013, the campaign also won a Silver Effie for Olympics Marketing.
No. 3 - M&M’s - The red and yellow M&M’s
M&M’s’ brand storytelling uses memorable characters to create a multitude of advertisements. The colored M&M’s characters are now a staple in their campaigns.
First introduced in 1995 with M&M’s’ first CGI advertisement, these characters have also become mascots for the brand in their own right.
The stories in the brand’s ads often have very little to do with the chocolate candy itself, but rather use a play on words or jokes out of specific scenarios to reference their product.
Quite a few of their TV commercials ‘break the fourth wall’ and present these characters as the M&M’s company working in offices and having board meetings.
Unlike the previous examples, this style of brand storytelling doesn’t take a stance on a more serious topic, rather they're portraying themselves to be casual, fun, and quirky. They garner interest in their product through the stories they tell with these M&M’s characters.
The characters are distinct in color and personality, and each represents a different flavor of M&M’s. Since the conception of these characters, the roster has grown. In 2012, when M&M’s lost its spot as the no. 1 chocolate in the US, their solution was to introduce a new character.
This reminded watchers of their original chocolate flavored M&M’s and also promised a new character for the other mascots to play off of. There’s a longevity in creating such characters as they’re not limited by idea or topic. There are hundreds of funny scenarios in which you can place these characters and each one will represent the brand.
As a marketing strategy, this works to create a visual link to the brand, and creates a reputation for reliably entertaining ads that keeps the brand name in the collective consciousness of their target audience.
No. 2 - Old Spice - Terry Crews and Isaiah Mustafa
Old Spice is a company with a very strong run of campaigns that are fast paced and often rely on absurdist humor. This first began with the 2010 ad featuring Isaiah Mustafa. The aim of this campaign was to appeal to a younger audience and shake off the ‘grandpa’ reputation.
Like with Always, their website focuses on supporting young people through puberty, so it's safe to say the rebrand was a resounding success. This first ad actually addresses women rather than the target audience the products are aimed at.
Isaiah starts by saying: “Hello, ladies. Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back to your man. Now back at me. Sadly, he isn’t me.” This is a humorous opening that quickly achieved meme status and is still quoted often.
The main drive for the ad was to motivate women to buy Old Spice for the men in their life to make them appear more like the man in the video. The ad ends with the line: “Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.”
What’s important to note is that this ad was first released on the internet, where their target audience was most likely to find it. It was not so much the message but the absurdist humor, which had been a popular staple of internet pop culture – this was reinforced with their next series of ads with Terry Crews.
Unlike Isaiah Mustafa, Terry Crews’ character was loud and boisterous. Again, the promotion of the product took second place over the style of the video.
With quick cuts, continuous shouting and random events happening out of nowhere, the ad emulated the popular styles of video on the internet at the time, which worked with their new target audience, younger boys.
Then, Old Spice took it a step further by creating a narrative with these two highly popular characters.
These ads pitted Isaiah Mustafa and Terry Crews against each other as they both represented a few different scents, Timber, Swagger, and Bear Glove. This series saw one or the other ‘coming out on top’ by the end of an ad. The final ad in the series saw the two as old men reminiscing on their competition.
What works about these commercials is that they don’t disguise the fact they’re ads, but create absurd and humorous scenarios around the topic that generate interest and get people talking about the commercial itself. With this type of conversation, the brand name became a part of popular culture.
On top of that, targeting a younger male audience reflects their core value to “help young people transition into young adulthood by providing the tools and products to help them look their best and feel confident in their own skin.” The School of Swagger is a mentorship program to help young people through school.
No.1 - John Lewis - Christmas ads
This one’s from across the pond, from UK-based company John Lewis. John Lewis is a department store for home goods and clothing, but it made its name with its infamous Christmas ads.
Again, these ads are most well known for their style of storytelling. They usually have no dialogue, are simple heart-warming stories based around Christmas themes, and are often accompanied by famous song covers.
Their 2013 ad, “The bear and the hare”, features a fully animated 2D style video reminiscent of Disney Renaissance. It featured the story of a bear who always misses decorating the Christmas tree because it’s hibernating. This year, its friend, the hare, buys an alarm clock so the bear can wake up in time and see the decorated Christmas tree for the first time.
With Lily Allen’s cover of “Somewhere only we know” playing in the background, this ad is designed to get you invested in the characters, and have an emotional reaction to the story being told. It ends with the slogan “Give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget”.
Another great example is their 2018 ad, “The boy and the piano”, which begins with Elton John with his back to the camera, playing the piano. The video follows the life of Elton John backwards, through his famous concerts and looks. Elton John gets younger and younger, ending with him as a little boy coming down the stairs on Christmas to find his mother has gifted him a piano.
The video ends with the young Elton John playing two notes of a chord, then finished by the older Elton John. The slogan for this ad is “Some gifts are more than just a gift.”
These ads are created for the sole purpose of pulling on viewers' heartstrings using exclusively visual storytelling with no dialogue. This means that viewers are engaged in figuring out the story and following its threads to see the final outcome.
John Lewis have built up a following around these ads and, in turn, around their brand. Storytelling advertising creates an emotional connection with the brand. When people get invested in the stories being told, they begin to associate those emotions with the brand name. As such, by building a brand image around an event like Christmas, the emotional connection is heightened.
So, there you have it. These were our top picks for the best ads that showcase great storytelling to match their brand values. They all use a variety of techniques, have different tones, and establish unique storylines to tell their brand story and connect with their customer base.
These great stories convey the product being sold, the audience they’re aiming for, and establish some key values that the brand uses throughout their business function.
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