Once Upon a Brand

One of my favorite parts of Mad Men was when they have their brainstorming sessions for a client. A group of people sit around trying to come up with an idea for a print ad, commercial, or tagline. Without being necessarily overt about it, they go through the questions that marketers today ask: who is this for? What problem do they have, and how does this product/service solve it? And, the big one: How do we show them rather than tell them? It all boils down to determining the best story to tell. Clearly this is a watered down summary of Mad Men and I really need to learn how to separate how real life stuff works vs how they happen in the movies, but it’s what comes to mind whenever I think about brand storytelling.



People love stories, and are more likely to remember a story they’ve heard than a statistic (unless it’s really crazy). Exchanging experiences with others is one of the ways we express empathy, which creates a bond among people.

In marketing, it’s a useful way for brands to connect with customers (past, present, and future). It doesn’t always come in the form of selling a specific product- it’s typically much more subtle than that. In fact, storytelling from brands does something a bit more subtle by carving out a place for themselves in our hearts. With storytelling, it’s important that we show rather than tell, so here are 4 brands that know how to spin a decent yarn:

Cheerios. The all-time best example I can think of as part of Cheerios’ story is the one where the Grandmother is talking to the baby in the high chair who has a bunch of Cheerios in front of her. This story shows a few different things in fell swoop. First, you see the cross-generation component- an elderly woman and a very young child, enjoying the same food. Then there’s the family element, when Gram is mapping out where all the different family members live in relation to each other via Cheerio. There’s also the use of an adorable child clearly getting frustrated that it isn’t actively consuming any of the cereal yet. It all ties in with the narrator at the end saying that Cheerios is “just part of the family.” Yeah, it’s pretty heartwarming.

 

GoPro. One of the interesting parts of GoPro’s story is it’s use of User Generated Content. Most of their marketing simply shares the cool things their users are doing with the product. In doing so, GoPro as a brand mimics what their products do- act as a vessel for people to share their own stories. This also makes their product accessible to a wider variety of people. When I think of people who would frequently use a GoPro, I think of skydivers and mountain climbers- generally adventurous people. Watching the various marketing material from the brand challenges this belief, since they show a high volume of normal, everyday people using the equipment for normal, everyday things. Below is a video from their YouTube Channel of a family enjoying some t-ball in a local park (no stunts or crazy air-born maneuvers):

 

 

Lego. Creating a story using video footage is great, but what about a feature length film? Some would argue that the Lego Movie is an example of brand storytelling (especially this article from The Sales Lion), and I’m inclined to agree. The movie is all in Lego form, but it isn’t an over the top “buy our product” movie. It’s a pretty genius move all around. The movie inspires adults and children alike to reconnect with that imaginative, creative part of ourselves. Legos are all about what we make of them, otherwise, they are just plastic blocks that really hurt when you step on them. Creating a movie that inspires this creation gives the customers an added affinity for the brand, and the product itself.

 

Netflix. I love this commercial because it’s a display of self-awareness on the brand’s part. It flips the whole man running after a woman about to board a plan scene, and people are able to laugh a bit at themselves- Netflix knows that we all share passwords in weird, convoluted ways (like brother’s roommate’s ex-girlfriend stuff), and that we’ll go through great lengths to get a Netflix password but not much else. In other words, it’s a relationship worth fighting for.

 

Whether you sell products or services, or work for a mom and pop store or a giant corporation, there’s always a multitude of stories you can tell. Notice in Mad Men, no one is trying to tell the story of the whole company; they show small vignettes and over time. These messages contribute to the company’s overall story.

Rather than trying to tell a big story about your company, try telling 10 small stories and look for a unifying theme. Ideas:

  • Your most interesting ‘regular’
  • A conversation you overheard in the breakroom
  • An interesting item on the boss’ desk
  • An innovative way you’ve seen a customer use your product
  • The first customer your business ever had

In telling small stories, like all the examples above, you’ll see they actually help show bigger things, like values and ideas, in a more memorable format. 

This month, we’ll be talking a lot about storytelling. If you subscribe to this blog, you’ll get our posts about it.

What’s your story? Take some inspiration from some big brands to think about yours. And here’s hoping some of these blog posts can help along the way!

Kassandra Strout
Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

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