Humans have been telling stories forever and our brains have evolved to love them. It’s just a fact.
Need proof? Studies have shown that telling a story makes information way more memorable. Psychologist Jerome Bruner found we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it has been wrapped in a story. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business found that when people listened to pitches, either containing facts and figures or a story, only 5% recalled a statistic, but a whopping 63% remembered the stories. And the list goes on.
But how can you harness the awesome power of storytelling for marketing? First, let’s take a look at what the practice of ‘storytelling marketing’ means and then delve into some real-life examples of storytelling marketing in action.
What is storytelling marketing?
Storytelling marketing means using a narrative to communicate a message. The aim is to make the viewer feel something – enough that it’ll inspire them to take action. Storytelling in marketing helps consumers to understand why they should care about something, and it works to humanise your brand. If you want to learn more about messaging, view our brand message templates.
Storytelling in marketing is not limited to film; stories can be told in pictures, verbally or in written form. And they can be told across all channels – from social media to billboards. Stories can help marketers achieve cut-through in a marketplace that’s (by design) distracting, creating advertising that resonates with people… and sticks.
10 Examples of storytelling marketing
The world’s biggest brands understand the power of storytelling in marketing – here’s a round up of some of the best storytelling marketing examples over the last 18 months, from the likes of Coca-Cola, Guinness and Apple.
Disney is, of course, no stranger to storytelling, and this ad for Disneyland Paris shows off the brand’s skills.
It’s the heartwarming tale of a little duckling who finds a Donald Duck comic book and becomes obsessed with his new hero. But bad weather is approaching and the duckling and his family have to take flight, leaving his beloved comic book behind.
The family endures a cold, wet night before the sun reappears and they arrive unexpectedly at Disneyland Paris, where the duckling is greeted by none other than Donald Duck.
“As he comes beak-to-beak with his idol, our heartstrings pull so strongly they feel like they’re about to burst,” said The Drum. “Through a clever display of anthropomorphism it has perfected over the decades, Disney captures the wonder and excitement that kids feel for Disneyland Paris.”
To continue its long-running “Made of more” campaign, which promotes inclusivity within rugby, Guinness highlights the incredible true story of Japanese women’s rugby team Liberty Fields RFC.
The film begins in 1989 Tokyo showing the gender expectations for women at the time – and then how the female players defied those social conventions to represent their country at the Women’s World Cup.
The TV ad was launched alongside a five-minute documentary featuring first-hand insights from the Liberty Fields rugby team.
Niall Mckee, Head of Guinness Stout Europe at Diageo, told Campaign: “We found the story of Liberty Fields and felt it captured the ‘Made of more’ campaign brilliantly. It was really relevant for what’s going on in the world at the moment, especially in light of this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. It felt like a really natural, authentic story for Guinness to be able to tell in that context.”
‘Eva Stories’ began with giant billboards that read: “What if a girl in the Holocaust had Instagram?” The illustration depicted a hand holding a smartphone behind barbed wire.
The campaign, which chronicles the last days of a real 13-year-old Hungarian Jew in 1944 through Instagram Stories, was the brainchild of 56-year-old tech and media billionaire Mati Kochavi and his daughter Maya, founder of popular tween platform StelloGirls.
It aims to educate a new generation about the Holocaust, following a 2018 US survey which found 66% of Millennials could not identify what Auschwitz was.
With the help of researchers, Mati and Mya sifted through diaries from the Holocaust period until they found one belonging to Eva Heyman, who chronicled her daily life before and after the 1944 German invasion of Hungary. Beginning with her 13th birthday, the diary covers events such as her parents’ divorce, an unrequited crush, her aspirations to become a photojournalist, and how her life changes during the occupation. Eva’s diary ends on 30 May 1944, just days before her deportation, and she died at Auschwitz on 17 October 1944.
Eva Stories generated a lot of controversy prior to its launch on Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, with critics claiming it was in bad taste. But this controversy helped the @Eva.Stories Instagram account amass more than 180,000 followers before the series debuted, and when it did, it became an international phenomenon overnight. Across 70 Instagram Stories chapters, the film received more than 300 million views in less than 48 hours – coming from across the globe, despite the campaign being focused on an Israeli audience.
Eva used Instagram Stories’ questions feature, to ask questions such as how to cheer up her grandfather or get the boy she likes to notice her. “We got such a crazy amount of engagement from that and realised how connected people were to the story,” Maya told Campaign.
The audience’s feedback dictated the order in which the story played out, while social media monitoring tools were used to analyse viewers’ emotions. Realising “people wanted some hope”, the last episode was changed from Eva boarding a train to Auschwitz, to a scene where Eva asks her best friend Annie if people will remember them.
“Yes Eva, your journal – everyone will remember us,” Annie answers. Then, a challenge is posed to viewers: “Write a message in memory of Eva.” Within a few minutes, hundreds of thousands of messages flooded in. “We will always love you and remember you,” one user wrote.
Storytelling marketing can happen across all sorts of mediums, as this innovative augmented reality (AR) campaign by Coca-Cola shows.
Customers were able to point their phone’s camera at a can of Coke and see one of 12 stories come to life. The stories each feature a minor conflict, where animated characters engage in a lighthearted exchange before finding a positive outcome which revolves around sharing a Coke.
One story shows a couple of kids getting their beach ball deflated by a beach umbrella, while another shows a young couple at a movie getting scared and dropping their popcorn. Another features two rival football fans who join each other in a friendly game when a football flies out of the can of Coke.
“This project was a perfect implementation for AR,” Jonah Hall, Creative Director at VFX house Timber told The Drum. “The nature of AR allowed the viewer to bring these stories into their environment using the practical can of Coke as a prop and become the backdrop for each of these scenarios to play out.”
Fellow Creative Director Kevin Lau added about the campaign, which ran in Mexico: “The idea that our work is being activated by Coca-Cola customers in such a fun and experiential way is a big part of what drew us to the project. This was the perfect opportunity to explore a new medium and to test our storytelling skills in emerging markets.”
Manchester United wanted to be the first football club to create a culturally relevant marketing campaign for China.
It teamed up with Qumin to produce a mobile-first storytelling experience that brought to life the Red Devil spirit. The ‘Wake Up The Devil Inside You’ story is a series of films merging football, Manga and gaming to inspire Chinese football fans.
The animation is in the popular Chinese style of Manga and features Man U stars, while the story sees fans using their football skills to battle evil extraterrestrial forces and save the world. Interactive elements and personalisation cleverly captures the users’ data at different sections of the story.
Barclaycard created two films, each told from a different perspective, to show how a couple put up with each other’s passions. The first takes place at a wrestling match. The woman is clearly a big fan but her partner wishes he could be at his “happy place” – a music festival.
In the second ad, the opposite situation plays out. The man is having a fantastic time at a music festival, while the woman’s attention drifts off to her fantasy of starring in a wrestling match.
Both videos communicate the message that Barclaycard offers savings on thousands of events, so neither the man or his partner have to miss out when it comes to entertainment.
Alex Naylor, Managing Director, Marketing Communications, at Barclays UK, told Campaign: “When it comes to our love for entertainment, our passions and preferences are all unique – whether that be attending a wrestling match or dancing in the crowd at a music festival. We are excited to be able to bring this to life in an innovative way using mirrored storytelling.”
Credit card processing company Square has produced a series of 12 short films chronicling how people and communities in the US have lifted themselves up despite truly tough circumstances.
Winner of the 2018 Tribeca X Award, which celebrates content at the intersection of advertising and entertainment, “For Every Kind of Dream” features real Square customers telling their stories.
“All the films in the series feature Square sellers of all types of backgrounds that are bonded by their common dream of entrepreneurship and the risks each of them have taken to become a small business owner,” said Square.
Stories include ‘Sister Hearts,’ which is about a former prisoner who starts a secondhand goods business on a street corner, which grows into a bricks and mortar shop that employs previously incarcerated women. And ‘Yassin Falafel’, which documents the story of a former Syrian refugee.
According to the Tribeca X jury: “The Square films showed an extremely deft sense of craft in telling a compelling and richly human story while maintaining a strong brand message throughout.
“We specifically responded to the Sister Hearts film, which elegantly told a poignant story about a marginalised community that was lifting itself up. We specifically responded to the level of intimacy captured with these women who opened up about their intensely harrowing and heartbreaking past, and whose presence and unfiltered character on camera makes us smile and shows a resilience that inspires.
“The role that Square plays fits seamlessly into the narrative, not lifting its head to show off, but instead lending a hand to the impressive journey these inspirational women have commanded.”
‘Detour’ tells the story of a child’s tricycle that gets lost and its adventure-filled journey of being reunited with its young owner.
It was made for Apple by Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Michael Gondry (‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’) – and it was shot entirely on the iPhone 7 Plus.
As well as paying homage to classic French cinema, the film shows off the many features of the iPhone, including animation, underwater filming, time-lapse and slo-mo. A set of accompanying online masterclasses explain how it was made.
AdAge branded the film, which appeared on Apple’s UK homepage, “totally magical”: “What with singing fish, a humorous nod to the Tour de France and an utterly charming ending, the 10-minute film is a joy to watch,” the publication said.
Some places have their own special stories to tell; the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal is one of them.
It’s where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their iconic “bed-in for peace” protest in 1969. The pair engaged in this peaceful protest against the Vietnam War during a seven day period where they invited journalists and friends into their bedroom suite. During the week, Lennon also recorded the famous ‘Give Peace a Chance’ anthem while in Suite 1742.
Fairmont decided to celebrate this historic event – and the newly redesigned Suite 1742 – by inviting people to relive the bed-in with a virtual reality/augmented reality experience created by UNLTD.
Those who stay in the suite can don virtual reality headsets, placed on the nightstands on either side of the bed, for an exclusive immersive experience. As the participant relaxes on the bed, a chambermaid starts to clean the room and, before they know it, they are transported back to the 1960s as journalists rush the room and bombard them with questions.
“The ‘Suite 1742’ project is an immersive voyage that takes you on a journey from the present to the past, it’s part fiction and part documentary and offers insight into John and Yoko’s ideas and values at the time, which are still highly relevant today,” said director Carl Ruscica.
“We worked hard to translate the experience and story of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in a way that allowed the viewer to step into the shoes of these icons, take a trip back in time and be a part of one of the most historic pop-culture events ever,” added John Hamilton, CEO of UNLTD.
For the launch of its new 5G and unlimited data plans, Vodafone decided to split from actor Martin Freeman, who has fronted its advertising since 2017, and try something entirely different.
The telecoms brand partnered with Ogilvy UK to create a choreographed dance performed by a woman and more than 25 of her lookalikes. All the women are dressed in the brand’s signature shade of red but in different outfits, and the story tells of the “unlimited” sides to the multifaceted protagonist.
The film is set to ‘Truth’, a song featuring Alicia Keys and produced by Mark Ronson, and the campaign included a sponsorship of Spotify’s Discover Now feature. It also included cinema ads and out-of-home takeovers at sites like London’s Piccadilly Lights.
Jon Tapper, Head of Advertising at Ogilvy UK, told Campaign that Vodafone wanted to put a bigger focus on craft and creativity, and plans to release more ads like this one: “They will be of the same world but bringing a different twist to the storytelling each time,” Tapper explained.
A final word
Even though we’ve got more tech at our disposal than ever before, the power of a simple story holds firm. However you choose to tell stories, as long as you spin a good yarn – with compelling characters, an intriguing plot and plenty of emotion – you’ll keep your audience captivated.
Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 100m global consumers. She also likes cake.