Every Brand Has A Story To Tell, But Which Ones Are Really Worth A Listen?

brand story telling examples

Do you know someone in your life who is an excellent storyteller? Perhaps it’s a family member or good friend who has the ability to have you hooked on their every word. They can bring about emotion, laughter and intrigue just from their own presence and voice. This is the type of person that big brands want to emulate. The companies of the world want to have you enthralled by their words, their imagery and their insights. They want to make you feel raw emotion and tell you a tale that will change your perspective on the day or even on life itself. Many brands are successful at creating this sense of feeling, but some unfortunately fail to communicate their stories properly.

Skype Makes The Impossible Happen With Tearjerker Ad Spot 

Skype is a beautiful example of a brand that has won at telling stories to consumers for years now. The live video chatting tool stretches beyond being an easy means of conferencing in the boardroom. It even goes farther than saying ‘happy birthday’ to Grandma who lives across the country in Florida.

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Image source: http://search.creativecommons.org

Skype wanted to tell a story that crosses the globe, and exemplifies the true meaning of family, and they succeeded.

The “Stay Together” campaign actually shows how digital platforms are changing what it means to come together. The 2 minute spot tells the story of Solomon, a Ugandan man who came to America with the clothes on his back and only 5 dollars in his pocket. Leaving his family behind, Solomon uses Skype to connect with relatives and his young son from thousands of miles away. The masterful campaign contrasts America and Uganda with stunning imagery, and concludes with an emotional gift for Solomon. A photographer takes a photo of Solomon’s family on Skype being projected onto his living room wall, while Solomon stands beside them. This ‘Impossible Family Portrait’ is the first of it’s kind and a unique testament to the power of the video tool.

This type of storytelling let’s the product speak for itself. It does not push the value of Skype on the consumer, but rather opens their eyes to the possibilities it presents. There is no call-to-action, no deal offered, no salesperson asking you to buy. Simply Solomon’s tears as he sees the official printout of his first ever family portrait and hangs it on his bare bedroom wall says enough about why Skype is so essential and meaningful to people. The company also projects the sense that it cares about the lives of it’s users and the journeys they undergo.

How does this Skype campaign resonate with you? Are the imagery and story enough to take the viewer from perception to purchase?

“Not Your Father’s Oldmobile” – A Cautionary Tale  

The story of how General Motors lost it’s way with their model, The Oldsmobile, is a classic tale of a reinvention that went terribly wrong. (Rarely do brand-reinventions go right, mind you).

oldsmobile gm vintage cars
Image source: http://search.creativecommons.org

General Motors banked itself as an all American, slice- of-apple-pie kind of brand back in the 1960s. It produced cars that were not only burly, but very innovative for their time. GM was always on the cutting edge of design and technology, along with being trusted for their craftsmanship and quality. Their tagline was, “Escape From The Ordinary”. But come the 1980s, that’s just what they did…

With the emerging popularity of Asian car manufacturers and changes to the standard look and feel of a motor vehicle, the late 80s and early 90s was a hit or miss for American car companies. Faced with an adapt or flee kind of circumstance, GM tried its hand at adapting the Oldsmobile. In an attempt to be ‘hip’, the brand developed a whole new story for the trusty vehicle, which was now being favoured by a much older demographic. They released a commercial featuring Ringo Starr and his daughter that was jam-packed with early 90s cheese-ball production value. “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” was the new tagline, in hopes of attracting young drivers by rebranding their dad’s dated old set of wheels and making it look desirable again. It went against their original automotive values and tried to rewrite what it was all about to appeal to this new generation of drivers it had little understanding of.

The campaign went against what the brand originally stood for, and cheesed off the loyal customers. It was a certified nail in the coffin for the Oldsmobile, which shut down production a few years later. The key takeaways from this brand storytelling fail are: 1) do not betray what your brand stands, 2) let your brand die with dignity vs. trying to grasp at straws to be something you’re not.

What could GM have done differently to save the Oldsmobile, or was it on it’s way to anyways?

How Starbucks Made Fun Of Their Customers, And Won The Internet 

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The Pumpkin Spice Latte is a yearly tradition for Starbucks lovers and even non-Starbie regulars alike. It became such a craze upon it’s release years ago that it has almost become a modern cultural staple in the Western world. The coffee giant recognized their customers pent up excitement for the PSL’s release date each year, their obsession with Instagramming and Facebooking their beverages and the inherent mocking of people (particularly women) who love PSLs. Starbucks decided to poke some fun at this cult flavour following with a clever ad spot.

The story revolves around a made-up town which celebrates the coming of the PSL every year with an annual festival. There is cinnamon stick baton twirling and pumpkin-inspired hair colouring. The spot is beautifully shot in a real-life documentary style that could easily pass as a TLC network reality show you may have the fortune of binge-watching on a Saturday afternoon after Say Yes To The Dress.

The narrative connects to the audience in a way that gently jokes about the PSL phenomenon, and creates a heartfelt depiction of this endearing and relatable small town. It opens up an interaction between brand and customer, a sort of nod from Starbucks that they understand what is happening with this product. It also gives the brand room to expand upon these characters and this fictional town.

Is this type of storytelling creating the right engagement with customers? Where could Starbucks take their narrative next?

Share examples of your favourite brand stories, or ones that have failed miserably in front of the eyes of consumers.

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Clean and Clear Features Jazz Jennings in Beautiful New Campaign

Clean and Clear’s #SeeTheRealMe campaign is a fresh perspective on the typical zit shaming acne ads. Rather then pointing out blemishes, the Johnson and Johnson skin care company focuses on feel good, esteem building stories.

Among the collection of mini bios is a story from Jazz Jennings. At only 14, she is a Youtube sensation, author and LGBTQ rights activist. Jazz is also transgender and has become a role model for children and teens. jazzHer Clean & Clear ad spot has been part of a recent cultural shift of including openly transgender people in mainstream media.

The spot features Jazz explaining her initial struggle with being a transgender pre-teen, and her journey of becoming authentically her. It is a story that any teen can relate to. Jazz’s dynamic personality and captivating smile light up the spot. 

Just this year, brands have made significant progress with the inclusion of same-sex relationships in their campaigns – tiffany-gay-couple-fullsuch as Tiffany and Co. who put this real life same-sex couple as the face of their 2015 engagement ad. Hallmark has also featured a same-sex couple in their 2015 Valentine’s Day spot called “Put Your Heart to Paper”. But as far as creating campaigns positively representing transgender people, Clean and Clear is one of the first to get it right.

The ads are also flawless because they rail against traditional skin care advertising. The beauty industry appears to be making a change in the way they communicate what “beauty” is to their audience. They approach the consumer more delicately rather than telling them how their skin should look. In turn, empowering, encouraging brands create a deeper relationship with customers.

The best part about this? If media makes these changes now to promote authenticity and inclusivity, new generations a more accepting world than those before them have. It is remarkable to see brands help shape that future world.

Ventis and Vinos – Starbucks Introducing a Little Happy Hour

Happy Hour starts at 4!

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In a pilot project launching this year, coffee giant Starbucks will be serving beer and wine at select Canadian locations. The project is titled “Starbucks Evenings” and has already been introduced by the company to American coffee shops. The “Evenings” menu also offers h’orderve style pairings with your beverage such as chicken skewers and bacon-wrapped dates.

The Evenings project is a great way to boost sales during low traffic hours. Typically a location will receive 70% of it’s daily business before 2 pm. Alcohol adds to Starbucks expanding selection of products (baked goods, sandwiches, iTunes cards). Starbucks7The company has been working hard to position itself as more than just a morning stop for a cup of joe, and is becoming a multi-service store. In the past few years, the dominating coffee company has been battling fast food chains who are competing with their own coffees. McCafe – McDonald’s successful bean brand is sneaking in as a close second to Starbs.

The US stores providing the Evenings menu have seen substantial success and experts are not worried about failure here in Canada. But some Canadian consumers have concerns. Based on online commentaries, some people don’t feel booze melds with the Starbucks atmosphere. Won’t customers who’ve had “one too many” disrupt the cafe vibe? Or even the boozy smell could off-put those expecting the rich coffee aroma we are used to. Others fear baristas aren’t equipped to be discerning IDers, or are uncomfortable with alcohol being more readily available and “to-go”.

The locations for the pilot project will be confirmed later this month, but they will most likely be based in major city centres such as Toronto. The company alludes that the project will be popular among their main target, women, who will prefer goat cheese flatbread and a glass of wine in a cozy coffee shop over the bar.

wine-tasting-tips-650x406I am trying to be unbiased, but as a twenty something who loves goat cheese and who could take or leave the bar scene, it sounds like my cup of…coffee.

Evaluating the Evolution of Smooth

It all started in the summer of 2013. A twerking, tweaking former teen star was climbing the charts with “We Can’t Stop”. (What a time to be alive!) And as I watched the insanely popular music video something struck me – no, not the giant bear backpacks and no, not the man eating a sandwich made of dollar bills. A simple application of lip balm in a round, red pod. miley

It was instantaneous I that wanted this. But why? It wasn’t until after a flurry of Google searching I found it these stress-ball sized spheres are 95% organic, petroleum free and full of vitamins. So how could a 2 second flash of product, applied by Hannah Montana (not someone I particularly idolize), conjure in me a need to try every colour available at the drug store? And how has this now ubiquitous brand stirred such a demand in other consumers?

The company, Evolution of Smooth or “Eos” has been around 2009. In recent years it has resurrected a love for lip balm not seen since the 90s. The company also produces hand creams, but it’s the balm that collects the big bucks. It rivals natural competitors Burt’s Bees and conventionally made products like Blistex.

Pop artists are throwing in almost as much product placement of Eos as Beats by Dre headphones. eosNow that’s saying something! Eos has over 3 million Facebook “likes” and over 800k Instagram followers. Celebs like Jennifer Lopez are gramming pics of themselves using unique Eos hashtags. jlo

The company’s wild popularity has sprung about a multitude of copycats such as this cube from recognized lip care brand Soft Lips. soft

Because of Eos’s strong social media presence, the company has invested in few traditional advertising efforts. They know their target audience (young, trendy, social media savvy) and capitalize on it. The product design is genius in it’s simplicity – modern, stylish, uncomplicated, candy coloured and collectable. It’s oversized shape doesn’t have much in the way of practicality (try putting one in your jean pocket), but neither does an oversized clutch or a pair of 5 inch heels. That doesn’t make them any less desirable. The balm itself is again simple in nature. Soft, sweet smelling and easy to apply. The little Eos “eggs” fit perfectly into this generation of chemical conscious consumers searching for product purity.

Target in the Red, Says Goodbye to the Red and White

I need bedsheets. And for the past week I’ve putting off making the Icelandic-expedition-like journey to my local Target store to get them. “Don’t worry, we can always buy them next week.” my boyfriend told me last evening, adding “Target will still be there on Monday.”

But as I awoke this morning, my Twitter feed was abuzz with some alarming news. In fact, Target might not be there come Monday. Target stores will be ripped out of their retail locations just as quickly as the discount department store showed up in the North, leaving 133 stores vacant. Target-Closing-075The American box store began their attempted takeover in 2013 – opening over a hundred stores all over Canada and adding 9 more the following year. The costly, “too large too quick” move left newly opened Targets disorganized and some shelves bare as the company struggled to keep up with demand. Disgruntled Canuck customers also complained that Target’s prices did not reflect the great deals of their American locations. This left them to turn back to what they knew – Wal-Mart (another American giant who has been part of the true north strong and free for 19 years now). Employees were frustrated with inventory mess ups and overstocked back rooms that made locating merchandise nearly impossible.

targeteteFor those just warming up to Target after the loss of a great Canadian retailer, Zellers, this has come at quite a shock. Target will be liquidating it’s merchandise over the next few months (a great time to buy bedsheets!) and it’s locations will become hauntingly empty ruins of what once was – the faces of failure. Not to mention the closing stores are coupled with the termination of nearly 18,000 jobs.

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Wal-Mart found it’s feet after a rocky few years on Canadian soil, and went on to become the nation’s biggest discount retailer. Other American companies that have had great success here include: H&M, Old Navy and Winners. So it was odd that Target execs stated the reason for closing was that they would not become profitable here until well into 2021. The retreat is a decision that is keeping Target share holders confident in the company’s new CEO’s plan to save this sinking ship. The failed expansion leaves Target in multibillion dollar debt.

Looks as though Canadians will have to put “Target” back on their list of stores to stock up at on their yearly shopping trips south of the border.

Brands Try To Be Your “Bae”, Lose Credit With Young People

baeThe word “bae” is a term of endearment used ad nauseam by today’s youth. It is a short form of “baby” or “sweetie”. The slang sprung to popularity this past summer after hip hop artist Pharrell Williams introduced it to our vocabularies with his catchy single “Come Get It Bae”, despite it being used by artists such as Kanye West years earlier. It’s lyrical origins can be traced all the way back to 2005, but it took 10 years to rise to mainstream glory. The word saturates internet memes, Twitter feeds and Instagram hashtags. It was recently declared one of the “Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English due to Misuse, Overuse or Uselessness” by Lake Superior State University.

Now brands such as Ragu and Hamburger Helper are jumping on the bae-wagon. But teens are not falling for these attempts to be cool. Picture a dorky uncle at the family barbecue trying to bond with his 15 year old nephew by claiming he’s into the hip hop and saying “yo yo yo” a lot. Part of me hopes these brands are subversively mocking this overused slang, but another part of me realizes that sadly they are not. I like this Tweet from Mountain Dew the best because it exhibits the way older generations place “the” baebefore names of things, such as “Why don’t we connect over The Facebook?”.

With Pizza Hut and Whole Foods begging to be bae, and the word already on the decline, chances are it’s demise is imminent. Young tweeters are responding in a negative way to these campaigns declaring the term officially uncool now that Walmart is using it to sell them toilet paper. I have faith that brands need not worry. With a new year upon us we will witness the dawn of a new slang word. And companies have all year to finally get around to sort figuring out what it means…

Vloggers – They’re Bigger Than Harry Potter

You may have heard of her. zoella-gifUK native Zoella Sugg recently published a book called “Girl on the Internet” which has sold more copies in it’s first week than fellow British author J.K. Rowling (you may have heard of her as well, she wrote series a few years back about wizards or something). Zoella, a 24 year old vlogger, has won the internet (take that Kim Kardashian!) with over 6.6 million subscribers on her Youtube channel. The basis of her vlog topics are typically beauty tips and shopping hauls. Zoella’s interweb fame has companies dishing out over $4,000 to her just for dropping their name or endorsing their product in one of her segments. Popular vloggers are now seen as one of the best ways to target young audiences, especially for the beauty industry.

She isn’t the first megastar of vlogging. Comedian Jenna Marbles (Jenna Mourey) became famous from her hysterically relatable how-to videos, such as “How to Trick People into Thinking You’re Good Looking” which gained over 5.3 million views in only it’s first week. jenna-marblesMakeup tutorialist Michelle Phan has reached 7 million subscribers which has gained her a cosmetic line with L’Oreal, EM by Michelle Phan.

I find Youtubing is a remarkable way for someone with great ideas to get themselves noticed. I also find the concept of watching someone on Youtube an interesting look into the consumer psyche, playing on the same reason why we become obsessed with reality TV. In my research of popular Youtube channels, I found many informative clips about everything from hair straightening to reviews on breakfast cereal. I also found astounding numbers of views for “Get Ready With Me” videos that featured girls narrating their daily routine from washing their face to picking out which mug they would have their morning tea in. 132,000 people sat through 8 minutes of the day in the life of someone they didn’t know doing mundane things we all do every morning. Welcome to Youtube.

Back to Zoella. I had never actually watched an upload of hers until I heard of her groundbreaking book release, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I started with a video called “My First Time”, which isn’t what you would think. The perky Brit answers questions through an HD lens about firsts such as her first word. Which she can’t remember. So she calls her mom. Her mom doesn’t answer. She leaves a voicemail. She calls her dad. He can’t remember. It goes on from there. The view count? 4, 433, 464.

The life of a young vlogger doesn’t come without it’s hardships though. Firstly, it is hard work to establish a vlog viewers want to see. In the case of Jenna Marbles, she struck it lucky with a video so funny it was a viral hit. And she followed through with more comedic content to keep viewers hooked. Vloggers must be consistent, dedicated to making fresh videos and responding to the community (yes, Youtube is a strong online community). It helps if they display a likeable personality which will help viewers get to know them on a level one would get to know a friend. Vloggers must face the criticism of trolling commentors making harsh remarks or stirring up religion based baloney just to get a reaction. apple-girl-laptop-mac-netbook-Favim.com-362559

And so I add vlogs to the list of ways advertising is rapidly changing. With the staggering rates in which some successful vlogstars get paid by companies ($300,000 a year in some cases), perhaps I’ll turn Sell Me About It into a video log. You can watch me discuss marketing trends as I simultaneously apply mascara. After that I’ll fold some laundry, I’m sure I can gain a few hundred thousand views for that.