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.

Skype video chat social media
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 

pumpkin spice latte starbucks
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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.


KFC Introduces Something You Never Thought You Needed: Edible Coffee Cups

In an attempt to jump on the bean wagon, Kentucky Fried Chicken is introducing an Arabica-based coffee blend. And they’ve got a nifty way of promoting it!

edible cup

The edible coffee cup is part biscuit, part sugar paper (what’s that?) and part delicious white chocolate. It will be scented with various aromas such as sunscreen or fresh cut grass to evoke positive summer memories in customers. The cup will be available in KFC restaurants in the U.K. this summer.

As weird as you may find the concept, there are benefits to a cookie, grass smelling cup. The warm coffee melts the chocolate lining as you drink, so you’re coffee becomes sweeter and the cookie softens. Also, an edible cup means zero waste. With millions of disposable cups tossed into landfills each year, and coffee cup production causing harmful CO2 emissions, a little waste reduction doesn’t hurt.

From a promotional side, I don’t quite “get” the idea of my cup smelling like grass…or sunblock…or wildflowers. But I admit it will have some fast foodies keen to give it a try.

Ventis and Vinos – Starbucks Introducing a Little Happy Hour

Happy Hour starts at 4!


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.

Pre Order Your Pumpkin Spice! Starbucks Introduces Mobile Ordering App

6:00 AM – Your alarm is chiming. You fumble for your phone to hit ‘snooze’.

6:04 AM – That wasn’t enough of a snooze but your routine of putting yourself together for the day doesn’t allow you any more sleep.

6:45 AM – You’re running for your bus.

7:00 AM – You’re running for your second bus.

7:45 AM – You’ve made it to Starbucks with 15 minutes to spare before your meeting/interview/presentation and you’re ready to order your favourite venti mocha/chestnut/pumpkin/caramel with whip. Always get whip. Alas, the line to the counter is ten miles long! And the front runner of the eager orderers has never set foot in a Starbucks! She doesn’t know whether to get whip! You watch the clock tick as the line is at a stand still. Does this sound familiar?


Starbucks has come up with a solution! The coffee shop heavyweight, which originated in Seattle, is testing a mobile ordering app in 150 of their stores in Portland, Oregon. The app for smartphones will allow customers to pre-order their beverage and pick it up without waiting in a massive line-up.

This sounds like a great innovation for consumers because, as a society, we are moving towards a digital future. If the tests are successful the app will give Starbucks an edge on competitors and make it easy for the company to collect data on customer ordering patterns. It will also be another platform to infuse with targeted ads.

Studies conducted on digital ordering have shown that consumers will spend more when placing orders online. Pizza delivery companies such as Domino’s have seen a very positive response to their online ordering option. 

The development of these apps and features highlight the way our purchasing behaviour is changing. We are drifting away from the person to person aspect of the purchase, cutting more time off our already fast food. Apple launched Apple Pay this past Monday, an app I’ve been expecting for a while now. It lets iPhone users pay by simply pulling out their device. No longer must you plunder through your pockets or dig for your wallet as you approach the checkout. Lopping off precious moments spent scrounging, and detaching you from the idea that money is being removed from your account. Passbook_ApplePay_JPEG_800

Starbucks customers in other parts of the world will have to wait until Christmas time to try out the app for themselves. This is good news to those of you whose mornings are plagued with lengthy lines and indecisive imbeciles imploring baristas as to what exactly is a “dark roast”.