storytelling in marketing

5 Examples of Effective Storytelling in Marketing For 2021

Some of the most effective, most brilliant, most emotional, and funniest ads you’ll ever see have something in common: They all tell a story. And not just any story, but one that is relatable and—more often than not—pulls a little bit at the heartstrings.

This type of marketing strategy is exactly what it sounds like. Simply put, it’s a marketing campaign (most often an advertisement or TV spot) that focuses on a specific storyline instead of only focusing on the products or services the company is trying to sell. There are many great examples of storytelling in marketing, but before we get to the best storytelling ads, let’s discuss what makes these types of campaigns so successful.

Storytelling in marketing allows brands and companies to do several things that regular advertising or solely product or service-specific marketing initiatives simply can’t:

Create a deep connection with the audience – The best, most memorable storytelling ads are often ones that elicit an emotional response from the audience. Sometimes the ad can be humorous; sometimes, it can be bittersweet. Emotional connections with consumers are the end goal for all brands. If brands can effectively create a deeper relationship with their consumers, it can lead them to become loyal customers for the rest of their lives. Storytelling ads are a great way to do just that.

Learn more about their consumers – To create a relatable storytelling campaign or ad, you need to understand your consumers. What are their hopes, their fears? What do they struggle with? What do they aspire to do? How does our product help them reach their highest aspirations? Setting out to create a storytelling advertisement will help you discover the answers to these important questions.

Improve the engagement of their campaigns – As you’ll see from the examples below and how many views they have on YouTube, a certain virality comes with a storytelling campaign. When they are done well, they have the chance of being seen by millions of people. This is especially important for lesser-known companies or nonprofits. Building awareness for nonprofits is an essential part of increasing donations.

Now that we understand why storytelling ads can be powerful, here are 5 examples of organizations that did it right.

“Likes don’t save lives” – UNICEF Sweden

First up, we have a nonprofit marketing campaign. While many examples of storytelling campaigns come from big brands, nonprofits can also utilize the storytelling formula to create powerful ads that encourage action. This ad tells the story of a young boy who is seemingly in charge of taking care of his younger brother after their mother passed away from an illness. The boy says he isn’t worried, however, as UNICEF has 170,000 ‘Likes’ on Facebook, and that maybe they’ll get to 200,000 soon. The idea here is that while being aware of nonprofits and the causes they fight for is important, taking action and donating or volunteering (if you are able to) is even more important.

The takeaway: When it comes to making a difference and helping nonprofits, awareness is only step one. Action is step two.

While nonprofits may not always have the resources to pull off some of the higher budget commercials that you’ll see below, there are other avenues in which nonprofits can utilize storytelling elements. For example, posting success stories on social media and on your website or writing a blog post about your new fundraising record are just a few ways to do so.

“The whole working-from-home thing” — Apple

If you searched “best ads of 2020” on Google, no doubt nearly every list would contain this gem from Apple. The Silicon Valley powerhouse is known for its impressive marketing, from branding to social media, to their TV spots and beyond. When it comes to creating a compelling brand narrative and telling stories that intrigue, Apple is one of the best.

Apple shoots for relatability here, as we all are familiar with the troubles of working from home during 2020. While we have all—for the most part—gotten things down, the early days of working from home were pretty chaotic for all. The story that Apple tells here is about a team that overcomes the pitfalls of WFH to come together and complete a project. In between, there are kids running rampant in the background, chores being done during meetings, an appearance from “Mike From Finance,” and an all-nighter montage.

What’s great about this spot is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the stresses of working from home during a pandemic. Instead, it acknowledges the difficulties of 2020 and shows how Apple’s products can be used to make your life even a little easier and a little less hectic.

The takeaway: 2020 has turned working on its head. Apple is here to make your life easier.

“Dear Brother” – Johnnie Walker

One patented trick of a good storytelling ad is not showing the product or brand logo until after the ad has ended or incorporating a big reveal at the end. All the while, the viewer is captivated by the story. In the back of their minds, they are curious as to what will be the reveal.

This spot from Johnnie Walker, created by the filmmakers Dorian and Daniel, is a great example of this type of storytelling. Two brothers walk through the serene and breathtaking Scotland countryside. One is carrying a package of some sort, wrapped in a blanket with twine. Through their interactions together, we can tell that the brothers are close. At one point, they share a drink in an abandoned, run-down home. We do get a glimpse of the Johnnie Walker label, but unless you’re familiar with the brand, you can’t exactly tell what it is. The big reveal of the ad is that one of the brothers has passed away. The package one of the brothers was holding is his brother’s ashes. He spreads them out over the Scottish cliffs, and we get the Johnnie Walker slogan, “Keep Walking,” followed by their logo.

The takeaway: As a brand, Johnnie Walker understands the importance of family and keeping them close even when they are gone. Johnnie Walker is a liquor to bond over with loved ones.

“Christmas Commercial 2020” – Coca-Cola

Family has taken on new importance in 2020. Not being able to be close to loved ones has been difficult for us all. This TV spot from Coca-Cola, which they released during the holidays, shows just how far one man is willing to go for his daughter. Intent on delivering his daughter’s letter to Santa as he is off working on a wind farm in the ocean, the protagonist of this story risks life and limb to find St. Nick. While he eventually reaches the North Pole, he is too late. Or so it appears until a Coca-Cola truck shows up and gives the man a ride back to his home. Once home, our hero opens his daughter’s letter to Santa, which reads, “Dear Santa, Please bring daddy home for Christmas.” The front door of his home swings open and out runs his daughter, who leaps into his arms. The Coca-Cola truck drives away, and we see that it was Santa this whole time.

Cheesy? Of course. A little manipulative? Possibly. Effective? Certainly.

It fits perfectly with the marketing messaging strategy they’ve cultivated over the years, “Share a Coke,” and the idea that Coca-Cola brings people together, transcending generations. Most important, it’s a beautiful human story that creates a powerful emotional response (just read the YouTube comments).

The takeaway: Coca-Cola is a reliable company that you can count on. And like the Johnnie Walker spot, it illustrates their values as a company, particularly connection with and the love of family and friends.

“Loretta” – Google

There are a lot of downsides to social media and the digital age. But, there are a lot of good things that have come from the digital revolution. Staying connected with loved ones and having more ways to hold on to fond memories and experiences is one of them.

This Super Bowl spot from Google is perhaps even more of a “tear at the heartstrings” ad when compared to the Coca-Cola example. Using a real-life story of an aging man who struggled to remember the details and memories of his late wife, Google created one of the most emotionally resonant ads of all time. The man is shown using Google to help him reminisce about the love of his life. From their trips together to their favorite movie, the ad ends with the reminder of “Loretta always said, don’t miss me too much, and get out of the dang house.” The man can then be heard heading for the door and calling for his dog to go on a walk.

It’s heartbreaking and packs a punch that even the saddest of movies can’t compete with. But there is a clear message of hope, too.

The takeaway: Preserve your fondest memories and experiences with Google.

As you can see, there is no sound formula for how to create a compelling storytelling ad spot or campaign. They can be fun and light-hearted, or they can be sincere, emotionally-heavy, and bittersweet. But, when done right, they can be extremely effective for building a better connection with an audience.

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