Our brain thrives on storytelling. We are programmed to listen to stories, we are programmed to tell stories. Every company needs a story to tell the world that represents the essence of their brand to the world. A brand story is absolutely essential to selling your product, or service. Capiche? Let’s take a look at some of the best brand story examples.
What is brand storytelling?
Brand stories activate emotions and communicate values. Your brand story is a complete picture of various elements from website copy to social media, to traditional ads. It’s the way your brand presents itself to the world and the way the public perceives you.
We need narratives for our CEOs to inspire others to join their cause, for our sales team to convince people to buy, and for our customer support centers to convey a positive experience.
Brand narratives evolve over time, changing to suit the product, the market, culture, and the audience. A brand’s story must be true, and it must help sell whatever it is you’re selling. You can’t control a brand’s narrative (and your audience may take it places you’d never expect it to go), but you can shape it.
The most important rule of brand storytelling? Your brand is not the hero, the consumer is. To resonate with your audience, your brand should play a supporting role that will help improve their life.
“You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.”William Bernbach
What defines a great brand story?
Storytelling can be taught, and mastering the rules can help us create compelling narratives. When done successfully, a great brand story should do the following.
- Show how the product or service can improve the consumer’s life. It doesn’t have to be a HUGE change, it just needs to be an improvement of some kind.
- Pack an emotional punch. Whether we like it or not, humans are driven by emotion. People buy things because of the emotional impact or advantage they offer.
- Connect with the audience. The story involves the people you are selling to.
- Tell the truth. The best brand stories make you believe that the story they are telling is truly the brand’s mission.
How to write a brand story
Storytelling can help change your business. So how do you write one?
- Think about what you can turn into a story. Is there something that you’ve observed your consumers doing? Is there something they have told you about using your product or services? If you’re not sure, a survey could help.
- Find a hero. A good brand story features a main character that your audience can relate to.
- Give your hero a goal or desire. Think about how your main character wants and how you can show that want.
- Add a source of conflict. What keeps your hero from getting what they want? What must they overcome to achieve their goal?
- Make it entertaining. How will your hero achieve his or her goal in an interesting way?
- Let your hero change. Think about how your main character or supporting characters develop over the story. This is an essential part of making your story compelling to your audience.
- Keep it simple. People can only remember three pieces of information at a time, so don’t pack your brand story full of unnecessary details.
- Continue to innovate and refine over and over again. A good narrative doesn’t happen overnight, in fact, it can take years to perfect.
11 of the best brand story examples
Okay, enough theory, let’s move on to the best brand story examples. You haven’t got all day, so I’m going to focus on videos (arguably the best method of brand storytelling) and talk about how they fit in with a brand’s broader story. I’ll pick some classics, as well as some ads that are probably a little less well known internationally.
1. Google, Parisian Love
Google is a relatively young brand, which was founded in 1995 and was initially named Backrub. After a quick change of name, it skyrocketed past the competition and into the popular vernacular. Google is all about advertising, yet it rarely advertises its search capabilities on the screen. When it does, it turns off the sales pitch and focuses on human stories. Google commercials use minimal branding, and rarely include a call to action. What’s consistent with the brand is the message that it can change your life.
Parisian Love is a three-act story told using the product it advertises. We follow the story what we presume to be a young man Googling his French adventure starting at studying abroad, then falling in love, and finally starting a family. We don’t see the protagonist, we just watch their Google search history played to sound effects and a gentle piano track.
Why it works:
The 52-second Super Bowl slot allows the audience to directly see how the product can make an impact on someone’s life. It is a simple human story with an instant “ahh” factor that lead it to be shared quickly on social networks. There’s a hero, who has to overcome conflict (not being with his love interest) to live happily ever after (marriage and pregnancy).
2. Ikea, Lamp
Whether you like or loathe Ikea, there’s no denying how significantly IKEA changed the landscape when they first opened stores in Europe in the 1940s. Dubbed the “brand of many” by the Observer (source), IKEA is both experiential and quirky. You see that quirkiness and imagination everywhere from the delightful product names to the amusing products themselves. This extends into advertising, and this classic 2002 “Unboring” campaign by Crispin Porter + Bogusky directed by Spike Jonze takes that and runs with it.
Why it works:
This narrative gives characterization to an inanimate object, in this case, a lamp. It’s a story that plays with our emotions — we follow a series of events happening to the lamp, and we think that it must be the hero. Naturally, we start to empathize with it.
The fun twist is a man walking into shot and calling us out for our lack of judgment. “Many of you feel bad for this lamp. This is because you’re crazy. This lamp has no feelings. And the new one is much better.”
It’s a delightful rug-pull that demonstrates both an excellent understanding of storytelling and how the brain works on story. Would it be different if it were made today? Absolutely — we’re seeing a shift from throwing things away to reusing them, and that’s where Lamp 2 steps in as a sequel.
3. Apple, 1984
Steve Jobs famously said, “it’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy,” and that attitude permeated a lot of Apple’s most significant product launches. This iconic ad, created by the agency TBWA\Chiat\Day and directed by Ridley Scott put Apple on the map at the Super Bowl. Based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel, the ad cost $650,000 to make and featured a British discus thrower as the woman who stops crowds of men from mindlessly following the words of a dictator on the screen. But it almost didn’t air. In fact, test groups found it to be one of the least effective commercials made.
Taking a risk
Why it works:
A company needs to tell a different story at different stages of their life, and this ad makes a powerful statement, in the middle of a very challenging political climate. It manages to both make a comment on American politics as well as its rivals IBM. It doesn’t just say ‘we’re different,’ it says, “we’re revolutionary.”
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak loved 1984 and decided to ignore the test groups and air it anyway. Their risk paid off, and today, it’s one of the most memorable Super Bowl spots. It wasn’t until 1997 that we had the slogan Think Different, but this advert firmly plants that attitude as a seed in the audience’s mind.
5. Compare the Market, Compare the Meerkat
Compare the Market is probably not well known overseas, but in the UK, it’s a popular price comparison website. The Compare the Meerkat campaign launched in 2009 and was created by the VCCP agency. While Compare the Market wanted to build a trusted brand, their advertising campaign (which features prominently across all their marketing channels) suggests that they don’t take themselves too seriously.
A sense of humor
Why it works:
Alexander is a cute character with an easy to remember catchphrase, “Simples.” He’s introduced here in this 30-second advert that sets the audience up for future storytelling opportunities. Alexander was immediately a hit with the British public, who flocked to buy toys of the CGI character.
We don’t know much about Alexander, just that he appears to be Russian, wealthy, and that he’s started a website where he compares meerkats. It’s memorable, witty, and leaves plenty of opportunities for follow on storylines. And that’s precisely what the brand has done. Compare the Meerkat is still going strong ten years later with more recent ads using celebrity selling power, such as this Kingsmen tie-in with the (delightful) Colin Firth.
6. Old Spice, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like
Old Spice is a brand my Dad wore in the 1970s and 80s, but the brand itself goes way back to the 1930s. The founder of the Shulton Company, William Lightfoot Schultz, who manufactured the product, chose a nautical theme for the brand. Throughout the years the brand has used colonial sailing ships as a motif. Now owned by Procter & Gamble, those sailing ships may not be a central theme, but they are still present.
The challenge to Old Spice is staying relevant to a younger generation, and this is where the Wieden+Kennedy ad, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign comes into play.
The basic premise is not that Old Spice will transform your man into the perfect man, but that Old Spice can make your man smell like the perfect man. “Anything is possible when you smell like a man and not a lady.”
Targeting a new audience
Why it works:
Instead of reaching out to men, the Old Spice guy talks directly to the ladies. It’s genius because it takes a brand that is associated with granddads and makes it appealing to a modern generation. How does it do that? Well, it’s well-written (and very quotable), and while it might inspire the perfect lifestyle, it certainly doesn’t over promise anything. It inspired several spoofs, including Smell Like a Monster featuring my favorite blue furry monster, Grover.
7. Pampers, Stinky Booty 2.0
In 1956, unsatisfied with having to change his grandson’s cloth diapers, a Procter & Gamble researcher by the name of Victor Mills, took on the challenge of making a disposable diaper. Today, Pampers is a trusted brand with many loyal followers, and its brand DNA is happy, healthy development for babies everywhere. This extends into all their storytelling, from packaging to ads featuring happy, laughing babies of all genders and race.
In this ad campaign by Pampers and Friends at Work, John Legend changes his baby’s bottom, with the power of pampers and a support group of singing dads.
Changing the status quo
Why it works:
Pampers fights against social stereotypes by showing that men can change diapers too, using the celebrity power and vocal cords of John Legend and Adam Levigne. What really makes this ad work is Chrissy Teigen (Twitter’s current doyenne) who is every woman asking, do you want a medal for this? It’s relatable and it subtly tells the viewer, if it’s good enough for a celebrity’s baby bottom, then it must be good enough for mine.
8. Marks & Spencer, This is Not Just Food
Oh, how I love (and miss) Marks & Sparks. It’s a brand that I’ve grown up with and am very loyal to. I’m happy to spend a good hour or so browsing around the Bluewater store every time I go home. Not because it’s an innovative brand, but because it sells quality high street fashion that lasts. Or to put it another way — great bras and damn fine sandwiches. It’s a company that has had its ups and downs since starting in 1881, but the quintessentially British brand has held true to its brand position of premium quality for consumers.
“This is not just food, this is Marks & Spencer food” was a 2004 campaign by that focused on the quality of M&S groceries.
Focusing on quality
Why it works:
This isn’t a story, so why have I chosen it? Well, because it helps to paint a bigger story. With a sultry voice-over by actress Dervla Kirwan, some sexy food photography (lights down low, those parsnips! That pudding!), and Fleetwood Mac as the background music, the story the ads tell is that the food M&S sell is of the highest quality. The public nicknamed it “food porn,” and the reason these ads work is because they are easy to remember and easy to mimic. This ad is now such a classic that M&S have resurrected it after 12 years, with the latest ads injecting a little fun and humor into the campaign.
9. Warby Parker, How Warby Parker Glasses Are Made
Compared to many brands out there, Warby Parker is a baby. Buying glasses online is very different from an in-store experience, where you can simply select different pairs and try them on. Warby Parker wanted to circumvent traditional purchasing channels, and they wanted to make their experience fun. Their first job? To make people care, and to do that, they had to start with great storytelling.
As a brand, they keep their story simple. Look across their website and social channels, and you’ll find unpretentious copywriting and eye-catching photography, and this 2018 ad, explaining how glasses are made is no different.
Telling the right story at the right time
Why it works:
Here’s a company sharing their story by explaining how they make their product and putting their people and the way they work in the spotlight. It shows that they care about quality. It’s exactly the right story to tell to launch the brand to a broader audience. They don’t try to fit everything in, but you learn a lot about them in a short space of time.
This spot doesn’t feel fun, but that’s okay because they’ve told us in the first ten seconds that fun is important to them. We quickly pick up on the brand’s meaning and purpose, and thanks to the affordable price point, the audience can imagine owning a pair of high-quality glasses. I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to own a pair of specs.
It’s okay though, fun fans. There are TWO ads! The second commercial, It’s Mesmerizing Isn’t It? manages to inject the fun and quirkiness that we see in Warby Parker’s annual reports. It’s a fun follow up that shows an appreciation of the craftsmanship that goes into making the glasses as well as the camera work. Yup, I definitely want a pair of glasses now.
10. Mercedes Benz, Snow Date
Mercedes Benz is a brand that’s over a century old. We know it from the Janis Joplin song, “Oh lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” and its emblem, the three-pointed star represents the use of Daimler engines on land, at sea, and in the air. Mercedes Benz stands for “the best or nothing.” We associate the brand with perfectionism and exclusivity.
Snow Date, the 2016 ad by Merkley + Partners, focuses on the reliability of the 4-MATIC 4 wheel drive. In his Mercedes Benz, the boy’s father has no trouble in driving him to the cinema. When he gets there, we wonder for a fraction of time whether his date is going to make it, and then we see the headlights of another Mercedes Benz.
Why it works:
This is a beautiful ad that gets me in the feels every time. (Seriously, why am I crying? This is about a car!). The basic premise of the story is that a boy needs to get to his date safely in the snow. We have an engaging character (the boy), overcoming a terrible obstacle (the snow) to reach a desirable goal (the girl).
11. John Lewis Insurance, Tiny Dancer
John Lewis is a chain of high-end British department stores. Founded in 1929, their motto was “never knowingly undersold,” which essentially meant that if you found something cheaper anywhere else, they would refund you the difference.
John Lewis’s brand DNA is about good value, excellent service, and honesty. Home, car, pet, and travel insurance all fall under that umbrella. Tiny Dancer is a 2015 adam&eveDDB commercial, featuring eight-year-old ballet enthusiast, Bunny May Lawrence McHugh.
Why it works:
This is a lovely ad that works because it’s both relatable and nostalgic. As we follow Bunny dancing around her house, she touches, pulls, pushes, tugs at almost every item in every room, providing moments of tension without being overly dramatic.
The addition of the familiar Elton John song provides us with the element of nostalgia and suggest that this scene could take place at any time — past or present. This vignette does an excellent job of reminding the viewer that home insurance is useful. And the boy on the stairs is every brother who thinks his sister is being ridiculous.
Gender stereotyping maybe? But the passionate performance more than makes up for it.
11. Nike, Angry Chicken
Back in the day, Nike was an upstart — a competitor to established brands like Adidas, and it had a bit of an edge. “Just do it” is a recognizable call to action that speaks to the individual and Nike has stuck true to it for over 30 years. It’s a brilliant compliment to the instantly recognizable swoosh logo. So how does this Wieden + Kennedy 2002 ad that launched the Presto shoe stay true to that?
Narrated by a very calm Frenchman and translated into English, Angry Chicken doesn’t really make much sense. It follows a narrative — a man has made a chicken angry, and it is following him. What will happen if the chicken catches him? We’re not sure, but it’s probably something bad. He can’t outwit the chicken, but he finally manages to.
Breaking the format
Why it works: Is the man being sporty? Well, yes, he’s doing parkour, it’s just that he’s up against a very intelligent chicken. It’s when his Presto shoe helps him to scale a wall that he manages to finally outsmart the chicken.
Is the man “just doing it?” well, yes I guess he is. Why is it memorable? Because it breaks the format for the genre. In other words, it’s different from any other ad for a sporting company.
Stories are a great way of catching your audience’s attention and for maintaining it. Not just any story — emotional, well-crafted stories. The best brand story examples have one thing in common: a relatable hero who shows that using a product or service positively changes their life for the better.