Storytelling in marketing terms isn’t just about producing an advert with a narrative, it’s about telling the story of the ‘brand’ across multiple channels, and using various tools and methods to do so.
Storytelling can give credibility and personality to brands, helping to build more meaningful relationships with customers by either highlighting the people behind the brand, creating a distinct tone of voice, or by using the history of the brand to broaden the richness and authenticity of a story.
During challenging times, storytelling can also be powerful driver of loyalty, helping to reassure consumers and instil trust. Here are six case studies that prove its value.
Spotify uses data-driven storytelling to create its annual ‘Spotify Wrapped’ campaign, which sums up the biggest streaming trends of the year – and the cultural events that defined them.
For its 2019 campaign, Spotify extended Wrapped to an entire decade, bringing to life the biggest hits (and guilty pleasures) of the past ten years. From the amount of people who regularly listen to Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, to some of the best and weirdest playlist names (such as “Manbuns and Fidget Spinners”) – Spotify brought to life the listening habits of its users with clever OOH and digital campaign.
Spotify Wrapped 2019. Image source: Newsroom.spotify.com
Alongside ads, Spotify used personalisation to drive deeper engagement, with each user once again receiving their own personalised Wrapped playlist. According to Forbes, more than 60 million users engaged with the in-app story experience, contributing to nearly three billion streams from Wrapped playlists.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, the Spotify Wrapped 2019 campaign was mentioned in at least 1.2 million posts in less than a month. Spotify rounded off the campaign with a TV spot that showcased the diversity of users’ music tastes during the past decade, fulfilling Spotify’s wider aim of telling personalised stories through music
British Gas re-positioned its brand at the start of 2020, with the aim of showing people that it is ‘more than just an energy supplier’. The ‘Here to Solve’ campaign used storytelling to bring to attention the work of its employees, along with the vital part the company plays in the lives of British families.
The most unique element of the campaign was that TV ads were shot from the perspective of the customer, which helped to create an emotionally-charged narrative. The first two ads highlighted the impact of a broken boiler or power cut, and how this can hinder the busy and complex nature of modern life.
Since, British Gas has continued its ‘Here to Solve’ campaign with a new ad created in light of Covid-19, depicting the challenges that the pandemic has brought both customers and employees. This time, however, the company flipped the perspective to that of British Gas workers, serving to highlight the important work done during lockdown (and the wider brand purpose of British Gas). The campaign was praised as one of the best brand responses to the pandemic, largely due to how it injected humour and relatability into a serious subject matter.
British Gas has also responded to the pandemic with a series of instructional “how to’s” on social channels. One such video, which instructs users how to re-pressurise a boiler, has generated over 62,000 views on YouTube.
Disney is a master of storytelling, successfully using it to drive the customer experience within its parks and resorts. The brand also utilises compelling narratives to drive awareness of its destinations, for example telling the emotive story of a charismatic duckling, in the ‘Little Duck’ campaign to promote Disneyland Paris.
The ad sees the little duck become transfixed with his idol, Donald Duck, before his dream of meeting him eventually becomes a reality.
Disney said in a press release: “This film represents an evolution of the brand’s communication, moving towards the sort of universal storytelling that the Disney brand embodies.” Indeed, the cute animation and evocative music successfully tugs on the heartstrings, cementing the idea that magic can become reality at Disneyland.
While some described it as overly sentimental, the ad’s emotionally-driven story helped it go viral at the end of 2018, with the ad going on to generate over 3.8 million views on YouTube, making it Disneyland Paris’ most popular video by a landslide number.
Storytelling is not only an effective consumer-facing strategy, but it can also be utilised for internal purposes such as HR, and talent and recruitment. Heineken proved this in 2019 with its ‘Go Places’ campaign, re-launched for the second time to drive a new phase of its employee branding strategy. According to Marketing Week, the tone of the campaign stemmed from Heineken’s own research into what areas the brand should focus on. It determined that authenticity, transcendency, and a long-term management of brand recruitment was needed in order to successfully drive interest (and not just a short-term spike).
The new campaign featured 33 Heineken employees from 22 different markets – ranging from Spain to Singapore – each one faced with a challenge that they need to turn into an opportunity. By using the stories of its own employees, Heineken successfully demonstrated the diverse opportunities within the organisation, as well as the characteristics needed to succeed.
Heineken’s initial campaign was successful in driving talent and acquisition, with a 56% increase in applications seen during the campaign period. ‘Go Places 2.0’ also successfully contributed to Heineken’s employee-focused reputation – on the back of the campaign it was named as the most-sought after employer in a 2019 Universum survey of over 11,500 Dutch professionals.
We’ve seen brands take storytelling to a new level in the past few years, with some creating fully-fledged brand-funded films or documentaries. One notable example is HP, which created ‘History of Memory’ – a documentary film series that depicts the four real life stories of people whose lives were changed by a photograph.
As well as releasing the film through its HP’s digital channels, including Facebook and YouTube, HP also released it to a number of film festivals, resulting in huge praise for the brand. ‘History of Memory’ won the 2019 Tribeca X award for best branded episodic series as well as a number of other festival awards. As Angela Matusik, Head of Corporate Brand, Creative and Content for HP explains, consumer reaction has also been positive. “We connected each to a moment in time – Valentine’s Day through to National Adoption Day just the other week”, she said “This allowed us to catch a wave of organic traffic and promote them across all our platforms.”
Indeed, the reason the films have resonated so well is that they are not overly branded, or feature specific HP products. Rather, they are designed to elicit a reaction from the viewer based on real and authentic themes such as childhood, love, and memory.
Angela Matusik also told Muse, “The storytelling power of films allows brands to connect with audiences in ways that traditional ads and marketing do not. These films don’t interrupt their viewing, but rather become a part of it.”
Most footwear brands focus on style or the inspiring power of sport. For Allbirds, its brand positioning is largely rooted in sustainability, with the subject informing most of its marketing efforts. Case in point was the ‘Meet your Shoes’ campaign, which invited members of the public to actually meet their shoes, made possible by the fact that AllBirds shoes are sourced using natural materials such as sheep wool or eucalyptus trees.
Alongside a humorous ad, which relays the stories of people who are compelled to meet their shoes, AllBirds set up a dedicated website in order for customers to do the same – i.e. locate the exact paddock or field where the sheep or trees live.
Interestingly, AllBirds also chose Spotify as an advertising partner for the campaign, utilising the platform’s Video Takeover and Audio Everywhere tools in order to roll out ads. This enabled AllBirds to enhance the storytelling aspects, by honing on on individual quests.
Through targeting listeners on Spotify, AllBirds achieved a 457% boost in brand awareness compared to a control audience, a 333% lift in the brand’s association with comfort, and a 367% rise in positive opinion.