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Strategic Marketing

Tell Me a Story: The Power of Brand Narrative

Storytelling marketing branding

AdvertisementsCommunicating a brand follows the same principles as story-telling. There is the presence of a structure and features that not only captivate attention, but fully immerse your audience into the story leaving a long lasting impression. These stories can be told in a number of ways, including conventional as well as non-conventional advertising and in-person brand experiences and so forth. By all means, in an age where video has become a prime marketing tool, with credit to the likes of Youtube and Vimeo, delivering a brand story to a global market has never been so easy and effective. A plethora of social media networks can make sure your story is liked, shared and tweeted to millions world wide, you can easily exceed expected potential with the right approach.

The concept of writing brand narrative is challenging, but rewarding. It is often the work of a creative and strategic team, interpreting archetypal, demographic and psychographic information then implying creative elements to create emotional engagement that’s relevant and impacting. So what makes a good brand narrative? Everything from the language, to the content and composition should communicate the brand truthfully. The story communicates brand values to the audience, and with more people making conscious decisions with purchases, it is more important than ever to be genuine. For example, a heritage brand that represents traditional family values would not benefit from an ultra modern, trend-led campaign as it will alienate it’s core market and risk losing appeal. It has to be honest with it’s market, and itself. 

Last year’s Christmas campaign from Sainsbury’s depicting the truce during WWI reflected authenticity through the message delivered, from the script, to the set, the music and every feature. However, it also communicated the true value of the brand and its festive tagline, ‘Christmas Is For Sharing’, using the ad to tell a story from two warring sides who shared a moment together during a time of struggle. It is safe to say the campaign was a success. The advertisement reissued the classic chocolate bar, that helped raise money for the British Legion, and to date it has been seen on YouTube alone over 17.6 million times. There is no doubt this will be a future advertising classic.

J Sainsbury plc Logo

There are many examples of story telling in advertisements, some successful, others less so. Exceptional brand narrators would be Diageo’s Irish beverage, Guinness. Their delivery often takes the form of classic film. From the racing snails, Chinese whispers to evolution in rewind, there are many accounts of brand excellence, but one that raised the bar was the 1999 Surfer ad.  Taking inspiration from Walter Crane’s 1982 painting ‘Neptune’s Horses’, creative agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and director Jonathan Glazer told the story of a surfer waiting for the right time to catch the perfect wave. The story became a multi-award winning creation that was voted as “the best ad of all time by Channel 4 and The Sunday Times, as well as being quoted as among the “greatest advertising of all time” by the Independent.

The spoken narrative tells a story of triumph over challenge, how a hero through determination, wisdom and skill, perseveres. The ‘Tick follows tock follows tick’ monologue emphasises the patience of the waiting for the wave. Tensions build accompanied by filtering in of the soundtrack, which became the main drums in Leftfield’s Phat Planet. The text takes inspiration from Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’, with the line “Ahab says, I don’t care who you are, here’s to your dream”. Racing towards the water and taking on the waves, the music intensifies with cinematic beauty of rolling waves merging with white horses, symbolising the raw strength of the ocean. As the victor makes it to shore having conquered the wave, he rejoins his surfer friends to celebrate.

What makes this advertisement successful is the unexpected dream-like narrative that has become typically expected of Guinness. There simply was nothing like it at the time. It broke boundaries and tested uncharted waters. Symbolically, it could be argued that the surfer, represents the Guinness brand as the archetypal hero. Unique in their own way, they rise to challenges and succeed where others falter. Guinness is addressed as the choice of victors. Ending with the tagline ‘Good things come to those who wait’. The line has become synonymous with Guinness. The implication is that the beverage is the result of a long brewing process that is definitely worth the wait, as would a champion emerge victorious after ‘waiting’ with years of practice and dedication to their craft.

The story starts with equilibrium, passes through turbulence and ends with harmony restored, with the feeling of more pending, airing a sense of mystery and anticipation. For the values it communicates, to the identifiable relations of the characters, to the culmination of brand and creative architecture used within the ad, the Guinness ‘Surfercampaign takes the prescriptive formula of story telling to a new standard. Today the commercial is sixteen years old, but to be cited as the best advertisement of all time, speaks for itself.

In 2015, Guinness maintained the high standards of story-telling, this time round approaching the narrative from real accounts. The Made of More campaign told the stories of particular players in the 2015 Rugby World Cup who had overcame life challenges. One tells the story of Gareth Thomas, the Welsh captain who found the courage to come out as gay in 2009. In a sport that has always been associated with strength and endurance, coincides with the story beautifully conveying one man’s person victory to overcome his personal demons and take life head-on. Another ad follows the story behind Springbok Ashwin Willemse. Before Ashwin found his place in rugby, he became involved with the notorious local gang culture in Cape Town, South Africa. He explains how his morals and conscience sought to find a way out of a life filled with drugs and violence. When he became a rugby player, he became part of a team. The team was there for him during his struggle, all united by their love for the sport.

Both of these ads tell stories of personal triumph, and how a sport which unifies them helped them transcend personal struggles to grow as human beings. Using the perfect balance of personal narration and reenactment without overt sentiment, the commercials conveyed the message that we are all human, with stories to tell and despite these people being some of the best rugby players in the world, they too experience trials and tribulations that many of us can relate to. For Guinness, the commercials give the stories elevation to reach a vast audience and promote a sense of social and community responsibility, making it a people’s brand that continues to grow from strength to strength.

Though Guinness were one of the most favoured campaigns of 2015, it was the tech companies that were recognised as the best brand story tellers. Top ten brands included Apple, Google, Facebook, Xbox and Playstation. The food companies saw the biggest drop, Morrison’s being the hardest hit falling to 111th, and even multinational conglomerates like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola rating a lot lower in the chart than previous years.

Customers are looking for brands they feel an emotional connection with, and often cite brands and taglines that are memorable. Apple’s recent commercials shown in 24 countries celebrate the achievement of the iPhone 6, depicting scenes of natural wonder and art, taken from a first-person perspective. This conveyed two selling points. Firstly, the superior quality of the iPhone camera. Secondly, it told the personal story of the viewer, for the life they’re leading and seeing the world through their eyes, connecting Apple directly to the consumer.

Apple Logo

Social media favourite Facebook pulled at heartstrings in 2015 with their ‘Friends’ campaign. The creation of their in-house team The Factory and new director Scott Trattner, The ‘Friendscampaign takes the form of various scenes of friends spending time together, accompanied by the narrator talking about the values of friendship. There is no direct reference to Facebook apart from the closing logo, though it indirectly refers to the features of the service, such as ‘likes and hares’ all positive values associated with the act of friendship.

Again, the tech market sees stories told that connect directly to the consumer. The characters and personalities of those involved are identifiable. The ad begins and ends as a journey would of making a friendship, and the co-operation of the image and the voiceover conveys an authentic message. What stands out is the closing scene of the Facebook ad, showing a car of backpackers driving into the sunset with the logo appearing. The indication is that the story has not ended, but instead join Facebook to find out more. It does not give it all away. In other terms, it connects with the audience, engages their interest and entices them to become involved with the online community.

In conclusion, there are five key points to consider in brand story telling;

  • Be honest and speak the truth
  • Infuse personalities (give the brand a ‘tone of voice’)
  • Use characters the viewer can identify with
  • Structure the story with a start, mid section and end
  • Leave the audience wanting more or leave a degree of mystery and suspense, never give it all away.

Delivering a positive and authentic message through story-telling will out live any product-based marketing. It will make sure your brand maintains a respectable premium and set itself apart from competitors. Like all good stories told to us from our early childhood to the present day, they weave themselves into our subconscious, which make an ideal and trusted basis for judgement on what we perceive, including consumer purchases.

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