Ranked: Top-10 Examples of Business Storytelling
George Rowlands, Marketing Journalist
As human beings, we are slaves to our imagination. We are driven by the desire of what could be, and we lap up stories about what once was. Storytelling has been practiced for millenia, even though the technology that enables us to consume it is constantly evolving. In the age of the internet, there are three main storytelling mediums: written, spoken, and video storytelling.
The following list includes each of these mediums to varying degrees, and ranks how effective each individual company's technique has been.
10. Pepsi — "Live For Now"
Shamefully in at number 10 is Pepsi. In the pantheon of horrible storytelling, this is the holy grail. The ad is about a young woman, who happens to be Kendall Jenner, taking part in a photoshoot before being coaxed into a protest. After a very cliched montage, Jenner goes to hand an ice cold can of Pepsi to a cop. He accepts the refreshing beverage; everybody cheers... and they all live happily ever after.
This campaign was completely tone deaf. Pepsi didn't account for the feelings of the minorities that were supposed to be representing, and the ad aired during the "Black Lives Matter" protests in 2017. Pepsi reduced the whole movement to "just a couple of guys who need a Pepsi". Jenner, our hero, isn't credible; she's part of the 1% who real protesters fight against. To add insult to injury, the product's role is completely irrelevant to the story.
After getting completely owned, memed, and trolled on social media, Pepsi had to pull the ad and offer huge apologies. If anything, this is basically an advert for Coca Cola.
9. Lloyds Bank — "The Running of the Horses"
In at a not-so-respectful number 9 is UK bank, Lloyds, with Running of the Horses. In this example of visual storytelling, we find the cliche image of a team of horses running along a beach with a rabble of humans watching from atop a cliff. Eventually the humans and the horses meet to share tender, heartwarming nuzzles.
The tagline "there for you" epically fades across the screen to give away the main idea behind the story: horses = Lloyds; humans = customers. It's (almost) beautiful... but it's pointless. In fact, it's completely over the top. I imagine that if you weren't analysing this ad for a Top Lead Top 10 article, you probably wouldn't have the foggiest what a horse has to do with banking.
Ironically, Lloyd's almost had the "there for you" strapline taken away from them shortly after this video was released in 2018 when a number of their high-profile customers were victims of fraud. Unlucky.
8. Subaru — "For All You Love"
Japanese carmakers Subaru offer something a little more like it at number 9. Their heartwarming visual story is told behind a clever, relevant narrative. In this short video, we see a dog walking back through time, across different scenes depicting the standard "special" moments in a family"s life.
The narration bases its story on how much life we can fit in this car. The dog walks itself back to a wee puppy, helping us understand that this is long-lasting car — an investment. The video is set in some sort of desert wilderness which, without directly specifying it, tells us that this car works off-road. Subaru have used implication to good effect here.
This brand have effectively forced themselves into the context of many young, modern families that need a car. The reason why this campaign lingers low down at number 9 is that I could only find any reference to the "family theme" within the brand's YouTube content. The product listing for this model on their website sends no heartwarming, wholesome messages and is instead rather static and cold. When brands find a relatable, relevant story to tell, they should stick with it and sew it into every aspect of their marketing campaign so it becomes synonymous with the brand.
7. Hinge — "The Dating Apocalypse"
Everybody has their own dating story to tell. I went on a date once and sneezed so hard that my nose started bleeding into my king prawn starter. The bleeding wouldn't stop and I had to catch the bus home in the rain. Alone. She never texted me again.
Anyway, Hinge is a dating app that claims to do things differently. Love it or loathe it, phones have completely changed the way in which we meet our match. Hinge released their "The Dating Apocalypse" visual story to coincide with their platform overhaul where they did away with the "swipe". This video follows an animated fellow and he traverses the "Date-O-Calypse" theme park. Our young hero is subject to a series of setbacks and failures before he eventually finds the door to "Hinge". Of course, the grass is greener on the other side, and Hinge is made out to be a magical place with loved-up couples prancing around, kissing, and holding hands. Our hero eventually meets his match. Aww.
The success in this story is that it gives an artistic interpretation of a very real, very felt situation and expresses it in a funny and, eventually, heartwarming way. People will put themselves into this bloke's shoes, and know exactly how it feels. With this narrative, Hinge have positioned themselves as the antidote to modern dating.
6. Warby Parker. "How Warby Parker Glasses Are Made"
The product spec is dead; nobody wants to scroll through lines and lines of sizes, materials, colours, and whatever else. Warby Parker, an American producer of spectacles, sell their glasses with a "rebellious spirit and lofty objective". This example of visual storytelling expresses all of the necessary information within an aesthetically-pleasing, clear, and concise video that outlines the journey of every pair of glasses, from raw materials to face.
Warby Parker swear that they are different from other glasses manufacturers. For a start, they are cheap. This story helps them to explain why they are cheap, which offers more context to the claim rather than lazily just saying it. Lots of human presence in the video offers a very personable experience, as well as offering the idea that these glasses are indeed made with love.
Warby Parker even offer written examples of storytelling on their wiping cloths, outlining the story of how Warby Parker started; offering a very personal touch. On top of the storytelling, Warby Parker carry an initiative that for every pair of glasses that is bought, they distribute a pair to someone in need. People want to do nice things for people who deserve more — it's a simple human reflex. It all adds to the "optician of the people" narrative that Warby Parker push.
5. Land Rover — "The Land of Landrovers"
Land Rover's version of video storytelling is realised more like something you would watch on National Geographic. It whisks us away to the high Himalayan mountains, to a town where the Land Rover reigns supreme.
The hero of this story is obviously the Land Rover. This is a celebration of 70 years of a classic brand. The interviews in the video give real feedback on how this car has helped the local community for all this time. The fact that this video is set so far away from where the Land Rover originated helps the brand seem truly global. Land Rover is open to everybody.
An epic story is combined with spectacular scenery and real people honesty. The video is accompanied by a blog post that features a timeline of Land Rover. Land Rover have tied their product to a long tradition with this narrative. Long tradition is tied to longevity. Tradition is breeds trust.
4. Burt's Bees — "The Nature of Burt"
Cosmetic brand, Burt's Bees, have a wonderful story to tell. Burt was a real bloke; a charming hippy with an eccentric personality. This combination of audio and visual storytelling tells us about who Burt was and why he did it. Spoiler alert: Burt loved nature.
The video is overwhelmingly positive: Burt likes to crack jokes and give the thumbs up. The one thing that doesn't impress Burt, though, is the internet generation. This sets Burt's Bees apart from the rest of the cosmetics industry; an industry which is so focussed on the idea of likes and clout. The video is largely set outside, with reference to the organic aspects of the brand.
The story is told across each of the brand's different platforms. Furthermore, Burt's life has even been told as a feature-length film. In Burt's Buzz, the co-founder of Burt's Bees, Roxanne Quimby, explains that she made an early decision to put Burt's slightly kooky personality at front and centre of the brand's image.
3. Patagonia — "Don"t Buy This Jacket"
Back in 2011, Patagonia launched a textual storytelling campaign called "Don't Buy This Jacket". The outdoors brand took out an ad in the New York Times newspaper to oppose consumerism just before Black Friday.
The advert challenged consumers to re-examine their purchasing practices, and in doing so they tied the idea of doing the right thing to their own brand. They show amazing honesty in this campaign, explaining how much waste is actually a by-product of this jacket (a whopping half the weight of the finished product). The whole idea is brought together by their mission statement "save the world with Patagonia". Ecological awareness is an increasing trend in brand storytelling.
You might shout hypocrisy at this. You might ask why Patagonia don't stop selling the jacket instead of simply asking us not to buy it. Either way, they have reached such a lofty position on this list because the idea is so against the grain that it sticks out like a sore thumb.
2. Thinx — "MENstruation"
Talking about sticking out, Thinx put themselves on a pedestal with their "MENstruation" campaign. The idea behind the video is that if everybody, men and women, got a period every month, then they would be much more openly talked about. The storytelling video follows men finding themselves in different embarrassing situations (that shouldn't be embarrassing), exclusively felt by women IRL.
The video is so successful because it tackles taboo. Thinx have attached their product, women"s underwear, to the idea of change. There is a whole pile of literacy on their website, explaining that there hasn't been any major period innovation for over 60 years. In this, the brand has instantly placed themselves at the forefront of any change happening now.
The brand has successfully utilized a global challenge, and tapped into a huge market (half the population of the world) in doing so. Thinx are strong advocates for menstrual equity, and there is a petition you can sign to help raise awareness.
1. Nike — "Just Do It"
Easy. Nike take their rightful throne as the kings of storytelling. It all started in 1988 with a bloke called Walt running topless along Brooklyn Bridge. Nike tackle stereotypes with the overall implication that sport is for anybody. The tagline Just Do It is absolutely synonymous with the brand, with sport, and even with life.
All these years later, they are still applying that same tagline to different stories; such is the simplicity of it. In 2017 they ran a series of ads based on women's equality, told in different languages. The story is inspirational, encouraging little girls to take part in sport; but still making it relevant to everybody.
Even more recently, Nike even managed to address the sensitive topic of racism. When Colin Kaepernick and Raheem Sterling spoke up about their issues, Nike backed them. This shoved a highly sensitive issue under the spotlight, and increased Nike's brand presence in media at the same time.
Storytelling has been part of Nike's marketing strategy for decades. Storytelling has been used by Nike to guarantee their authentic character and brand values for decades. Their storytelling technique puts them in the public eye by tackling some of the most serious issues in sport. Long may it continue.
If your brand isn't telling a story, it should be. Everybody has a story to tell. Brands like Nike and Thinx taught us how to tell a story around modern taboos to increase public scrutiny. Brands like Pepsi and Lloyds taught us that you can try and tell a story but it won't mean anything if it's not relevant.