Today’s consumers are fast-paced, overloaded with information, and short on time. We skim content, interact with chatbots, and gravitate toward convenience and instant gratification. We spend more than seven hours daily using the internet, including almost 2.5 hours on social media.
In this new reality, brands must humanize and connect with their audiences more meaningfully.
Enter brand storytelling.
Research from Google and Talk Shoppe found that virtually all consumers agree that “good content” tells a story. Brand stories help otherwise faceless organizations build an emotional connection with their audience, leading to higher engagement, loyalty, and sales.
But what does engaging storytelling in marketing look like? To answer that question, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best storytelling campaigns and considered what we could learn from each.
1. Gucci x The North Face Go Beyond Traditional Influencer Marketing
Influencers are a great fit for telling a brand story because they’re real people. Find the right influencer — one who aligns with your values and audience — and their personality rubs off on you, helping to communicate who you are as a brand.
Until relatively recently, most influencer marketing has fallen into the category of impossibly good-looking people looking bored in expensive destinations. But as consumers become increasingly savvy, we’ve seen a rise in more authentic influencers — people who care passionately about their hobbies, interests, and the content they post.
Francis Bourgeois is a great example. A fanatical trainspotter renowned for his enthusiastic approach and boundless energy, he has amassed 1.6 million followers on Instagram and 2.7 million on TikTok by simply being himself. That made him an ideal, if surprising, choice to promote the brand collaboration between Gucci and The North Face.
When you think about it, there’s a natural synergy between Bourgeois and the underlying theme of the campaign, which is all about exploration and discovery. The vintage aesthetic also gels perfectly with the influencer’s steam train obsession.
2. Goldfish Crackers Combines Storytelling Advertising & AR
Augmented reality is nothing new; it’s been six years since we all fixated on Pokémon Go. But while AR seemingly offers exciting opportunities for brands, marketers have often struggled for meaningful ways to incorporate the technology in their campaigns.
Goldfish Crackers got it right by adding a storytelling layer to an augmented reality lens for Snapchat. It challenged teenagers to test their attention spans. It used eye-tracking technology to assess whether they could focus on a slow-moving Goldfish Cracker for longer than nine seconds. It sounds weird, but it works.
The point here is that Goldfish Crackers wasn’t just telling its audience that they struggle to pay attention; it showed them. All while keeping its product front and center of the messaging.
3. Kia Builds an Emotional Connection to Electric Cars
We’ve already noted how brand storytelling is a highly effective method for triggering an emotional response from audiences. That made it a valuable tool for Kia, which wanted consumers to associate electric cars with feelings of togetherness and familial love.
It sounds like a challenging brief, but Kia nailed it by telling the story of an electric car owner adopting a cute little robot doggo.
Their campaign is some masterful marketing because it subtly makes viewers think: “If a robo puppy can be just as sweet as a real one, maybe electric cars are just as good as their traditional gas-powered counterparts?”
4. McDonald’s Celebrates “Young Gamechangers” for Black History Month
In a world where 82% of consumers say they prefer a brand’s values to align with their own, it’s only natural for marketers to join conversations around events like Black History Month.
But your audience isn’t naive. They don’t just want you to mention these events; they expect action.
McDonald’s understands this. For Black History Month 2022, the fast food giant launched its Future 22 campaign, which celebrated the work of 22 young, gifted Black leaders.
The campaign told the stories of “young game-changers” such as Nasir Barnes, who mentors music students and created a robotics course to encourage underserved children to pursue careers in STEM.
Importantly, this isn’t just a one-and-done exercise for McDonald’s, which runs a host of programs designed to support its communities, crew, and customers. Other examples include the Black & Positively Golden Scholarship Program, which provides financial resources to students at historically black colleges and universities.
5. Spotify Makes Music Personal
Whether or not you’re one of the world’s 456 million Spotify users, you’ve likely familiar with Spotify Wrapped, the streaming service’s personalized annual roundup of our listening habits. Why? Because every year, Spotify users trip over one another to share their top artists and favorite songs.
In this example of brand storytelling advertising, Spotify plays into what makes our music preferences unique, such as obsessively listening to the same song on repeat.
This is a common theme throughout our storytelling roundup: telling a story makes a faceless brand or service feel personal and human, which makes us feel more positively toward it.
6. Dominos Adds Its Product to an Existing Story
So far, our examples have focused on brands creating their own stories. But there’s another potential approach: piggyback on an existing story.
And when it comes to stories, it’s hard to think of one more zeitgeisty than Stranger Things, which recently became only the second Netflix show to rack up more than one billion hours viewed.
Dominos is far from the only brand to team up with the 80s-tinged supernatural horror smash. In 2022 alone, Stranger Things has partnered with everyone from JanSport to Walmart to MAC. But few of those collaborations have been as effective as the pizza delivery chain’s, which involved the creation of a “mind-ordering” app that used eye-tracking and facial recognition technology to let customers order pizzas using just head movements and expressions.
The campaign also included an introductory video featuring “Stranger Things” stars that dived deeper into the in-universe lore behind the psychic pizza-ordering process:
This storytelling tool allowed customers to imagine themselves as part of the show while also demonstrating the brand’s credentials as a high-tech company that just happens to make pizzas.
7. Heineken Connects With a Global Audience
There’s an inherent challenge with brand storytelling campaigns: the larger the brand and the broader the audience, the harder it is to build a meaningful connection.
It’s one thing telling a brand story that resonates with a highly specific demographic in a country, state, or city. But it’s far harder to connect with audiences on a truly global level. How can you find common ground that consumers worldwide will understand and enjoy?
Heineken did it by tapping into the timeless consumer desire for work-life balance. This trend is particularly relevant in a post-pandemic world, with the average home-worker spending more than two hours a day longer on their computers than before the coronavirus crisis.
The lager brand could have simply said: “Put down your laptop and buy a beer.” But it took a storytelling-centric approach by developing a device called The Closer, which automatically shuts down your work applications when you crack open a frosty one:
To address the growing work-life imbalance, Heineken launched a campaign around The Closer, a Bluetooth-enabled device that closes work applications when users crack open a beer.
But it’s not really about the device; it’s about our desire to spend less time staring at screens and more with our loved ones. Heineken places itself at the forefront of this narrative.
8. NFBC Leverages Multimedia Storytelling
We all have our preferred means of learning new information. Some of us are visual learners, some prefer to read or listen, and some are more hands-on.
These preferences present another challenge to brand storytelling: how can you effectively communicate your story to a broad audience while considering all those different learning styles?
One approach is to leverage multiple content formats in your storytelling campaign, like the National Film Board of Canada does in our following example.
It used a combination of photography, video content, and interactive maps to tell the story of a bear rescued from captivity and released back into the wild. Each content type complements the others, creating a more immersive storytelling experience.
9. Dove Brings Storytelling to an Existing Campaign
Dove has been banging the drum for “Real Beauty” for the best part of two decades now. Past campaigns have focused on showcasing real people rather than models who conform to traditional beauty standards.
Recently, it took a different tack with its “reverse selfie” ad, which highlights the harmful effects of social media on body image and appearance:
This example demonstrates that brand storytelling doesn’t require marketers to tell a whole new story; you can use it to further your existing campaigns and messaging.
10. Google Humanizes Search Data
Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has more than 150,000 employees. It’s a distinctly un-human company: its product is an algorithm that presents us with the information we want. It’s practical but doesn’t engender warmth and positivity toward the brand.
Google’s solution was to launch its annual Year in Search roundup, which is kind of like Spotify Wrapped but for search data:
It allows the company to remind us that each search isn’t just another faceless data point; it reflects real people’s desires, curiosities, and sometimes fears.
For instance, the latest Year In Search featured a whole environmental section, with wildfires and flooding becoming the top global search topics in July 2021. This demonstrates how storytelling can be invaluable for tech brands seeking to build deeper, more human relationships with their audiences.
Want to learn more about building a community and engaging your audience? Sign up for one of our upcoming social media conferences.
Here are some similar articles you might enjoy:
- 15 Time Saving Strategies for Your Next Social Media Marketing Campaign
- How “Content Journalism” Drives Marketing Campaign Success
- Content Marketing Tips For Building Brand Credibility