The buzz over marketing analytics and big data makes it easy to forget that marketing is still fundamentally about telling stories. SAP CMO Jonathan Becher often talks about the art of storytelling as a way to humanize the brand for any business. But what does great storytelling look like?

Here are my five favorite examples, which offer important lessons for marketers:

Coca-Cola

No. 5 Coca-Cola: Hey Kid, Catch (1979)

Why it works: Using athletes as spokespeople often results in uninspired ads, which makes this iconic Coke commercial even more remarkable. Pittsburgh Steelers great “Mean Joe” Greene appears to be limping back to the locker room after a tough game. He’s dismissive of a little boy at first (which would never happen in a commercial today), but that makes Greene’s transformation seem even more authentic and wonderful. This is the classic “hero’s journey” told in 60 seconds, and it’s just a beautiful blend of message and storytelling.

The lesson for marketers: You can tell a powerful story in 60 seconds using classic archetypes. Your execution must also be flawless. In this example, everything from the casting of Greene (what a great smile) to the dialogue and the crowd noise contributes to the payoff at the end. Even 34 years later, this commercial hits all the right emotions perfectly aligned with the Coca-Cola brand.

No. 4 Got Milk? (1993 – present)

Why it works: How do you take a 10,000 year old beverage and make it appealing to both kids and adults? Create a series of amusing stories featuring milk as the perfect complement to foods we already love. Whether it’s cookies, cereal or peanut butter, we sympathize with the characters who can’t find milk at the moment they desperately need it.

The lesson for marketers: Always consider a “better together” story with complementary products or partner solutions. Create content that’s not only engaging but also articulates the value proposition in a memorable way.

Apple

No. 3 Apple: Get a Mac (2006-2009)

Why it works: It doesn’t get any more “humanizing” than turning Macs and PCs into actual people. Not only was the execution spot on (the casting, writing, music and format), but each 30-second commercial focused on a single message to convince PC users to switch to a Mac. Aside from the humor and charm, the ads were effective because its message rang true with so many PC users.

The lesson for marketers: If you’re running a switcher campaign against competitors, you can do it in a non-combative storytelling format. Keep the message simple yet powerful. And remember that humor in and of itself is not good enough. There must be a larger takeaway that stays with your audience.

No. 2 Guinness: Wheelchair Basketball (2013)

Why it works: This is a recent commercial, but I think it’s an instant classic and here’s why:  It’s the anti-beer commercial. Guinness has taken the stereotypical testosterone-filled beer commercial and turned it on its head. The intensity of the players keeps you watching even if you’re not expecting a twist at the end. But when that reveal comes … Wow! Once again the final message is perfectly aligned with the brand.

The lesson for marketers: Don’t rely on the same creative playbook all the time. Take chances to disrupt the accepted way of doing things. In many cases your rewards will far outweigh the risk.

Goolge

No. 1 Google: Dear Sophie (2011)

Why it works: This is the best example of digital storytelling I’ve seen. It’s an uplifting (but not a sappy) story about a father connecting with his daughter using technology in a clever way. I love the simplicity of the audio track, keystrokes against the melodic piano and strings. Best of all, it highlights all of Google’s products without feeling forced on the viewer.

The lesson for marketers: Always start with a great story. Remember that your customers have the best stories about your product. And while technology is the enabler, only people can make it real.

What are other examples of brand storytelling?

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22 Comments

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  1. Andy Silvey

    Hi Chris,

    I really like your blogs and what you bring to the community.

    These story adverts are interesting, but sometimes when I watch story adverts I am left remembering the story and not the brand or the actual brand/product message behind the advert.

    For me, if I am left with the memory of an entertaining story without any connection to the brand or product then the exercise has been a failure by the company which made the investment.

    As you have said, this has to be done properly and flawlessly so that at the end of the story, the brand remains the subject and not the entertainment value of the story.

    All the best,

    Andy.

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    1. Christopher Kim Post author

      Thanks for your comments, Andy. You bring up a critical point. I tried to pick ads that (at least for me) were ads where I actually remembered the brand and its core message. As you’ve mentioned, most entertaining commercials or “viral videos” have minimal business impact because the brand recall is so poor.

      You’re absolutely right. The story + the execution must be flawless to make any lasting impact to the brand.

      Thanks again for your thoughts!

      Chris

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      1. Andy Silvey

        Hi Chris,

        thinking aloud, I wonder if the investment in a video with the goal of it going viral could be, the goal that as the video ‘goals viral’ and is picked up my the printed business media, FT/WSJ/Time etc etc that the company/brand/product which has invested in the viral video will get print space by being associated with the video they made.

        But I guess this is a very abstract hit and miss strategy with a lot of uncertainty as to the result.

        What do I know about marketing eh, best leave that part to you 🙂

        Just a thought,

        Andy.

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    1. Christopher Kim Post author

      Oh man Tim, how could I forget Mickey Likes It? (hanging my head in shame)

      It still blows my mind that you were the inspiration for that character. But I’m glad you didn’t inspire the urban legend about the actor’s (false) demise by consuming pop rocks & soda 😉 .

      I might have to do a Part II of this post to include Mickey and some other classics.

      Chris

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      1. Tim Clark

        Believe it or not, my father worked on this LC Greenwood spot and a bunch of other Miller Lite commercials like the one with Bob “Must Be In The Front Row!” Euker. Anyway, I used to have one of the prop cans they used for the above spot. The can was drained, split slightly on the sides and filled with about an inch of plaster in the bottom to keep it stable so LC could easily crush it!

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        1. Christopher Kim Post author

          Your story about LC’s beer can just made my day. That Miller Lite campaign was the first series of commercials where the athletes felt like real people to me. Your Dad must’ve had a roomful of Clios.

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    1. Christopher Kim Post author

      Thanks, Andy 🙂 It goes to show how hard storytelling can be esp. for TV commercials. Even with Xerox being a “verb” it was hard to remember who made that commercial. Thanks for sharing it!

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    1. Christopher Kim Post author

      Nice! Let’s call that the “original” Guinness commercial :-). Unless of course Chillz borrowed the idea from someone else? Thanks for sharing it!

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    1. Christopher Kim Post author

      Hi Marina,

      Thanks for sharing this. Red Bull has really evolved over the years to become a lifestyle brand. And this ad is a great example of aspirational storytelling.

      Best,
      Chris

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