I remember the first time I took notice of storytelling in marketing.
It was 1995, and Nike had rolled out a new signature shoe for Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.
Those who are not big basketball fans may not remember Penny Hardaway but for a few years from 1993-1998 he was a big deal.
The heir apparent to Michael Jordan.
But there was a problem.
Unlike his teammate Shaquille O’neal Penny had a laid back relaxed personality that wasn’t suited towards being a pitchman. He wasn’t outgoing or gregarious like Shaq, he didn’t have Michael Jordan’s mystique of invulnerability and he didn’t seem to want to be in the spotlight off the court.
So what did Nike do?
They invented an alter-ego for Hardaway. A puppet voiced by Chris Rock, called “Lil Penny”
Lil Penny was everything Penny was not; brash arrogant and more than willing to tell everyone how great Hardaway was.
Nike would go back to the puppet well in the late aughts creating puppet versions of two players with larger personalities in Kobe Bryant and Lebron James
The lesson here was clear if you don’t have a great pitchman or personality for a product, just make one up.
Old Spice used this tactic as well when it created these commercials with Terry Crews
Then replaced him when he got too famous and expensive without missing a beat
The first lesson from storytelling marketing then is that characters make stories.
Great storytelling whether it’s around a campfire or a pre-roll before a youtube clip needs to be built around characters.
Let’s look at another great example of storytelling marketing an what that can teach us.
In 2017 Dove rolled out a series ads with #realdadmoments
The campaign was incredibly successful because it tapped into a theme that resonates emotionally for a lot of men.
Their relationship with their dad.
This is a pretty well mined theme in storytelling content as you can see
So the lesson here is to start your storytelling marketing with a theme that you KNOW people will relate to emotionally.
Stick to tried and true themes that your target audience can relate to.
Last but not least I want to share this ad from the Mcdonald’s “I’m Lovin it ” campaign.
Mcdonald’s whole I’m Lovin it campaign was brillant as it sought to tell stories that showed Mcdonalds being a part of people’s everyday lives.
Mcdonald’s constantly gets a bad rep for a variety of reasons. If I had a dollar for every person who told me they hadn’t eaten at Mcdonald’s in years I’d be rich. Yet somehow there is always a line at the drive thru but I digress.
I picked this ad from the I’m lovin it campaign because it was unexpected.
Most people have never thought about using a drive thru to keep their child asleep while getting something to eat. This commercial reframes Mcdonald’s from just being one of dozens of fast food options to being a helpful friend that is there when you need it.
You don’t want your audience to be able to guess the ending of your stories when you start telling them. There is nothing worse than the audience beating you to end of the story.
When using storytelling in your marketing, take a little extra time to see if there is an unexpected story that could be told instead of the obvious ones.
Let’s quickly re-cap and do a TL;DR
I started out by talking about my first memory of storytelling marketing; Lil Penny.
The lesson of Lil Penny is that you can be creative and just make up a personality for a pitchman or a product. I also provided some other examples of this like the old spice commercials.
Then we talked about the Dove #realdadmoments commercials and using common themes like the relationship between Dads and sons. You want to pick common themes for your stories that people will relate to emotionally.
Lastly we looked at the Mcdonald’s I’m Lovin it commercial with the sleeping baby to remind you to look for the unexpected story that reframes what your product or service means.
That’s about all I got for you, tell me your favorite examples of storytelling in marketing in the comments below!