Stories in advertising

The power of a well told tale

Storytelling is proven to increase both engagement and retention of information (link to other blog post). From Apple’s “1984” ad which was only aired once, but makes perfect use of timing and Orwell’s classic novel to establish themselves as the new cool kid on the block, to the recent Budweiser “Lost puppy” commercial with the cute animal factor, those creative ad types have been utilising the incredible power of a story for years.

So let’s enjoy a bit of a masterclass and have a look at some of the best.


Perhaps the most famously successful campaign of recent years is the “Movement for Self-Esteem” (called “Campaign for Real Beauty” until 2010). Skincare itself is rather boring, yet Dove have managed to create extremely shareable advertising, which uses women’s empowerment to phenomenally boost their sales. And while it has come up against some controversy recently, it’s estimated to have increased Dove sales from $2.5 billion to $4 billion over the 10 years the ads have been going. Dove joined a conversation that was already happening about women’s self esteem and instead of following the mode of their airbrushed competitors, their women stood out and struck a chord.


Here’s a camera brand that have successfully tapped into the cultural current, by recreating the world's most iconic photos and cheekily claiming credit, "Not every famous photograph was taken with a Leica. But they were all taken thanks to Leica". The idea is that by creating a product that allowed photography into the fabric of everyday life they pioneered the capture of these astounding images. It evokes a sense of nostalgia and weaves together a tale of shared history, recorded experience while paying homage to the greatest photos of the last hundred years.


These guys deserve a mention. Moving away from their bromance heavy past offerings, their more recent ad stars a lost puppy (Andrex are not the only ones who can use a little labrador) who faces the challenges of the road only to return home in one piece aided by the Budweiser horses. This puppy ad falls into the classic model of a journey with struggle and eventual triumph which is guaranteed to be persuasive. It also uses the familiar convention of animals making it on their own, echoing well loved stories like The Incredible Journey.


Their latest Coffee vs Gangs is a great campaign, with the illustrative element of the tattoos adding an extra vein to the story. To communicate the purpose behind the brand this is extremely effective. We have our central character’s navigation through the favelas, the moment where he is at risk of falling into gang life and his movement out of this into the tonally lighter coffee fields. The tattoos change on his body to reflect the phases of this journey, supporting the brand’s message.

What we can learn

Great ads stick in your mind. In order to persuade they make you think, raise a smile, a laugh, subvert a story and bring something new to the table.

What makes many of the best ads stand out is that they don’t just craft a great story, but they hone in on something that is already woven into our collective culture, something that will universally chime with people and increase impact.

The same goes for using a story in a marketing campaign. Don’t be shy about recycling ideas, just make sure you use a new angle, ad another layer of meaning and most importantly consider your target audience and what they care about in relation to your purpose.

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