Storytelling predates writing; the earliest forms were spoken, combined with gestures and expressions. They also include fairy tales, myths, legends and many of religious origin. There is much to learn from stories. Thus with brand storytelling it is possible to transform a brand from a frog to a prince, prolong brand life and even slay a competitor or two in the process.
Saint George (AD 280 to 23 April 303), for example, is immortalised in the myth of Saint George and the Dragon. Initially, a soldier in the Roman army, he became venerated as a Christian martyr. Also adopted as patron saint of many countries, cities and organisations.
The story about George and the Dragon returned from the Crusades in the 11th Century. In what is now a legend, the dragon lives at a water hole and requires a gift of a sheep or maiden to allow the locals to reach the water. When it is a maiden, they draw lots. However, one day a princess is chosen. She begs for her life but to no avail. Then George comes along, slays the dragon and saves the day.
Great stories touch and move us. Particularly when seen in a cinema, or through mini movies – as some television advertising has become. Not only do great stories engage, but they merit retelling and sharing. Only the best stories grab attention, are ‘liked’ and shared. In this rich digital media world (1), we are therefore all writers, photographers, producer/directors and editors.
It is the same for brands. Only the best impress journalists, trade buyers and of course, consumers. Some brands became great through brand storytelling. Some stories are born of reality, many of accident or serendipity and some invention.
Figure 1 shows a typical cinematic story structure. This is useful for brand storytelling. Act 1 involves setting the scene, introducing the characters, conflict and setting. It then concludes with a climax or set-back (turning point 1 (TP1)). Act 2 develops the story, with rising action and tension, and concluding with another climax or set-back (turning point 2 (TP2)). Finally, in the last act, the dénouement, the story reaches a climax, and resolves.
For example, that good always triumphs over evil. That every cloud has a silver lining – i.e. that you can derive some benefit from every bad thing that happens to you. Or that fortune favours the brave – that drive and determination is essential to success. Christopher Booker’s Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning, espoused seven basic plots (2). Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson subsequently highlighted eighteen: eight guides or gifts and ten warnings (3). Figure 2 shows eight familiar stories mapped to Mark and Pearson’s need-states.
‘Transformations’ deal with significant change in attitude, behaviour or personal growth. ‘Overcoming the Monster’ stories are crime and adventure staples. They feature archetypal heroes (and villains) such as George and the Dragon. Also James Bond vs. Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun). And Harry Potter, growing from boy to man, while battling Voldemort.
The typical story-line is baddie does bad thing (set-up), goodie fights baddie and loses (story development, set-back). Then goodie digs deeper, fights back and wins the day (dénouement). In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he kills a young maiden and then goes after Harker, the hero’s fiancée. Harker and friends then hunt and eventually kill Dracula. Thus saving Harker’s fiancée (and allowing them to live happily ever after).
Brand archetypes can play different roles in narratives, and inspire brand storytelling. In a typical ‘overcoming the monster’ story-line, archetypal heroes, such as James Bond and Harry Potter are protagonists (leading players). Equally the brand could still be the hero, but not the protagonist. Alternatively a bit player – perhaps the protagonist’s assistant or ‘weapon’.
Consider a utilitarian hero archetype, cleaning brand Mr. Muscle. In a typical 3 act story, we see the housewife battling the dirt, getting tired and frustrated at her inability to clean the house etc. until along comes the hero, to clean away the dirt and save the day. The protagonist is the brand user or housewife, and the adversary, simply dirt.
Nike is a more inspiring, hero(ine) archetype (4). The protagonists in Nike advertisements are usually athletes or ordinary people, and the adversaries are fellow competitors. In a typical 3 act story, the athletes compete against each other. One wearing Nike clothing or using Nike equipment, suffering set-backs yet finally winning, and winning applause.
The Nike advert (below) features a tennis playing protagonist vilified for being a pretty face. However, the antagonist is not just a fellow competitor but public dismissal, or disdain. All questions confidence in the athlete’s skills. Will she, won’t she succumb to the pressure? Watch the advert to see the dénouement. Also feel how the rising tension strengthens the brand story.
Now work through these simple brand storytelling steps to finesse and execute your brand strategy.
Great brands like great stories are based on great truths. Great truths include customer and brand truths. So look inside and outside your business to find them.
Consider characters, the role of the brand, and how your brand could transform customers’ lives. How can you create rising tension, and a dénouement that fits the brand? Also involve disparate people in the creative process and allow time to nurture the ideas. Figure 3 shows a start-point brand storytelling concept.
While great stories and great brands touch people in different ways, they are based on a clear brand strategy and also express a consistent message. So for creative brand storytelling involve diverse experts in early brand development. Also consider how the story unfolds or presents through different media and choose media that enhance the message and enable sharing.
1. According to https://www.internetlivestats.com there are now over 1.1 billion websites including a burgeoning range of social media including Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat and many more.
2. Booker, Christopher The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.
3. Mark, Margaret and Pearson, Carol S. The Hero & the Outlaw. Building Extraordinary Brands through the Power of Archetypes.
4. Named after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
Ring, ring. Ring, ring!
Music has long been associated with Christmas, and Christmas with music. The first specifically Christmas hymns (carols) for Christians appeared in the fourth century. Music is also a terrific gift; the size of the market increases in the run up to Christmas and record labels battle to win the coveted #1 single and album slots. Marketers are also catching on to the power of marketing Christmas with music.
For the last three years, John Lewis has been top of the pops in using music to market their business. The Gabrielle Aplin cover of ‘The Power of Love’ used in John Lewis’ 2012 Christmas campaign by Adam & Eve/DDB knocked Olly Murs off the top of the official UK singles chart on 10 December. You can watch it here.
John Lewis’s sales for the week ending Saturday 8 December rose 15% year on year to £142m. John Lewis is attributing this to the success of its “omnichannel strategy”. It says sales were driven by customers looking for that special Christmas gift, including gloves, cashmere, lingerie, handbags or jewellery. The strong performance of gloves as a gift coincides with the Christmas ad showing a snowman making a long journey to get a pair of gloves for his snowwoman.
In 2011, John Lewis used the Slow Moving Millie soundtrack, ‘Please, please, please’ to promote its Christmas offer. This has amassed nearly 5m You Tube views.
Ellie Goulding’s haunting cover of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ was used in its 2010 Christmas ad. But can you recall the ads pre 2009?
Since we founded our marketing consultancy in 2005, we’ve included lyrics from Christmas songs in our Christmas cards. Finding lyrics that convey the right sentiments is a tough task! Matching words and pictures is equally difficult. This year we’ve selected lyrics from a song written by Leigh Haggerwood called ‘My Favourite Time of Year’. Disappointed at the high-jacking of the Christmas charts by likes of X-Factor, Leigh wrote this song to reflect the true values of Christmas. Also funded without the backing of a record label, and promoted only by social media, it charted at just 40 in December 2010. You can watch it here. ‘There is goodwill in the air tonight’.
1. Music elicits powerful emotional responses and influences behaviour. It’s also powerful in rekindling memories. Thus if used correctly the sound of sleigh bells can have a powerful effect on tills.
2. Remember the narrative. While many John Lewis ads pre 2009 also used music, for example, Taken by the Trees version of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ in 2009, Virginia Labuat’s version of ‘From me To You’ in 2008 and Prokoviev’s Romeo and Juliet in 2007, none are arguably as emotionally engaging and heart warming as the more recent ads.
3. Ensure consistency in marketing communications (through different channels and over time) to help get the message across, be understood and acted upon.
It is a downer returning home from your holidays. You know all good things come to an end. You also expect a tedious wait at the airport and a tiring journey home.
So it was with squeals of delight that we discovered the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company at our departure airport. “That’s the company founded by Forrest Gump” shouted the little one. It is a fabulous brand development story.
The neon sign first caught the eye. It shouts all American and come and look at me.
So what could a company that originated in shrimp fishing possibly have to offer? Lots more than we imagined. Firstly, merchandise. The little one tried on a snug- fitting t-shirt emblazoned with the company logo. In a trice she became a cool able seaman on Bubba’s boat. Then we found some shrimp plush toys. And lots of sporting goods including football jerseys, water bottles and also table tennis bats. All stuff connected to the Forrest Gump film. And also based on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom. As a result, the miscellany of stuff and colourful displays were irresistible.
So we had to discover more. The diner itself was like a shack. Wooden beams held up a corrugated iron roof. In addition, three different ‘rooms’ decorated with US car number plates and signs also outlined simple morals or beliefs:
“When all else fails, try doing what the captain suggested”
“A promise is a promise”
“If the customer wants vanilla, give him vanilla”
To get the waiters’ attention, we waved a “Stop Forrest Stop” sign. And when we were happy, we then displayed the sign “Run Forrest Run”. We ordered “Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Heaven”. The choice was essentially shrimp or shrimp. Either boiled, broiled, fried, baked, sauteed, steamed or barbecued. But hey that’s the difference. The coconut shrimp were divine as were the shrimp balls.
With the family engaged, we enjoyed a happy hour reliving and conversing about the film. As the little one remarked; “this would be a great place to go with a first date.”
Turn ideas in a winning brand by evolving a compelling brand story, and delivering a great experience
Every great business or brand starts with a great brand strategy or idea. The idea behind the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company are the characters and also the content of the film and novel. From the Forrest Gump story thus emerges a heart-warming and distinctive business and brand proposition.
Experiencing the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is like peeling back the layers of an onion to reveal the magic of the brand within. Through attention-getting signage, to the fun physical environment and displays, to products and then the people.
Combining lots of little things adds up to a memorable experience – one that you want to tell your friends about. The staff were part of the fun – hence the reason they appear in our photographs!
Founded in 1996, The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co was proven in the US before expanding to Mexico, Asia and now the UK. At the time of writing there are 33 sites with sales per location of c. $5.5m per annum. Merchandise sales add value beyond expectations of a pure-play restaurant. As the company’s website says, the idea was inspired by Paramount Pictures, and turned into a concept by Rusty Pelican Restaurants. This then led to a ‘licensing agreement’ based on the motion picture property.
And as Forrest would say, “that’s all I have to say about that.”
All photographs © Guy Tomlinson 2010
The greatest brands have high awareness and a clear and distinctive image. Also an ability to evoke a strong rational and emotional bond with audiences, stretch into new markets as well as change with the times. With the opening of its new London store, The National Geographic Society delivered a great brand experience.
It all started in 1888 when 33 explorers and scientists gathered to form the National Geographic Society ‘for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge’. Over the years, the Society has supported many expeditions and research projects including polar and undersea expeditions, studies of animals, such as Dian Fossey’s study of mountain gorillas. It has also enabled discoveries such as the wreck of the Titanic (Robert Ballard) and the man-like Zinjanthropus in Tanzania (Louis Leakey).
The first brand extension, National Geographic magazine appeared in 1888. Then with its articles on geography, science, world history and current events, dramatic photographs from around the world, and trademarked yellow border, it became an icon of our times. Also a coffee table essential for the chattering classes.
In June 1985, National Geographic chose a close-up of an ‘Afghan girl’ as the cover photo for an article on the refugee crisis in Afghanistan.
Photographed by Steve McCurry, the girl had sea green eyes striped with blue and yellow. She peered with a mixture of bitterness and courage from within a tattered burgundy scarf. As a result her picture touched the souls of millions.
In 1964, the brand extended onto television with stories of adventure and science. In turn, it gave fame to marine explorer and ecologist Jacques Cousteau and his adventures on board Calypso. The first TV channel then followed in 1997. Then in 2007, National Geographic created a global media group comprising all of its magazine, book publishing, television, film, music, radio, digital and maps units.
Together with franchise partner, Worldwide Retail Store, National Geographic opened in Regent Street in November 2008. It is (or was*) a fantastic sensory experience.
On walking in you are greeted by a staff member from one of the many nations represented in the store. To the right are magazines and videos, all with the iconic yellow border, neatly displayed in a small pagoda-like structure. Beyond is a café with rustic tables and chairs. It is a great place to chat and enjoy a drink and pastry or pincho created by the fabulous Spanish chef.
All is interposed with state of the art interactive screens and video walls bringing HD quality pictures from around the world up close and real. After hours, the merchandise then packs away and the room becomes a lecture theatre.
Inside the door are a series of horse sculptures carefully crafted from driftwood. Beyond are rows of hanging prints taken by National Geographic photographers. Also a market-place brimming with hand-crafted furnishings and artefacts from all over the world.
In the basement you’ll find clothing for the great outdoors as well as the most fashion conscious. Also a cold chamber to test the weather-proofing abilities of the outerwear. This includes a wind turbine, block of ice, thermal imaging camera and visual display to add dramatic effect. The shirts are priced at £119 therefore demonstrating the premium that great brands command.
Finally, on the top floor polished wooden desks adorned with glowing globes signal this is where to book your expedition (or holiday). In the nearby technology department the latest camera and optical equipment is showcased in sturdy steel cases. Dressed in their khaki safari gear, staff are unobtrusive yet close to hand. For example, to advise on what’s best to see the stars or (photographically) shoot beasts in the bush. All that seems missing is a Masai warrior or lion on the loose…… but then again, did I really look everywhere?
While many great brands evolved by accident, what’s critical is management vision and conviction to push the boundaries. Also rigorous attention to detail to inspire and deliver consistently through all activities. As with all great brand experiences you should see, hear, think and feel the quality, value and difference.
*Sadly the London store closed in 2017, and its demise is our loss. Thus, we presume the high cost of a Regent Street venue, and associated high costs of merchandise, were insufficient to keep the business in the black. And/or alternatively following Disney’s acquisition of 67% of the shares, the place to visit is now the Disney Store.
Nevertheless, even without a stand-alone London store, National Geographic remains a great brand experience, with clever brand extensions, and underpinned by a clear brand strategy!
Photo credits: Afghan girl by Steve McCurry, other photos of the National Geographic Store © Guy Tomlinson 2009.