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Artful Storytelling in Action (For Better or Worse)

By Dan McDonough, Jr.

Storytelling has been proven time and again to be the best way to deliver a message. And while the method of storytelling is a clearly defined science, the art of crafting that message can be elusive. For marketers and advertisers, harnessing storytelling in a way that creates brand evangelists is the pinnacle of achievement.

For the team at Woden, seeing great storytelling in action — where a “mentor” (the company) delivers a “gift” (the product) to the “hero” (the prospective customer) — brings us great joy.

Here’s a quick look at a few campaigns that delivered artful storytelling in a meaningful way, and one that most certainly did not:

Apple tells it quickly

While Apple is generally good at all things branding and advertising, the company’s 15-second YouTube videos highlighting the Apple Watch were particularly remarkable examples of micro-storytelling. In each of the six videos released last October, a “hero” tackles a challenge with ease using the “gift” of this new watch from Apple, the “mentor.” It’s fast, but harnesses the entire narrative arc in a way that will evoke a sense of eureka in the potential user.

“In 90 seconds of play time, everything Apple is present, condensed, and evolved so synergistically it would make a literature professor cry for joy,” says Phillip Ross, a social media analyst for Social Bakers in a piece he wrote about his favorite social media campaigns of 2015. “In each case, the user discovers just one of the Apple Watch’s features, and how frictionlessly it serves their moment … Purely for inspiring excellent content, they are as strong a model as any you’ll find to remind you to match product to method — show it how you sell it, and how you want it to be seen.”

These condensed examples of great storytelling are the ad person’s nirvana. Few examples will better show how to tell a short story, other than perhaps the shortest story ever told, often attributed to Ernest Hemmingway: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Nordstrom bridges digital and physical

Online and offline may offer marketers different channels, but to the consumer there’s no difference in absorption of the message and how it guides us. Yet few marketers have devised great ways to bridge their storytelling from the digital world to the real world. Not so with Nordstrom.

For more than two years, Nordstrom has been empowering its more than four million Pinterest followers to impact the way it merchandises its goods within stores — specifically by identifying the most pinned and liked items with tags on those items on display. The narrative here is unique, in that it harnesses the collective sense of its community to mentor the shopper to pick the right gift — for themselves or as a real gift.

“Today, Nordstrom is one of the most popular retailers on Pinterest, with more followers there than on its Twitter and Facebook channels combined,” explains Blake Cahill, global head of digital at Philips, in a piece he contributed to Econsultancy. “According to a study by Millward Brown, 93% of active pinners say they use Pinterest to plan for purchases and 87% said they’ve purchased something because of Pinterest — so driving interest in that platform and linking online and offline is highly likely to drive real-world sales.”

The study by Millward Brown explains that consumers use Pinterest to curate their vision of their ideal self — a really powerful concept for marketers. Harnessing storytelling to mentor the hero, regardless of platform or channel, helps consumers discover the gift you have for them.

Marvel makes you work for it

When you’re marketing a movie, storytelling would seem to be a natural. But finding a stand-out method from the promoters often is harder than it should be. Marvel, however, stood out when releasing Avengers: Age of Ultron last March.

Marvel made its Twitter audience the hero when it told its followers that as soon as a certain number of people tweeted #AvengersAssemble, it would unlock the movie trailer for all to view. This again made fans part of the story and directly encouraged the message to go viral. Within just hours, the tweet racked up more than 12,000 engagements.

“Marvel knew that Fans will watch spinoffs, sequels, copycats, etc. — but that they savor real content, significant to the meat of the matter, no matter how bite-sized it may be. By making film footage releases into controlled events, they commodified small portions of their film without reducing its worth,” explained Ross of Social Bakers. “These ‘countdowns to content’ become the smartest way to give the fans a taste while retaining the ability to keep releasing content from a small amount of source material.”

Bic blunders the message

While the framework of storytelling is certainly a science, the narrative itself is an art. And few last year better highlighted how the message can be botched better than pen-maker Bic. Launched in tandem with Women’s Day in South Africa, Bic posted an image with the words “Look like a girl. Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a boss.” Certainly, the narrative arc was applied, but in a highly demeaning and insensitive way. The backlash Bic suffered showed that the science of storytelling works really well — not only for delivering good messages, but just as well for bad ones!

“Not surprisingly, the post didn′t go over too well,” said Amy Edel-Vaughn, a social media expert and content developer of EGC Group in Adweek. “Competitor Stabilouk was happy to pounce on the misstep.”

Dan McDonough is a founding partner at Woden. Whatever your storytelling needs may be, let Woden help. Download our free StoryGuide, or send us an email at to discuss how we can help tell your story.