How brands use stories to sell their product

Sep 25, 2013

Table of contents:

  1. Why tell a story?
  2. Case studies
  3. Apple
  4. Jack Daniels
  5. Dove
  6. Charity:Water
  7. Conclusion

Last week I looked at why great products need a great story in order to be successful. Whilst telling a compelling story is definitely more of an art than a science, there are some good lessons that you can learn by looking at how some of the best marketing companies in the world approach storytelling.

In this post I’m going to look at 4 companies and their storytelling marketing campaigns to see what they did right.

Whilst you won’t have the budget to pull off these kinds of campaigns, hopefully there will be many things you can take away in the art of telling a good story.

Why tell a story?

Before I get into the case studies, let’s look at the reasons why you should tell a story to sell your products. Again, if you missed last week’s post, go read that for a more comprehensive break down of telling a compelling story.

The world of marketing has dramatically changed over the last 100 years, but one thing that has stayed consistent is the importance of telling a compelling story. It doesn’t matter how great a product is, without an effective marketing campaign consumers won’t flock to buy it. That is why the biggest and most sustaining companies invest heavily in crafting beautiful and emotional campaigns around storytelling.

Associating your product with a story is so effective because we naturally remember a good story and we are more likely to share it with others. When a marketing campaign can introduce a product through a story, it is far more likely to be well received by a consumer.

Case studies

I’m a big fan of creative marketing campaigns that tell a story. I think despite the bad name marketing and advertising gets, there are some truly beautiful campaigns that get launched each year. Whilst the majority of marketing is ignored, these stand out campaigns are truly storytelling at its finest.

I’ve picked the follow 4 case studies for a number of reasons. Firstly these are some of my favourite storytelling campaigns from over the past few years. Secondly I think they make interesting case studies to analyse how to tell an effective story through marketing. And thirdly, I only wanted to include campaigns where I could link you to a video so you could watch them yourself. It kind of misses the point if I have to try and describe what was so good about the storytelling without you actually seeing it with your own eyes.


Of course I couldn’t write a post like this without including one of the best marketing companies of all time. Apple has built itself to be one of the most valuable companies in the world by creating beautiful products with some of the most compelling and rememberable campaigns in the history of modern marketing.

Apple has consistently delivered marketing campaigns that create a vision of what the company is aspiring to be. This has went from a group of renegades fighting against the establishment to campaigns specifically targeting unique and creative people through self expression.

Apple’s 1984 commercial aired during The Super Bowl, one of the biggest american television events of the year. This campaign references George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which is a novel about a dystopian future of a world in perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control. Apple is targeting IBM as the evil in the world and showing how the Macintosh will change the face of modern computing.

The Think Different campaign was Apple highlighting inspiring people and how they changed the world. In this campaign, Apple is aligning itself with the troublemakers of the world who weren’t afraid to be different and stand up for what they believed in.

The iPod Silhouette campaign ran from 2004 to 2008. It highlighted how Apple had changed the game with portable music players. Again Apple is highlighting the creative individuals who they are targeting and how iconic the iPod and it’s white earbuds become to be. The campaigns featured strong visual silhouettes on bright backgrounds and upbeat songs from a range of artists and genres.

And finally the last Apple campaign I want to highlight is the Photos Every Day campaign. The iPhone is the most popular camera in the world and has enabled everyone to carry a high quality camera with them at all times. Many people no longer own a digital camera because the iPhone has become so powerful. This campaign focuses on people taking photos during their every day lives. Again this is a beautiful video that highlights how connected people are to their phone. These devices that we carry in our pockets allow us to capture memories that will live with us forever.

Apple has been so successful over multiple decades in their marketing efforts because they tell a consistent story of targeting individuals. Whether this being creative artists or anti-establishment renegades, Apple’s unconventional and provocative campaigns have built them a cult following all around the world.

The beautiful thing about Apple campaigns is how they have been able to consistently tell this same story over multiple decades. I’ve highlighted three of the most well known campaigns, but of course there are many more.

If there is one takeaway from the plethora of successful Apple campaigns is, choose a story and stick with it. Many companies will try and portray themselves differently in marketing campaigns to appeal to mass markets. Instead, find a group of people that you can target specifically, and stay true to that path.

Jack Daniels

Another iconic product that uses effective story telling is Jack Daniels. Jack Daniels have had countless advertisements that build upon each other to portray the story behind the product.

Whilst Jack Daniels has had a number of different stories in their campaign, each stays true to the consistent theme of the brand. The advertisements usually heavily use black and white and give an authentic feel of Tennessee.

Two of the most popular Jack Daniels commercials were Label Story and His Way that both focus on the mystery behind the brand. Both advertisements use simple imagery, but both portray the brand as mysterious and compelling.

One of my favourite marketing campaigns from this year is the Jack Daniels CBGB campaign. In this campaign, Jack Daniels is aligning itself to the history of rock and roll by featuring some of the most prominent rock stars from the last couple of decades. Again, the campaign is staying true to the mysterious nature of the brand.

I think Jack Daniels advertisements are so effective because they are extremely understated. Jack Daniels is well aware of how the product is positioned in the market and the demographic of people who the brand resonates with. Jack Daniels shows that you don’t have to create over the top campaigns to convey a powerful story.


Another one of my favourite campaigns from 2013 was Dove’s Beauty Sketches. This advertisement tells the story of how a lot of women worry about their appearance and so they overlook their own natural beauty. The campaign shows that often the way others see us is very different from the things that we naturally get caught up on.

This was an extremely compelling campaign because it was able to tap into the emotion of feeling insecure in your own body. A lot of people all around the world suffer from self confidence issues about their appearance, and so this campaign is likely going to resonate with a lot of people.

The take away from this campaign is, know your target audience intimately, understand their problems and be empathetic to things they worry about. When a brand like Dove can show a deep understanding of the problems consumers face, potential customers are going to feel a much stronger affinity for the brand.


Charity:Water is one of the youngest companies that I’m going to feature in this post, but also one of the most promising new marketing companies of the past couple of years.

Charity:Water knows that traditionally a lot of charities have been unable to effectively connect their target audience with the problems they are trying to solve. Charity:Water has invested heavily in building a brand around it’s campaign to provide clean water for every human on the planet.

One of the first Charity:Water commercials featured Jennifer Connelly and the people of New York city collecting pond water to carry back to their apartments. The campaign showed what it would be like to give dirty water to your children and how we take clean running water for granted.

By putting the audience into the shoes of the people who don’t have access to clean water, Charity:Water is able to show the problem that over a billion people face each day. Drinking dirty water is the root of problem that keeps millions of people in poverty and sickness. If you are a parent watching this commercial, it is not hard to imagine what it must be like to give your children this dirty water to drink.

Charity:Water’s campaign is effective because they have been able to put the seriousness of the problem they are trying to tackle into the lives of ordinary people. A lot of people are sceptical of giving to charity because of the lack of transparency the industry has shrouded itself in. Charity:Water is investing heavily in a brand that is able to start a movement around being an advocate for helping others.


I think you will agree that the marketing campaigns from these 4 companies are pretty inspiring. Whilst you might not necessarily ever be a customer of any of these companies, hopefully you can see how they can stir the emotion of their target customers by creating these emotional campaigns.

Creating compelling marketing campaigns is all about telling a consistent and true story. As you can see from the campaigns that I’ve highlighted above, all of the most effective marketing campaigns are clear, simple and remain true to mission of the company.

I think a lot of companies get marketing so disastrously wrong because they don’t self identify with their audience. They do not have a clear goal and they don’t stand for anything in particular. When you and your customers share the same world view, you are trying to solve the same problems and you care about the same things, creating compelling and engaging stories becomes easy.

What are you favourite marketing campaigns? Link me up with a YouTube link in the comments!

Philip Brown


© Yellow Flag Ltd 2024.