Brand Storytelling

Wagon Wheels (Reliving The Lunchbox Experience)

My parents were of European heritage so food was important to us. As a child attending public school in suburban Ottawa, my brothers and I rarely ate in the school cafeteria. Instead, my parents would make us lunches that we would schlep to school regardless of weather conditions (this included months of sub-zero temps as Ottawa was second coldest to Moscow).

In my early school days, I remember that plastic lunchboxes were all the rage. Not just any lunchbox, but the coloured “Thermos” ones that often came with pictures of your favourite superheroes or TV show characters. The lunchboxes would come with a good size Thermos container (attached with a clip) that would provide needed warmth with soup or hot chocolate on those endless bitterly cold winter days.

Included in my lunch would always be a sandwich – usually salami, cheese or peanut butter – to give us extra protein. Back then, our lunchboxes weren’t refrigerated at school so it’s amazing none of us came down with food poisoning. I still remember my parents buying those monster size salamis which sometimes looked like small baseball bats. Being a daughter of parents of European heritage, dessert was always a much anticipated treat to find in my lunchbox. If we were lucky, our lunches would also include a small size DelMonte pudding cup (usually chocolate). The cups came with sharp, pull off lids so you had to be careful they didn’t slice your fingers as you rushed to pull them off.

But the item that stands out the most as having the most impact on my day was when I saw a Wagon Wheel in my lunch. These tasty treats (resembling a Joe Louis by Vachon for those of you who grew up near Quebec) consisted of a generous portion of marshmallow sandwiched between two chocolate covered soft biscuits.

As a kid, I knew it would be a good afternoon if my lunch included a Wagon Wheel.

Today, the product hasn’t changed much except that with most consumer products, the size seems to have shrunken a bit. What’s funny is that I still occasionally buy it for a treat. The brand has the incredible ability to take me back to the carefree days of my childhood when a simple treat in my lunchbox was able to make my day.

Eating a Wagon Wheel makes me experience my childhood all over again as in spite of its seemingly smaller size, not much has changed with the product. The taste is still unique and I sense I am that same kid all over again.

What is it about some brands that make them so timeless?

I looked at the new packaging for Wagon Wheels and not much seems to have changed either except for the fact that I’m now looking at it from the eyes of an adult. The font looks the same (quite retro) and each piece is individually wrapped. In what is probably an attempt to bring us back to our Wagon Wheel roots, the company makes it a point of saying the product is “original.” Which is true, because that’s exactly how I remember them.

Yet what hit me the most on the package was the five word line printed directly below the product name “Ideal snack for the lunchbox.” The image right next to it features a yellow lunchbox with a Wagon Wheel and wrapper sitting directly outside of it.

What’s even more intriguing is that I wrote most of this post BEFORE I even took a look at the packaging. Dare Foods totally nailed it. As a consumer, you can’t get any closer to a brand experience than that.

In a world cluttered with competing messages, to me that’s brand genius. Timelessness, taste, experience and meaning make this one brand story that’s destined to be around for a long, long time.

Wagon Wheels

 

 

 

 

 


Nostalgic Over Heinz

Heinz is one of the world’s most iconic and memorable brands. To this day, I refuse to buy any other ketchup than Heinz ketchup. The topic of brand loyalty has long intrigued both manufacturers as well as advertisers and academics. What makes a brand so good – that consumers will go out of their way to buy it every time – regardless of price or the wide array of other options on the grocery shelf?

Iconic global brands have several qualities, but perhaps the most dominant is their ability to invoke some sort of emotional connection in the consumer. By consuming a product represented by a global brand, we are often transported to a different place and time. A time when things were simpler and less rushed. A time when we were perhaps surrounded by family gathered around the television set watching the Flintstones or Walt Disney.

Take Heinz spaghetti. To some, it might be just another option to soup on a cold winter’s day. But to me, the idea of eating Heinz spaghetti has a far deeper connection and meaning. Having grown up with 3 brothers, I remember us all eating Heinz spaghetti on (usually wobbly) TV trays  watching our old black and white TV on those long and cold winter days. On some days we might have come home for a quick lunch from school. My grandmother would open up a couple of cans, then serve them to us sprinkled with Kraft grated parmesan cheese.  I still remember shaking those large green containers with the red lids. I also remember watching the spaghetti boil as the odour of tomato sauce filled our house.

We loved Heinz spaghetti, and I still eat it today when I want to feel nostalgic. That’s one reason comfort foods exist. When it comes to brands, it’s not so much what they ARE – but what they DO to us that represents their true quality and value. A brand is a promise of quality, and I know that whether it’s today or 10 years from now, Heinz will still offer me the same quality product I experienced when I was 10.

Perhaps most importantly, it will offer me the same brand STORY I experienced when I was 10. Brands offer context, and whenever I eat Heinz spaghetti I’m transported back to childhood. It represents comfort food and reminds me of a time when we were all together as a family.

To me, it’s not just another can of convenience food. It’s a promise that what I experience when I eat it will contain good memories and will make me feel good about the purchase. That’s what iconic brands do – and will always continue to do. It’s what makes them unique.

Are there any other brands you can think of that offer you a similar story? Are all brand decisions based on price, or do you sometimes buy something just because it reminds you of another place and time?

Heinz_spaghetti

 

 


Why Objects Matter

Stories are all around us. They're part of our DNA. From our earliest childhood, most of us can remember the sound of Mom or Dad reading stories to us. Stories of superheroes, folktale legends or just simply stories about some pretty wild and wacky characters entertained us for hours on end. The best childhood stories were able to draw you into a plot and world quite different from your own. Worlds where the good guys often won and imaginations ran free.

As we grew up, stories took on a whole new meaning. The books we read and films we watched reflected our "coming of age." As we struggled to find our place in the world, we hoped that stories would help us find meaning in our somewhat confused and chaotic lives. Sometimes we relied on heroes to provide a path through darkness to light. At other times, stories were just a means of escape, a way to temporarily leave the present world to experience a new one in print, on stage or on screen.

While enlightened companies are waking up to the fact that stories can help their brands better connect to consumers, stories can also be of great personal significance when they're a reflection of the objects we own. These objects, artifacts or "Narrative Assets", tell the story of our lives and as a group, can even reflect the story of an entire culture or nation.

Every object, or artifact has a story. Not only does it have a particular meaning for the owner, but it can also have broader implications as well. People are naturally curious beings. Just look at the popularity of museums, art and photography exhibits, antique fairs, movies and social media. We all like to share stories about what's important to us in our lives. Artifacts are one way to help us understand our place in the world.

By relating a story to an object, we're able to connect with others on an emotional level who may or may not have gone through a similar experience. Humans are naturally curious beings and are drawn to objects. What does an object represent? Who owned it? What's it made of? How old is it? and "What's its story?"

Artifacts taken from the site of world changing events can be an important source of reflection. For example, artifacts gathered from Ground Zero were placed in a museum honouring the heroes of that dark day in our history. Artifacts can represent stories that invoke either good or bad memories, but their significance to an individual or to society in general is equally important in that they serve as connecting points to our own community - or to the world in general.

Perhaps more than anything, objects and artifacts have the amazing ability to transcend time and space. When an object is passed on to another generation, that generation bears the weight and responsibility of keeping its memories alive. It's as if the original owner passes his or her story down to future generations through a particular object of great personal importance.

This blog will attempt to find meaning in otherwise everyday objects. In some cases, they may have little significance to the reader - but by adding a story the purpose of the object and its emotional relevance will become clear and generate a life of its own. So whether you're a company looking for innovative ways to showcase your brand, or an individual curious to hear or share some really cool stories, I invite you to take and share in this journey through the fascinating world of "Narrative Assets." Feel free to post your own stories and pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy the adventure.

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(Image from http://www.slideshare.net/Timmilne/make-objects-tell-stories)



 

 


Superbowl Envy: What Canadian Advertisers Can Learn From The Americans

I'm not a die hard football fan, but I tune into the Superbowl every year. I love the excitement of professional sports played out at an almost superhuman level. There's also a sought after entertainment factor which never fails to impress during the Superbowl. The half time shows are one thing, but there is also a sense of anticipation at being able to see the latest crop of advertising wizardry.

Yet every year around the water cooler, online and on radio stations across the country, the banter focuses on how much Canadians long to see the American commercials - as opposed to the often uncreative and (dare I say) unengaging Canadian ones. With some exceptions (McDonald's and BlackBerry were interesting this year), most Canadian commercials are, for lack of a better term, boring. If I have to see one more bank commercial I think I'm going to cry. And what's up with Bell? A communications giant, yet there's absolutely no creativity to their ads. To make matters worse, the same ads are run over and over again to the point where I start pressing the mute button every time they come on.

Come on people - it's Superbowl time! Engage me. Intrigue me. Make me want to talk about your brand in a positive way. Martin Short, one of the planet's funniest comedians, was introduced as a spokesperson for a contest run by the Lay's brand of potato chips. He's brilliant. But the jokes weren't funny.

What's missing in most Canadian commercials is a real understanding of story - and how it can engage a consumer by bringing up a positive memory - or tugging on their heartstrings. For brilliant examples of how to do this, check out the Budweiser, Dodge Ram and  Chrysler Jeep commercials which ran during the Superbowl. 

And even if the story is silly or stupid (as in slapstick comedy), it can have a huge impact on brand memory and recognition through its use of humour. Check out the Doritos commercial which uses a goat to get its point across. Story doesn't always have to be "deep."

It also doesn't have to be expensive. Look at Hollywood. Good storylines and interesting characters put Blockbusters and low budget movies on even playing fields. And that's before you factor in the benefits of social media.

Now I don't think for a minute that all Canadians nor all agencies are uncreative and boring. There are exceptions to what seems to be the norm. So whose fault is it? Are clients just not buying more creative pitches? Are Canadians really happy with the status quo and are they just unwilling to see riskier and more exciting commercials?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that both agencies and their clients need to take more chances. Don't tell me the great fuel economy I'll get by buying your brand of car. Don't tell me about the cool dashboard with the nifty new GPS device. So what. Every other car company is telling me the same thing.

Make me remember your brand. SHOW me how I can save mileage and how I can use the GPS device by telling me a story. Use that story about how, years ago, my first driving lesson was in a Ford station wagon. Transport that sense of fear and excitement to the ad. Show how my parents used to take the car on what seemed like endless summer road trips...and how they used maps to get us from Point A to Point B (not always successfully). And how today things have changed because gas mileage is better - and there are onboard TV screens to keep the kids quiet - and how GPS is used to navigate the new worlds of both superhighways and more remote destinations (and how unlike maps, they never require folding). 

Compare the old with the new. Because somewhere deep inside, your brand has earned a spot in my memory.

Engage me. Dazzle me. Get my emotions involved. But please don't bore me with an endless run of statistics and features. And really boring spokespeople.

It's time to battle Superbowl envy with story and lessen the gap between what Canadians want to see, and what they're getting. It's time for a cure.

Budweiser2013

 


Brad Pitt Generates "Inevitable" Backlash for Chanel No. 5

As the first male spokesperson for iconic brand Chanel No. 5, Brad Pitt has generated a fury of controversy..not all of which can be bad for the company. Cited as "vague" by viewers and countless media outlets, Pitt seems to confuse the audience with his ramble about life's journeys, luck, fate and fortune. The ads have generated so much buzz, that they have already been spoofed on Saturday Night Live, Ellen and Conan.

Yet the effect of all this buzz is, to use his word, "inevitable."  The ad has generated over 4 million hits on YouTube. To quantify the amount of free publicity garnished by Chanel with the launch of these print and TV ads would be astounding.

Whoever said that there's no such thing as bad publicity would certainly stand up for this one. According to Vanity Fair, the launch of the ad campaign was made to co-incide with the release of Pitt's new movie Killing Them Softly. Brilliant marketing on both sides.

So while the critics are spending time tearing up the ad, both Chanel and Pitt can be assured of one thing. People are talking about it. And in the world of brand marketing, just having people talk about your product will ensure that the Chanel brand story continues to live on in the minds and emotions of consumers. 

 


Walt Disney On Why It's Not Good To Grow Up

As a child growing up in Ottawa, I was exposed to a world of imagination through music, reading and stories. My parents were originally from Europe and I was quickly introduced to fables and folklore from the "old country." An outgoing child, I would often take the outdoor stage at our favourite lake in the Gatineau Park and put on a show for my family. Acting, singing, writing - they were all part of who I was as a young child.

Unfortunately as I grew older and responsibilities started to take over, I lost my sense of imagination and some of my creativity. My life took a different direction, and I ended up in the world of the "practical" having to deal with deadlines, commitments and pleasing "stakeholders."

Once in a while, my sense of imagination and creativity make a re-appearance. It happens when I browse through antique markets, check out the dusty corner of a guitar store - or see a movie like Wes Anderson's recent Moonrise Kingdom - the story of rediscovering youth and imagination in the remoteness of small town America.

Walt Disney once said "Too many people grow up. That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. Well, I won't do that." Words on which to build a marketing empire.

In a world full of complex ideas, quick fix hits and information measured in gigabytes - it's up to marketers to reinspire their audience to encourage them to act. More than storytelling, this requires the ability to "hit us" where it will have most impact. Find some way to connect your product with our youth. It's a powerful selling tool. Tom Peters said that a "brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience." It's almost a primeval way of hitting us at the gut level to re-ignite something that has been lost for so many years.

Being an adult is definitely a wonderful experience. Yet the success of movies and books that cater to the imagination and one's inherent creativity tell me that there's a void in the lives of many adults. It's a void that makes people long for a simpler time - a time when being a child held all the magic and wonder of life - and the thought of growing up was a story yet about to unfold.

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Coca-Cola Shares The Love With Launch of New Hug Machine

As part of its ongoing effort to engage customers in the brand experience, Coca-Cola has launched a novel idea called the Hug Machine. Launched at the National University of Singapore in March, the machine is part of the company's "Open Happiness" campaign that began in the US in 2009.

The giant red machine boasts the words "Hug Me" on the front and it contains no coin slot. When people hug the front of the machine it delivers a free can of Coke. Needless to say, the machine boasts an endless array of photo ops and YouTube clips which result in even more PR and brand coverage for the company.

Talk about establishing an emotional connection with the audience! Coca-Cola has always been a leader in the concept and technique of brand storytelling. As Schulich School of Business Marketing Professor Markus Giesler says "A brand that's high up on a billboard wants to dominate me, but a brand that can be hugged wants to be my friend."

Many of the world's most successful brands are able to create and maintain emotional relationships with customers. The more "human" marketers can make these brands, the better the chance of success. Not only is Coke's technique entertaining, it also fosters relationships and creates a sense of community. The next time participants walk down the supermarket aisle - which soft drink brand do you think they'll choose?

In the end, isn't it nice to know that you can still be successful by putting a smile on everyone's face?

 


Cougar Boots Relaunches Brand Story on a Canadian Icon

In the fashion world, it seems what's old is all of a sudden new again. The only difference is that now it commands a higher price.

Many of us will remember the infamous Cougar pillow boot that took the country by storm in 1976. Who didn't walk around school with these iconic boots? They were the supreme representation of cool - yet cooler if the tongue was left to dangle loosely (I remember even adding a red fluffy lumberjack coat, but I digress...)

Iconic brands are able to tell a story in a way that captivates consumers. Yet more than being able to tell an engaging story, great brands are able to tap into our emotions in a way that draws up warm memories. Cougar does this extremely well with its re-introduction of the famous Cougar pillow boot.

As you key into the Cougar website, a mesmerizing combination of both nostalgic and modern images draw you into the story. The kids are dressed the way WE used to dress in the winter. They are engaging in what those of us familiar with the brand used to do too...hang out on those old wooden style toboggans. Press noses against glass. Run around chasing your brothers and sisters. 

Adding to the sense of nostalgia is the music. The song sounds as if it's recorded in the 1920's or 30's and adds an element of warmth to the scene. One cannot help but be drawn into the film clip. All in all, the whole approach and presentation make me, as a consumer, WANT to learn more about the boot. Instead of being about just another winter boot, Cougar has presented the brand in a way that makes you feel as if you're reconnecting with a long lost friend.

Great advertising and great brands are able to tell a brand story in a way that makes consumers WANT to listen. The best brands are able to cut beneath the surface of our psyche and reach into something that we thought was long gone.

Can you think of other campaigns that follow a similar approach?

Lrg_pillow_boot-limited_edition


Tell It To Sell It - How Hotels Can Use Brand Storytelling To Win Customers

You've heard it before. Everyone has a story. Well, every place has a story too. And with summer travel season upon us, hotels can benefit from the amazing number of customer stories that are happening right this moment.

As the use of stories in marketing campaigns continues to gain popularity, some of the world's most innovative hotel brands are cashing in on their customer's experiences. Think about it. There is so much competition out there in the hotel business - what would convince a customer to book with you?

Two things. Experience - and story. If I decide to invest in a luxury hotel, I've decided to invest in a particular brand for the way it will make me FEEL. At the point when I click the mouse to book the room, I want to feel as if I'm booking an experience - not just a transaction. If I've done my research using social media, I also want to be convinced that my decision is the right one based on the majority of stories given to me by other customers. This is a group mentality decision, but an individual one as well. If there's a story the hotel can add to help convince me to book with them (ie. a cool historical fact or awesome location), then I'd be happy to hear it.

So how can hotel brands stand out to entice more customers? Use stories! Author and hotel consultant Daniel Edward Craig is a hotel industry veteran. He claims that hoteliers are natural storytellers, and that hotels are a rich and unlimited resource for stories. And what better way to bring in the customer than to engage them in story? Craig goes on to list storytelling examples used by some of the world's leading hotel brands. There's a hotel in Paris that tells its story through a crafty and engaging video. Sheraton and Fairmont have created online communities for guests and staff to share their stories. A hotel in Stockholm actually scans handwritten notes by guests and posts them to their website.

Travelling and adventure bring out a shared sense of time and place. Hotels that are able to capture this universal theme and incorporate it into their brand marketing will be able to tap into the imagination (and eventually pocketbooks) of their customers.

Here's a picture taken during our first trip to New Orleans. The photo was taken inside the lobby of the Royal Sonesta Hotel. Rather than describe the warmth and magnificence of this place (reminiscent of another place and time), I'll let the picture do the talking. What story does this photo have to tell - and what does it say about the Royal Sonesta brand?

Cousin_Malcolm 

  

 


Brand Storytelling: Tips For Business From Hollywood And The Screenwriting World

The goals of the Hollywood movie machine are no different than those of most businesses. Find creative ways to engage an audience so you can recoup your investment, sell lots of product and make a ton of money. With these goals in mind, it's here where the world of the entertainment industry and the interests of the business world collide.

Old_film_camera This weekend I attended the Toronto Screenwriting Conference at Ryerson University. The conference featured top Hollywood talent from many realms of the business..writing, producing, directing and consulting. What struck me was the variety of ways in which the business world could benefit from their experience and ideas. As I mentioned above, there are many similarities between the entertainment and business worlds. From a storytelling perspective, it's clear why Hollywood is in a Master class all its own.

Here's a brief synopsis of some of the key speakers and their views on storytelling. Think about the implications of their ideas for business (and brand storytelling) and how the concepts could be used to better sell products and services (Note - The comments have been paraphrased based on notes taken in the seminar sessions):

Sheldon Bull  - Comedy writer extraordinaire (MASH, Coach, Newhart) and author of ELEPHANT BUCKS - An Insider's Guide to Writing for TV Sitcoms - 'People watch sitcoms every week because they have an emotional investment in the characters'; 'Writers need to set it up so the audience will care about the characters and feel that emotional investment'; 'What audiences are yearning for is something they can cling to and love'

Pen Densham -  Award winning writer, producer, director - and teacher/mentor extraordinaire (author of Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing (And Not Getting Eaten) -  'The purpose of a good movie is to demonstrate things dramatically so the audience can learn about themselves'; 'A good actor invests in their biological understanding of humanity'; (on the subject of pitches) 'Find a way to discover what you and the buyer are most in tune with - find the common ground'; 'Find the nugget - there has to be an emotional journey and something at stake'; 'Find out how to get people to care about you'

Kevin Shortt - Scriptwriter and story designer at Ubisoft in Montreal (Avatar: The Game, Lost - The Video Game) - 'Steven Spielberg once said that story (narrative) has to touch on the emotions'; 'Players need a level of interactivity so they own moral conflict and their own moral choices'; 'Great movies are great because of great characters'; 'Be sure the ending/end result stays in tune with the game's vision'

Christopher Vogler - One of Hollywood's leading script consultants and author of the iconic book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers - 'The idea of story and myth in story has implications outside of the entertainment world'; 'Joseph Campbell compared myth to metaphor - it's a comparison for a mystery that's beyond human comprehension - myth is in the realm of the senses'; 'Every work of art is a metaphor for your own situation'; 'Science can measure that you're in an attuned sense of consciousness when you watch a good movie - you can actually alter the settings and bring people to a different place'; 'Hook the audience and make them want to know what will happen next'; 'Give the hero mistakes/flaws that we all share - people always want to think the movies are about them'

Writing an award-winning ad campaign or pitch isn't much different than writing an award-winning Hollywood script. In both cases, you have to find a way to create a story that engages the audience - and "forces" them to do something or feel something. As Vogler suggests (based on his study of Joseph Campbell) - myth and story are in the realm of the senses. If you can tap into that emotion and primal need for story as a way of helping people discover their place in the world - audiences and consumers will relate these needs and feelings to your product, service or brand. Once they are able to relate and make that connection, chances are high that they will buy too.

Can you think of other ways in which the business world could use concepts developed in Hollywood to create compelling ad campaigns?