September 8, 2014

The Best Marketing Stories Among UK Brands

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Love or hate the phrase, storytelling as a method of mass communication for brands is here to stay. Stories, anecdotes and metaphors that take an audience on a narrative journey to subtly reveal a branded message along the way are far more memorable and shareable than any brazen sales focused advertisement.

A recent survey by Aesop last month last month asked more than 2,000 people in the UK to rate brands against criteria including brand personality, memorability, credibility and purpose, in order to find out the most popular ‘storytelling’ brand.

The top-level results aren’t particularly surprising. You’ve got Apple in there, as well as McDonalds and Coca-Cola. However, there’s a small list of brands that have snuck in under the radar to become the fastest rising companies over the last year in terms of storytelling. Let’s take a look at those brands and see what accounts for their success.


Three‘s rise in popularity is thanks in part to the massive ‘Dance Pony Dance’ ad, which became one of the 20 most shared ads of 2013 amassing more than a million shares. Combining the twin might of 2013’s most inexplicably favored cultural references: Fleetwood Mac and tiny horses, this definitely played well to the trendy crowds.

But what makes this a good example of storytelling? Mainly its pure quirkiness, offering the viewer something completely unexpected at every turn, however there is a ‘hero’s journey’ buried in here too. In just over a minute the pony has unshackled itself from the boring conformity (and possible alienation) of its herd and embarked on a solo mission to discover new pastures and possibly to find itself.

It’s the same basic tale in Three’s recent ‘Sing it Kitty’ ad. Renegades breaking out from their normal settings to embrace their differences and shake things up a bit. Two adverts that on the surface couldn’t be more different and yet thematically are completely one, Three has nailed its own version of a fairly standard template. (Let’s also not forget the power of a hugely emotive mid-eighties, pop-rock classic.)


You may think that EE‘s popularity is purely down to the ubiquitous presence of its Kevin Bacon starring adverts, but they’ve been going for a few years now and its hardly one of the most narratively solid campaigns.

The ‘made epic’ series of ads from this year however are a cut above…

Using familiar movie-tropes, high budget art design and an atmospheric score, this ad drops you right into the middle of what could be any number of taut continent-hopping political thrillers from the last couple of years… and then completely pulls the rug from underneath you in a brilliantly stupid manner.

This works as a great piece of storytelling, mainly because of the various cinematic devices used as shorthand. The pacing, the camerawork, the foreign setting, the score, the choice of cast who already look like hard-working character actors with long unnoticed careers, all of these tools make the audience assume they know exactly what’s been going on long before the advert started.

And of course what better example of storytelling is there than ‘lengthy set-up to quick punchline’? Just like Three above, EE has this template nailed and its sticking to it. The message ‘make films on your phone more epic’ perfectly describes the synthesis of product and content in these ads.

Click here to see the remaining UK brand advertisements that made the top of the list.

 -Christopher Ratcliff,

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