Brand Marketer, Storyteller

Stories have been around for millennia, probably as long as humans have existed on earth. Some claim stories help make the world go around. They’re powerful.

With the help of new technologies, today stories are hitting the world of brand building in a big way. Viral videos enable rapid transmission of stories that captivate an audience. Ever heard of the Back Dorm Boys, Ju Hua Jie Jie, or Tian Xian Mei Mei? Each of the four teenagers represented by these names has been viewed by over 1 billion consumers. This exposure was achieved without spending a single dime. These self-made Web stars, who filmed their escapades on Webcams and published them on the Net, weren’t even aware of their fame until Pepsi, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson approached each of them with offers of enough money to retire.

These kids communicated their own stories in a way that was irresistible to viewers. Wanting to share the entertainment, viewers spread the viral links, responding to the characteristic shared by the best of those viral videos — an intriguing story.

Now, brands are taking a page from the storytelling tradition, tying their approach into a phenomenon I discuss in my book, “Brand Sense“: the holistic selling proposition (HSP). HSP describes a technique that conveys information within a whole context, a technique that enables the world of religion to captivate audiences.

Brands are going to the movies in a big way. When Burger King recently wanted to harness its customers’ attention, the burger giant created its own branded online channel. Diddy TV is a casually styled channel using Diddy’s star power to direct attention to, in his words, another “king” — Burger King. Burger King is now a media entity as well as a restaurant chain.

Burger King isn’t alone. has been running Fishbowl with great success. The branded online channel has authors lined up years in advance to secure a spot on the online screen. More and more, brands are their own channels for their own promotions.

This is just the beginning. The trend lightheartedly mixes editorial content with commercial messages, blurring once-essential editorial boundaries and producing a mishmash of information and entertainment. Brands convey their values through storylines, and video brings those brand to life.

Take Dove’s excellent attempt to distance the brand from the perceived superficiality of the cosmetics world by developing its own Dove movie. In a short video, the “girl next door” is transformed by makeup artists, hairstylists, and couturiers into a swan. The implied story recalls “The Ugly Duckling” and the underlying message is the world of beauty is built on fakery.

It’s an interesting proposition coming from a member of that selfsame industry. The appeal to the familiar tale captivates the onlooker and, in so doing, manages to sell more than Dove soap. It communicates a shared human moral and sells Dove’s role in it to a sympathetic viewer. Video technology brings the tale of Dove values to life, and, like all good stories, the tale spreads quickly, supported by ordinary consumers sending on the viral link.

The days of a simple brand Web site with one-dimensional “about,” “products,” and “contact” links are truly over. Consumers expect to be entertained and educated at the same time. Self-promoting online brochures won’t cut it. Brands need fresh content, preferably daily. That’s enormous pressure for every brand builder.

It’s not enough to be a product promoter. You must also be a gifted teller of intriguing tales as well. And that’s the moral of the story.

Nominate your favorite product or campaign for the 2006 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards, October 16 through close of business (EST) on October 24. Final voting begins on October 30.

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