Social Storytelling: You, Me, and Angelina Jolie

Everyone’s got a story. And marketers are trying to coax those stories out of you, me, and Angelina Jolie.

Offline, brands have worked with celebrities and ordinary people to tell stories for decades. Consider the hallmark Dewar’s Profiles ads that brought recognition to promising young professionals for more than two decades. That campaign is also credited with helping to increase sales of Dewar’s in the 1980s.

What’s different about today’s storytelling techniques? Even during the past three to five years, there have been some notable developments:

  • People can more easily create and share their stories, thanks to the proliferation of low-cost digital cameras, video recorders, and other technologies.
  • Once someone has recorded his or her story – whether produced by professionals or DIY – it’s easier for fans and followers to share and comment about it on social networks, from YouTube to Facebook.
  • Technology companies, such as VideoGenie, ExpoTV, and Wildfire, are making it easier to manage programs that rely on user-generated content.
  • Compelling stories don’t have to be limited to a 0:30 or 0:60 TV spot, thanks to free or low-cost video hosting platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, and others.

Jolie, Louis, and a Very Expensive Handbag

storytelling-angelinajolie-youtubeIn a high-end photo shoot befitting the luxury brand, Louis Vuitton retained photographer Annie Liebowitz to photograph film star and humanitarian Angelina Jolie for its Core Value campaign. Print ads were created depicting Jolie on a wood boat in a Cambodia swamp – a Louis Vuitton handbag by her side. (According to reports, this handbag has been discontinued.)

But the story doesn’t end there.

A video, uploaded to YouTube, features close-up shots of Jolie, chatting while sitting crossed-legged on the floor of a barebones open-air hut in a Cambodia jungle. In the video, she discusses her connections to the country where she filmed “Tomb Raider” more than a decade ago and adopted a son, Maddox. The video also depicts random sights and sounds of the impoverished, yet magical country and its people.

The exotic super mom explains why she wants her children to experience different cultures and introduced them to a new snack. “My boys love to eat crickets…they ate them like Doritos and would not stop,” she said of their experiences in Cambodia. “I had to ban cricket eating because I was concerned they would get sick from [eating] too many.”

Not counting the intro slide, the video’s first reference to the Louis Vuitton ad campaign does not come until the final 82 seconds of the 10-minute video. That’s when the video shows photographer Liebowitz on the set, camera in hand, as Jolie preens for the photo shoot.

By 4 p.m. Thursday, the video had more than 673,000 views on YouTube, twice as many as the prior day.

Reaction to the advertisement has been mixed. “I really like what Angelina Jolie does, using her fame to help others, what i don’t like_ is that this comercial is for louis vuitton, come on your in a poor country and you still carry around a freaking vuitton bag (aprox. $2000 usd) that’s just ridiculous,” commented one person on YouTube.

Inspirational Storytelling

Like many other brands, clothing brand Levi’s uses consumer-generated video in its marketing. But Levi’s takes a slightly different twist than many other efforts. With the simple question, “Who Inspires You?” Levi’s turns the emphasis away from “me” and shines a light on others. In a video app on Facebook, Levi’s asks people to give a shout-out to a mentor, muse, or friend. Videos appear in a gallery on Facebook. More than 500 videos were recorded within the first 30 days of the campaign.

storytelling-levi-sVideoGenie CEO Justin Nassiri is convinced that people won’t tire of customer stories. “We, as consumers, are fed up with hearing from paid actors. I don’t want to hear what Michael Jordan thinks is great. I want the truth and the [customer] testimonial is the way to hear the person next door,” said Nassiri, whose company’s technology is being used by Levi’s.

Automakers: Keeping It Real

Living in a household that owns a Subaru (2002 Forester) and Toyota (2007 Corolla), I was intrigued to see each automaker invite enthusiasts over the past year to share their car stories.

Of the two, Toyota delivered a far more entertaining and creative experience. “Toyota Auto-Biography” launched a year ago, lets people sign onto a Facebook app and tell the story about their vehicle.


Participants can use a tool within the app that generates an animated video with audio narrative. One hundred animated videos are listed on Facebook; 83 can be found on YouTube including the amusing story, “The Midnight Snack.”


In contrast, Subaru’s microsite, “Dear Subaru,” showcased 203 customer stories, most with text (up to 1,500 characters) and images. These lacked the color and creativity compared to Toyota’s testimony. Still, many testimonials reinforced Subaru’s brand promise: enabling Subaru owners to travel through severe winter conditions.


More recently, SapientNitro took a different approach to telling an automotive maker’s story. The agency and the production company New York spent a month in Texas to find people who owned Chrysler Ram trucks. The team created a nine-video web series, called “Proven,” that profiles each of the truck’s owners and highlights the vehicle’s attributes such as durability and diesel power.


Storytelling in Customer Service: Whole Foods

Whole Foods introduced storytelling to its customer comment cards. Like those “How am I driving?” bumper stickers on commercial trucks, Whole Foods invites customers to comment about a worker’s performance.

A 5-inch by 7-inch card, available at the checkout register, is headlined: “I have a story to tell because [team member name]…” Then, customers can check off any of the five answers (e.g., “was skilled in the art of foodie”) or add their narrative to the card under, “Here’s my story….”



Addendum: For Practical Advice

With all this attention being given to storytelling, could marketers run the risk of bombarding people with too many stories? It’s possible.

To learn more about storytelling techniques, pick up a copy of “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story” by Peter Guber. The Mandalay Entertainment CEO peppers the book with stories (of course) and offers specific tactics for building and telling stories.

“Move your listeners’ hearts, and their feet and wallet will follow,” he promises. His story is worth listening to.

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