How to lose customers and alienate people

Estimated reading time
4 minutes
16th July 2019
Author: Nick Mason
Posted in: Content Production

It’s Christmas and you are on the tube home from work, excitedly unlocking your phone to watch the new adorable Christmas advert that Janet from the office wouldn’t shut up about all day. You sit there and find yourself smiling because, well, it is kind of cute. You feel the warmth and the undeniably charming Christmas spirit run through your veins as the wholesome story unfolds… It’s perfectly on-brand, as John Lewis always is.

By now we all know the importance of playing into people’s emotions in marketing, tugging their heartstrings, and spreading the luuurve. Storytelling is a great way of doing this, and it can be particularly successful in building a heartfelt connection between brands and their customers, whether it’s tragedy, love, or a tear-jerker that makes you pick up the phone and adopt a puppy. 

sad puppy with big eyes - almost as powerful as storytelling marketing

However, let’s find out what happens when this doesn’t quite work out …

The most recent case of Subway is almost laughable. It went viral with 3.1 million views but definitely for the wrong reasons. Like a lot of brands, they tried to ride the emotional storytelling bandwagon but got it all wrong. The video also received a huge response on Twitter, including this comical tweet.

When we think of the sandwich company, we think ‘Subway: Eat Fresh’. Their newest attempt at storytelling marketing involved a 2-minute angsty life-cycle of parents and their son, including strange peeping-tom references, cheating, and other generally odd ‘life’ moments, all resulting in the young man now grown up and walking into a Subway shop as the voice-over reads “Every day, life asks the same question: What are you going to try today?”

The video was THAT irrelevant to Subway it caused people to guess throughout what brand it could possibly be promoting. The guesses varied from life insurance, Johnson & Johnson baby oil, to the National Army. Nothing close to Subway was even planted in their minds during the video, until the final second of the clip where you see him go into the sandwich shop and order a sub.

Genius? We think not. 

Judging by the reactions on Twitter, It’s pretty clear that this kind of clearly ill-fitting storytelling is not so hot. Not only did people fail to associate the ad with its campaigner, but it generated discussion about other brands and turned potential customers off.

It got such a bad reaction that a Subway spokesperson had to confirm that it was, in fact, a real campaign. 

 “We’re excited for the storytelling and creativity that takes place around the world, from this story in Brazil to dedicated Franchisees in the United States and our culinary innovation taking place around the world. Stay tuned to SubCulture and for more stories.”

man with hand up saying no

Right, now we know what doesn’t work. What can you do to create successful storytelling marketing that engages your audience, and actually makes them feel connected to your brand?

The best way is by showing the viewers WHY you do what you do. Find out how people are using your product or service to better their lives and share their inspiring videos through storytelling marketing. Sometimes the simplest videos have the most effect.  

Here are a few golden examples. Try not to cry. I dare you.

The last Go Pro video is a great example of some of the purest and most enjoyable storytelling that jerks on the heartstrings, getting the waterworks flowing. By using only user-generated content filmed on a Go Pro, the brand comes across as honest and trustworthy.

While storytelling often comes in the form of a video, there have been some other effective ways of connecting with your audience through storytelling. In fact, Soul Cycle smashed it last year during gay pride month. By capturing the feelings of their customers during a spin class they communicated their focus on creating a safe, inclusive environment. 

screenshot of instagram pride post - storytelling marketing in action

5 Top tips for effective storytelling

Don’t be afraid to seem human. 

By creating a human connection you make your customers realize that you are not just a corporate, capitalist money-greedy evil machine. Well, not completely anyway. 

Be real and genuine. 

Sometimes it’s better to tell the story how it is, without the shiny editing. Unlike the photo after adding the Instagram filter. In short, don’t lie. Usually, your audience can detect lies straight away – and you don’t wanna be put in the naughty corner.

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes.

What do your consumers care about? How is it going to have an impact on their life? Think about the functional and emotional benefit they will gain from the story. 

Skip the cliches.

Sticking with the boy meets girl type storytelling is about as exciting as watching grass grow. Don’t get me wrong, it can sometimes work if done in a clever way, but most of the time the run of the mill boring stories will get your audience yawning and snoozing before the video is even finished. 

Avoid controversial or political topics.

Especially if it’s not relevant to your business. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you what happened with Pepsi in the advert featuring Kendall Jenner… 

Want to watch some more videos of brilliant storytelling marketing? Check out the 5 best B2B campaigns here.