When it comes to content, general agency wisdom says that in order for a commercial to be effective, the product has to be shown within the first three seconds. They think this way because dozens of studies about the science of marketing have trained them to. They believe that if you haven’t blatantly connected the consumer to whatever you’re trying to sell them within this three-second “intent to watch” window, then you’ve lost them.
If that seems extreme, you’re not alone. People who look at advertising from a scientific angle aren’t necessarily wrong, but they certainly aren’t looking at advertising as a platform for great storytelling. As content becomes a bigger part of brand identity, we’ve noticed that ads that focus on story and concept — like great films do — tend to be the most impactful and memorable. (They also tend to win the most awards.) They pull in consumers with vivid imagery, compelling characters, and a story that hooks them from the very first frame.
Here are 5 ads that put storytelling before product, while representing the brand effectively and beautifully.
Insurance companies probably have an advantage when it comes to developing a narrative that doesn’t feature an actual product. After all, you can’t touch, consume, or feel insurance. That being said, creating distinctive content that manages to highlight something completely intangible is no small challenge. In this suspenseful ad for Sonnet Insurance, they’ve expertly leveraged something viewers can feel: optimism. Making one of the benefits of using your product the focus of your story — in this case, the protection of what’s important to you, as opposed to highlighting something material — is a smart way to create advertising that makes sense to agencies, makes money for brands, and makes consumers pay attention.
While we were busy asking ourselves how #woke we are, The Atlantic was making an impressive foray into the world of video content — not just by asking questions, but by questioning the answers themselves. Michael K. Williams stars as himself (and himself and himself and himself) in an ad that explores the ever-complicated world of diversity in Hollywood and in our society. Few actors are as dynamic as Williams. And by placing him at the center of the conversation in this piece, viewers are given the opportunity to reconsider the way they look at how their favorite films and programs come to be. By almost completely divorcing their brand from what’s happening on screen, The Atlantic proves they know how to make content and they know how to make viewers think.
This surrealist short film/advertisement hybrid depicts a young woman’s trip down a radical rabbit hole. It isn’t until the very end that you realize this spot is advertising a fragrance, and that’s because the fragrance isn’t really what they’re selling. They’re selling the idea that a woman can be unapologetically chaotic and beautiful on her own chest-beating terms. This ad nails what every brand hopes to communicate: their product will bring out everything remarkable about those who buy it. With its constant surprises, stunning VFX, and feminist undertones, it’s no wonder this ad won big at Cannes. The takeaway? Concept is king.
This brilliant, award-winning piece is an exercise in taking a step back and asking what do we really sell? In the The New York Times’ case, they definitely aren’t selling newspapers. They opted to take the focus off of the words and put it on what those words are providing — the truth. It’s no secret that print has struggled to remain relevant, as video content has slowly taken over the throne in the past few decades. But by sticking to what the news was meant to be, this impactful, staccato piece proves that print is far from dead. On the contrary, it’s taken on a new life altogether.
Nowadays, brands are finding there can be great value in taking a stance on what’s happening in the world — even if the brand in question sells something as simple as beer. Budweiser leveraged something truly authentic to their brand — their origin story — in this period piece focused on their ambitious immigrant cofounder’s humble beginnings. The ad not only speaks to the brand’s industrious spirit, but also proves that making something special requires immense personal sacrifice. It’s a clever move on Budweiser’s part, a massive brand reminding its audience that the brand was born by one person’s dream. What’s more relatable than that?