Everyone encompasses a favorite meme to describe the brutal disaster of the year 2020 has been. But if there’s an upside, the events of 2020 have driven us to reflect on what’s most significant, recalibrate expectations, and recommit to the values we wish to uphold.
For us, both as an individual and a marketer, the chance to reframe the year as a “reboot” brings energy and focus to a time that may otherwise desire an awesome slog. Brands, from Google to Nike to Snickers, are given a call for participation to reflect on the basics. can they really know their brand purpose — and are they activating it to its full potential for the times? Are they actually deploying their time, people, and budgets within the smartest ways? Are they fully living out their values internally and externally? Are they connecting meaningfully with consumers?
The core storytelling principles simply don’t change – regardless of how upside-down everything else seems to be.
That last one leaves some marketers stumped. What’s the proper way to connect these days anyway? Given the heaviness of this year, should we expect a brand new formula for successful storytelling? Will there be a sustained shift within the tone of marketing communications and creativity?
But let’s not forget: The core storytelling principles simply don’t change – regardless of how upside-down everything else seems to be. The best, most resonant stories are always rooted in core human truths and successfully connect those to what the brand uniquely can deliver — in a culturally attuned way. But within the face of serious contextual shifts — like those driven by the COVID-19 pandemic or the resurgence of the continued Black Lives Matter movement — brands got to reevaluate how they put those pieces together to best connect with people at the sweet spot of empathy, ownability, and timeliness. Putting out a new 30-second spot with a “we’re in this together” message isn’t likely enough. (Cue flat storytelling and sea of sameness we saw early within the pandemic.)
Tap into how people are feeling — and what’s uniquely ownable
Take Nike’s Never Too Far Down creative. This married the key elements so well. With a worsening global pandemic making us feel discouraged and defeated, Nike aptly used the instance of sports comebacks to inspire us to tap into our collective hopefulness and resolve. As a natural extension of the brand’s core positioning, this creative resonates because it reflects what people were feeling (and what many aspired to deep down), it feels only linked to Nike, and it had been a strong commentary on the days.
Successful application of storytelling principles doesn’t hold us to videos alone. At Google, while they’re always trying to innovate with storytelling and adapt how they connect with users, this year’s events really accelerated a number of those efforts. During the onset of the pandemic, as an example, they delivered on our core brand positioning of being helpful in new ways with their social followers. With their Weekly Trends Series, they not only shared timely insights about how the planet was navigating the pandemic through searches, but they also connected those trends to guidance on practical tasks like “how to make a mask” or “how to make bread” through YouTube tutorials.
Similarly, helping users “support local businesses” drove them to an in-product experience to locate them. This social program was a special approach to attach the dots between consumer insight, unique value proposition, and contextual relevance. And while Nike’s intersection of brand name value and consumer empathy had centered on hopefulness, Google built a meaningful connection around empowerment and “how to.”
Identify the right tone and speak human
Then there’s the question of tone. an important year won’t darken it forever. Marketing speaks to humans, and humans are complex and nuanced creatures with a variety of mindsets and wishes. Brands, too, run the gamut in personality and provocation. So while there was a skew toward more serious and heavy messaging earlier on within the year, creative and communications will expand to once more showing a breadth of designs and tones. Sometimes serious, weighty creativity will work best. For other brands and contexts, levity and positivity will jibe.
Great marketing and storytelling will always be both an art and a science.
With Google’s recent “Return of the Macks” creative, the team leaned into straightforwardness – with a sprinkling of humor – to attach with consumer readiness to support small businesses. Subsequent creative further tapped into the practicality and pride of supporting nearby places specifically – in an exceedingly way that delivers some real warm fuzzies. then there’s Snickers, which offers a touch of a wink. Its “First visitors” creative extends its “you’re not you when you’re hungry” message in an exceedingly way that cheekily sends up a watch-out for transitioning back to socializing IRL.
Great marketing and storytelling will always be both an art and a science. If we remember the enduring principles, the “art” part becomes one of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of our job — not despite challenging circumstances around us, but thanks to them.