Storyversing: Story-Led Advertising in the Digital Age

Even though he’s the same person on the inside, every day Alex wakes up looking like a different person. When he meets Leah and falls in love with her, Alex “knows he will see her again but she will never see him.” Does Alex’s story sound like a new independent film? “The Beauty Inside” is a social film by agency Pereira & O’Dell created for Intel and Toshiba. Anyone, male or female, could play the film’s lead role of Alex. “Through social channels, Intel and Toshiba invited the audience to play the lead role of Alex by auditioning online. Fans could also interact with Alex on Facebook in between episodes.”

It’s a new story-led advertising universe happening across multiple platforms.

Elements in the storyverse take the form of original content, story starters, or story-doing.

If you watch television programming with a smartphone in your hand, then you know technology has changed your behavior. In order for advertising to grab your attention, it has to be competitive with entertaining activities. Justin Moore, Creative Director at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, says, “You’re not in competition with the competition. You’re in competition with everything. Remember that you don’t have an automatic right to anyone’s attention. You have to earn it.

Storytelling is a powerful way to communicate and connect with others, as an experience it is a communal event—where anything can happen—where listeners become participants and the storyteller becomes a listener or facilitator.

The 24/7 social communities online enable people to curate stories they find shareworthy and spread stories rapidly. Whether people share for social currency or to be part of a community, it increases the need to create and co-create compelling stories for audiences on behalf of brands and entities.

We Made It For You

To conceive compelling original content on behalf of a brand or cause—whether it’s a social film, an interactive game or a live event—it has to be about what interests the audience. Sure, the content has to jive with the core brand narrative. However, it’s as Scott Donaton, Global Chief Content Office and Head of UM Studios, said: “There’s a big difference between creating content for a brand and a brand creating content for an audience. Those who get it will win.”

For Always brand from Procter & Gamble, Leo Burnett created the #LikeAGirl campaign, in an “effort to rally people to help change what it means to do something #LikeAGirl to mean being strong, confident and downright amazing.”


“The #LikeAGirl social experiment recruited real women, men, boys and pre-pubescent girls and asked them to show what it physically meant to run like a girl, throw like a girl and do other similar actions…The young, pre-pubescent girls performed these actions confidently and proudly, while older women and men performed these actions in a self–deprecating and frivolous manner…It became clear that at a certain point in life, women begin to internalize the negative connotations that comes from doing things ‘like a girl’.”

Agency creatives have to listen to what people are saying and best leverage conversations that are out there already and shape fluid consumer conversations and generated content.

Story Starters and Storymaking

Advertising doesn’t need to tell the entire story if the start is engaging. You can start stories people will co-author and participate in for specific media channels. People now have the technology to make their own stories about a brand, create their own content, creating “films” with a smartphone, tablet, or webcam. They also have the power to distribute what they create on platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook or YouTube.

Wieden+Kennedy’s Old Spice “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign invited consumers to submit questions via Twitter and Facebook to be answered personally by the Old Spice Guy. More than two thousand people sent questions and in a forty-eight-hour period, nearly two hundred personalized video responses were created and posted to YouTube. Old Spice set new benchmarks for consumer engagement.



Brands can behave like good citizens. Ty Montague, Co-Founder, Co-CEO of co:collective, coined StorydoingTM. He explains—a story is told through action. For example, Thunder forward Kevin Durant partnered with KIND, a snack food company, to demonstrate “the best way to show strength is to choose kindness”. As part of the initiative, KIND donated $1 million to the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation “to create specialized education and after-school programming for at-risk youth to teach them to be STRONG and KIND”.


Advertising ideas can benefit people. Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness’ idea behind the project for Crossroads Community Services was “to call attention to the everyday struggles faced by the hungry and homeless in the place they actually occur—the street. The approach was simple—turn everyday potholes, puddles and garbage into a vehicle for awareness by illustrating chalk-drawn faces around them.”




Advertising content has to be worth sharing online to build brand communities and brand sirens.

Remember the old journalism aphorism—a story is more newsworthy if it is unusual. Man Bites Dog is more interesting than Dog Bites Man.

Micro Content

“For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

You can tell a story in a few words. When the lights went out during a Super Bowl game, agency 360i tweeted The Oreo Blackout Tweet, “You can still dunk in the dark.” Through a combination of culture jacking and telling the Oreo brand story, that tweet worked extremely well.

Also think mobile first. Think of stories specifically for the mobile environment—rich and ready bite-size stories that entertain, inform, geo-target to promote, and benefit people.

Graphic design

As Gui Borchert, Group Creative Director at 72andSunny, advises, never forget that “a logo is the smallest canvas for story telling.”


video by 72andSunny

A brand is a promise.

Storyversing has to map back to the brand proposition, how a brand defines itself, the benefit it commits to delivering to you, what it promises. Effective storyversing turns people into brand sirens.

T2895_500px_72dpi_3Read more from Robin Landa in Nimble: Thinking Creatively in the Digital Age:

In graphic design, creative thinking skills are undoubtedly important, but oftentimes the importance of critical thinking skills is overlooked. In Nimble by Robin Landa, discover how to develop a creativity that is strategic, and able to cross platforms, industries, or sectors. Find a creative thinking process that allows you to generate scalable ideas that are both sticky and stretchy. Learn how come up with ideas rich in not just quantity, but quality, as well, and develop a flexible mind ideal for visual communication, digital marketing, or social media. Find it in MyDesignShop.