The Stories that changed the world of marketing

In our last article, we talked a lot about why storytelling is so important to spice your content and upsell your products and services. Although this word has become somewhat abused lately, there are a lot of significant examples of how a solid narrative can make the difference, and change a standard, run-of-the-mill marketing strategy into something unique. Today, to stand out from the crowd it is tremendously important that companies from all industries have a compelling story to tell. There are many examples of this undeniable truth, from Apple to Nike. Let’s have a look at them.


Nike – The inspiring power of the “Just Do It”

Storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool to let audiences identify with your brand, feel like they’re the heroes of your stories, and understand why your product is going to change their lives. A company that knows how to harness the full power of a catchy story knows how to make customers feel like they are part of the story. No, that’s not enough. They make customers feel like they are the story.

Nike is probably the most known example of how to achieve this feat seamlessly. Instead of focusing on the product (the shoes) and telling people why it is just better than its competitors, they told the world a completely different story. They told us how you could become a better athlete by wearing their footwear. How you could score that goal, run that marathon, win that competition. They told you that you’re going to become a legend one day – you just need to keep trying. Don’t wait further, Just Do It.

Their idea was to bring inspiration to every wanna-be athlete in the world, using sports as a universal language that transcends races, cultures, discriminations, and barriers. The message should be as universal as possible and should make you feel the protagonist of this story regardless of your athletic prowess. As co-founder Bill Bowerman clearly explained, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Therefore, Nike is the right shoe for you as well.

Nike’s 1988 “Just Do It” campaign had a profound impact on our culture, and we still remember it more than 30 years later. It was the prime example of how storytelling can make history and completely focused on the story of a single human being. In the original TV ad, an 80-year-old Walt Scott had one goal: to run 17 miles every morning across the Golden Gate Bridge. Old age, weather, and fatigue could not stop him, providing us with an empowering and inspiring story about a strong-willed but extremely relatable person. Scott told us a lesson – that everyone, including you, could do it. You just need to want it.

Although Nike shoes were obviously prominent, the spot was never focused on the footwear – they just served the story as a prop. What Nike sold us back then wasn’t a pair of shoes. They sold us a powerful message that had become a part of our everyday life, and by doing so, they sold us a brand. Now they can put their log on anything – we will buy it because we know it’s Nike and because we will feel inspired and empowered by wearing their stuff. That is, in a nutshell, the power of a story.


Apple – How the “Why” matters more than the “What”

“Stay hungry, stay foolish.” No one in the western world could ever forget those words. Steve Job’s personal story is amazing enough, but probably his biggest achievement was to let everyone believe that a plastic cellphone could make such a huge difference in their lives. His final speech moved many of us to tears, taught us never to stop dreaming, never stop trying, and keep going for what we really want. He made us all feel inspired by his story, and at the same time, feel like there’s a chance for us as well. By defeating the unbeatable monsters that utterly dominated the entire PC industry (IBM and Microsoft), Apple managed to accomplish the unthinkable. How easier it may be to reach our much smaller goals after all? We just need to be better, stronger persons. How in the earth buying an iPhone or a Mac could make us better people is a mystery, but hey – that’s (once again) the power of a great story, doesn’t it?

To reach its goal, Apple tackled the issue of reaching its audiences from a completely new perspective. Apple’s marketing a think tanks preferred to focus on the “Why” rather than on the “What” of their company, shifting the attention from the product to the very reason why their company exists. The “What” of a company is nothing but its product or service. It’s what they offer you and the way they make money. It makes sense to think that the “what” is also the “why” of many companies, but if you stop at this level, you will just be another one in the crowd. The “why” represent the cause, the beliefs, and the reasons why this company is not like every other one – it defines their motivations other than just “selling stuff and making money.”

Try browsing Apple’s website. You will never find a sentence that describes it as a “computer company.” That’s what it is, and it’s absolutely true. But that’s not why it exists, so it doesn’t matter. A what is not compelling enough for a customer to make a purchase unless you’re the number one in your industry. But then, at that point, you’re already eating 90% of the market already, so who cares? When the IT scenario was monopolized by giants such as IBM, Dell, and Microsoft, Apple was nothing but an underdog. Its “why” was simple – Jobs and his people wanted to challenge the status quo and show that you can achieve success even if you think differently. That was their core value, and the story they started telling to their followers. They didn’t sell computers or smartphones. They sold the chance to make the difference, the freedom to be unique no matter what, the pride in swimming against the tide. They sold everyone one thing, which is worth more than ten thousand computers: Inspiration. And eventually, they won.


Under Armour – Challenging the “Hero” brand archetype

Under Armour storytelling strategy is somewhat halfway between Nike and Apple’s ones. It’s a tale of a relatively less known brand who wants to take on and ultimately defeat the behemoth (in this instance, their direct competitor, Nike). So, yeah, it’s like Apple. But rather than solely focusing on their battle against the establishment, Under Armour reinforced their brand value through a similarly heroic tale as the one widely popularized by their rivals. In this particular instance, the story here is one of a glorified and traditional hero (Nike), against a less popular, but no less strong-willed anti-hero that represents change. But this story is told by allowing everyone to identify with a change that means the freedom to be what you really are.

The core of Under Armor’s storytelling campaign was the “I Will What I Want” that was awarded silver at the Cannes Lions 2016. The spot features supermodel Gisele Bündchen seen under a completely different light. Wearing no makeup, she is depicted as a sweaty and tired but otherwise completely normal woman who is training hard. Behind her, a ton of social media messages appears on a wall describing what it should be. Her pain facing the tremendous pressure she must endure to live up to other people’s expectations help us feel her as authentic, humane, and highly relatable. She’s fighting against stereotypes, her cause is a righteous one, and she’s fighting the good fight. The same fight we may fight every day if we make the right choice of breaking away from clichés. And, you know, there’s no bigger cliché than buying Nike sportswear, so stop doing it and choose Under Armour from now on.


Airbnb – Focusing on real stories of real people

Airbnb is a brand that revolutionized the whole idea of providing services to other people. It’s all about real people providing their services to other normal people, and their marketing strategies follow the same rules. All their content is just real stuff focused on common, everyday stories that manage to achieve an amazingly difficult feat: never giving you the feeling you are being marketed to. They made it simple yet astonishingly effective. They just show how connecting with other human beings is important to improve your life, and how their brand contributed to make it possible and ultimately make the world a better place.

They have an entire section on their site which is dedicated to Airbnb hosts around the world – it’s just full of normal stories, videos, and short bios of people like you and me. Their stories are simple: What happened once they shared their houses with foreigners, how enjoyable their vacation was. But they’re always interesting and enjoyable, so they are always a prime way to communicate. And, once again, their brand strategy is entirely built upon effective communication.



Humans love stories. We used them to teach our peers and children about the world, to make connections with other humans, and to understand what really matters in life. Religions, cultures, and philosophies are built on stories. When someone starts telling a great story that captures everybody’s attention, his or her reputation will increase accordingly. Nobody can resist the immense power of a go