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4 Examples of Advertising Storytelling that Reinforces Authenticity

December 18, 2018 • Sam Grabel

Each year, advertisers seek to outdo themselves by coming up with ever-more-creative sales messages to potential customers. Some of these messages appeal to human emotions, and others are more logical and rational. Regardless of approach, though, some of the most effective advertisements enhance perceptions of the brand’s authenticity and have authentic content—that is, content that accurately reflects the company’s or brand’s history and experiences—at the core of the campaign.

In fact, a survey by Stackla, a content platform and asset manager, found that 86 percent of 2,000 adults surveyed in the United States, UK and Australia believe authenticity is the most important factor in choosing brands to support. Let’s dive in and take a look at our favorite authentic ad campaigns.

Wells Fargo’s Trust Campaign

It’s certainly no secret that Wells Fargo has been plagued by scandal, beginning in 2016, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) revealed that the bank had created more than 1.5 million fake bank accounts and over half a million fake credit cards using customers’ information without permission. Since then, the bank admitted to other wrongdoing that includes imposing unfair mortgage rates and fees and charging customers for car insurance coverage that they may have already had. As a result, the company has been on a negative PR roller coaster for the better part of the past two years.

With bad headlines and the subsequent public backlash tainting Wells Fargo’s reputation, it’s easy to understand why a consumer would be hesitant to conduct business with the bank. But Wells Fargo has been around since 1852. Wells Fargo realized it needed to remind customers about the previous 160-plus years. The bank was a trusted innovator that served as the backbone for progress as the country grew. One example of this: Wells Fargo pioneered fast overland transport of customers’ valuables, by whatever means necessary—steamship, railroad and most famously the stage coach.

In its 2018 ad campaign, Wells Fargo addresses head-on the corrective measures that it has taken, but it also reminds consumers of the often-forgotten past.

One ad mixes modern re-enactments with authentic archival footage of Wells Fargo history to remind viewers that it was once entrusted with helping to build the nation.

“We always found the way,” the narrator says, “until we lost it. . . . but that isn’t where the story ends. It’s where it starts again. With a complete recommitment to you.” An accompanying page on the bank’s website provides in-depth information on what the company is doing to fix the practices that led to the betrayals of public trust.

This is a screenshot from Wells Fargo's website, which shows how the company tried to win back trust after a number of scandals hit the company. The main headline reads Established 1852. Re-established 2018 with a commitment to you.
Courtesy of Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo’s share price dropped from $64.57 to $50.13 between January 2018 and April 2018, when the most recent scandal broke. After the ad debuted in May, stock prices began to rise again, and by August it had recouped about half of the value it had lost.

The company still has a long way to go, both financially and in restoring the faith of the American public. However, this ad served as a nice reminder that Wells Fargo has a long history of safeguarding customer interests.

This is a graph from the Economic Policy Institute showing the percent of total U.S. auto industry market share, by automaker, 1961-2014. Most automakers shown on the graph decreased over time.

Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” Campaign

The American automotive industry has ebbed and flowed since the late ’70s, when foreign automakers began opening plants in the United States. American automotive manufacturers’ market share seriously declined from the mid-’90s onward, bottoming out during the great recession of the 2000s. Who could forget when the U.S. government had to bail out GM and Chrysler?

As Business Insider notes, this was partly because U.S. manufacturers began to focus on SUVs and trucks, which became less popular as gas prices increased. Fuel inefficiency, coupled with a reputation for poor quality, made American cars less popular with consumers. This spelled trouble for the American automotive industry, and the city that represents it—Detroit.

Detroit’s problems didn’t start in the 2000s, but they continued to build as American automakers bottomed out. Plagued by unemployment due to automation, crime and poverty, the city was the archetype of a perceived disappearance of the American Dream.

Today, the city that was made famous by industry is going through a renaissance. Chrysler, which rebounded following its government bailout in 2009, harnessed these feelings of new hope in a 2011 Super Bowl commercial. While the ad is a bit dated, it still showcases great storytelling that connects with the audience and authentically harnesses Chrysler’s roots.

The spot opens with gritty scenes of industry and urban decay, all seemingly set in the dead of winter. The narrator says, “What does this city know about luxury? What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel. Add hard work, conviction and the know-how that runs generations deep in every last one of us. That’s who we are.”

The camera follows the new Chrysler 200—the brand’s luxury sedan—through the streets of Detroit, cueing an instrumental version of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Eminem is in the driver’s seat and en route to the Fox Theater, a Detroit icon. He walks inside to find a gospel choir. He faces the camera and says, “This is the Motor City, and this is what we do.” It’s enough to give you goosebumps.

This is a screenshot of the new Chrystler logo. The tagline reads Imported from Detroit.
Image Courtesy of Chrysler

In the first-ever Super Bowl commercial to last two minutes, Chrysler made a statement. The ad is authentic. It shows hardships, hard work, and icons of industry and art. By linking the manufacturer’s struggles and renewed hope to those of Detroit, it creates a comeback story that all Americans can root for.

And Chrysler has come back. In 2009, before the ad aired, Chrysler had an all-time low of 8.8 percent market share in the United States. Following the ad campaign in 2011, that number steadily grew, reaching a high of 12.8 percent in March of 2018.


Verizon’s “First to” Campaign

The telecommunications industry has come a long way in the past 35 years, since the first wireless phone call was made. We’ve seen the breakup of the Bell System, the consolidation of the so-called Baby Bells, the advent of the internet and the rise of smartphones. We’ve been through no fewer than four generations of wireless network technology and are on the eve of the fifth. Verizon and its predecessor companies have played an integral part of this evolution from voice to data and beyond.

In a series of commercials launched earlier this year, Verizon touts its “first to” pedigree, from the first to make a mobile call, to the first to CDMA, to the first to 5G. Using archival footage, Verizon effectively and authentically shows that it was a pioneer in each of these major developments.

This is the logo Verizon used for its 5G technology.
Image Courtesy of Verizon

The “First Call” ad opens on Bob Barnett, president of Ameritech—one of the regional telecom operators that was later folded into Verizon—sitting in a convertible at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1983. He placed the first commercial phone call made on a “1G” network. Narrator John Foley, a Verizon engineer, states that he and Barnett were working together on a wireless network. “Back then, the idea of a nationwide wireless network was completely unreasonable. But think about how important that first call was to our lives,” he said. “Sometimes, being first means being unreasonable.”

The next ad, “First to CDMA,” opens in Los Angeles, 1989. Several technicians are riding around in the back of a van—the type with swivel seats—making cell phone calls surrounded by 1980s technology that looks primitive by today’s standards. The narrator explains that Verizon bet on CDMA, an emerging technology at the time, which allowed it to be more reliable than the competition. The ad then explains how 5G can transform modern communications and technology, just as CDMA did 30 years ago.

Together, these two ads use authentic archival footage to tell the story of how the company has continued to innovate over the past 35-plus years to become a major player in the telecommunications industry—and a household name.


REI’s #OptOutside Campaign

Thanksgiving is a time for food, family, and reflection on things near and dear. It also signals the beginning of the holiday shopping season. With people lining up and camping overnight outside stores to score the best deals, Black Friday has come to symbolize American consumerism and excess. Businesses have come to rely on this day to turn their operating losses into profits—turning the books from red to black. For major retailers across the country, this is their D-Day.

REI, the outdoor gear and clothing superstore, however, challenged consumers to buck the tradition of Black Friday and use those tents to camp in the great outdoors, not in a parking lot. Instead of opening on Black Friday in 2015, REI stayed closed, gave employees a paid vacation day, and urged consumers and employees to #OptOutside. The day has now become an annual tradition.

With the campaign, REI remains authentic to its purpose: to promote environmental stewardship and increase access to outdoor recreation. The accompanying ad is simple but playful. Beginning with the question “Will you go out with me?” scrolling across the screen, the camera follows several groups—families, 20-somethings, older couples—as they explore nature while wearing REI gear. Throughout the ad, people who are surrounded by breathtaking beauty unroll a poster that says, “Will you go out with me? #OptOutside.”

This is an advertisement from REI that says With You Go Outside with Me? #OptOutside
Image courtesy of REI

These people are the embodiment of REI, its goals and its purpose. The ad connects directly with REI’s target market and inspires them to write their own story in the outdoors. REI asked itself how to stand out from every other store trying to bring people in on Black Friday. The answer was to tell them not to come in the first place.

The campaign worked. According to MediaPost, brand awareness rose 14 percent and store traffic overall rose by 3.6 times. Purely by remaining true to its purpose, REI was able to connect with its customers and drive growth and recognition.

Harnessing authenticity to tell a story can be tricky. These four ads show how companies can effectively harness their past, connect with their audiences and remain true to their purpose. Next time your company embarks on a new campaign, consider using something authentic from your past to inform your current and future goals. We’ll be here to help.

For more information on how storytelling can help your organization, check out our comprehensive guide to corporate storytelling.


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