How Apple Uses Stories to Sell Phones

People have been writing about the greatness of Apple’s advertising since about 1984. These days Apple does a brilliant job of speaking to its customers in a unique and consistent voice—no matter what the product (and the voice differs depending on the product and audience). The iTunes/iPod campaign features people dancing with their iPods and reckless abandon. The “I’m a Mac” campaign is both fun and funny, pointing why Macs are better than PCs.

But the big winner for effectiveness in advertising is the iPhone campaign. Here’s why:

1. Beautiful product shots. The only thing you see in this campaign is a hand, or hands, holding a iPhone. That’s it. Of course, the iPhone is used to conjure up maps, photos, games, music and anything else the narrator talks about. But what we see is a well-designed iPhone on a plain white background.



2. Product demonstrations. Notice the ads don’t ever say, “Buy an iPhone” or “The iPhone will make your life better.” There are no promises. Just a simple, compelling demonstration designed to make the viewer think, “Wow, if it’s that simple to do all those things, maybe I should get one.” By changing up the demonstration in each ad (but not the product shots), you quickly see how versatile the iPhone is. Interestingly, the iPhone doesn’t do a whole lot of things you couldn’t do before, it just does them more easily from the palm of your hand.



3. Story. Give yourself a gold star if you saw this one coming. Every 30 second ad is a short story. Whether it’s the story of the person who found and adopted a dog, or the story of the backpacker who went to Spain, or the story of the guy who missed the train. And the hero of every story is the phone. It helps find missing reports, and book hotels, and post photos online, and makes the airport check-in process easy. Each story is nothing less than a testimonial about how the phone has improved someone’s life. The viewer is left to assume the phone can make their life better too.



This is a campaign that could run for a very long time. As long as there are useful aps to demo and human interest stories to build the demos around, there will be content for more iPhone ads.

You can watch all the stories in this campaign, here.

Kurt Vonnegut: Why Stories Appeal

In a post from last year, Derek Sivers writes about a talk he attended in which Kurt Vonnegut explained why stories appeal to people. Check it out here. Vonnegut drew up a few common story arcs like this one, for Cinderella:



Note the dramatic ups and downs. This is what makes a story interesting. The twists and turns pull at our emotions and make us pay attention. Then Vonnegut sketched out the story arc of our lives:



And so it goes. Most people’s lives are pretty boring. We do the same stuff day in and day out. Normal things like answering emails, grocery shopping, and picking up the kids from soccer. Very few of us outsmart our wicked step sisters and dance with the prince at the ball. That’s partly why stories are so gripping.

That’s also why people are drawn to brands with great stories (or brands that tell great stories). Very few of us see ourselves as creative. But if I buy an iPhone (or even better, an iPad), I can borrow Apple’s story for my own use. Now my story is more creative and hip, because I have an iPad.

If I drive a Mini Cooper, I borrow Mini’s story and I perceive that my life is more fun, because now I don’t just drive, I “motor.” Even a brand of peanut butter can signal that one mom is “choosier,” and therefore more caring, than another.

Consumers use brand stories to say something about their own stories. Often to improve them.

Is your brand story good enough to inspire people to add it to their own?

UPDATE (4/29/10): I stumbled across another version of Kurt Vonnegut’s speech on story arcs, this one is written by Vonnegut himself. Just as interesting as Sivers’ take, though a little different. Check it out here.

Search Stories

This is pretty cool: Google has introduced a new tool (or is it a toy?) called Search Stories. It takes your search requests (or someone else’s) and turns them into stories using search results, google maps, Street View, books, images, and more—complete with music and video. What sounds little lame at first (who wants to watch other people’s Google searches?) is actually quite compelling. Most importantly Search Stories is a very good way for Google to show the benefits of their search engine using an individual’s own experience—tying in stories to add meaning.

Check it out here. (Parisian Love is a pretty good place to start).

Try it to make your own Search Story.

Via AdFreak which put together their own Tiger Woods Search Story.

Framing Your Story

This entry was originally posted on September 5, 2008 on the old Brandstory blog.

Today at the Brains of Fire blog, Robbin posted a short movie well worth six minutes of your day. It perfectly illustrates that how you tell your story is just as important as having a story to tell. Watch for yourself:

Copywriting School

This entry was originally posted on July 27, 2007 at the old Brandstory blog.

Michelle Miller at WonderBranding points us to a terrific (so far) series on effective copy writing from the geniuses—Jeff Sexton in particular—at FutureNow. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the FutureNow team. They know what they’re talking about.

The first segment is about how to choose between writing from an intellectual perspective or an emotional one. It’s very good stuff. Here’s a follow-up.

The second installment (or is it the 6th?) deals with using positive or negative imagery: “worries trump daydreams.” Check out how this applies to VW’s recent ads for Jetta.

The Third Installment focuses on intensity and involvement. The fourth should be up on Monday.

This is very good stuff. Not just the advice, but the copy examples are also stellar.

Check it out at Grokdotcom.

And if you like that, here’s another favorite: How to Write Better Ads. Great advice that most writers have forgotten (or never learned).

The Blue Nile Philosophy—Just Be 10% Better

This entry was originally posted on May 11, 2007 at the old Brandstory blog.

I have been a fan of Blue Nile ever since I received a booklet from them six or seven years ago. The booklet, really a direct mail piece, explained how to do different “guy” things like carve a turkey, mix a gimlet, and get a good table at a restaurant. It was well written and well illustrated. Sprinkled in with these other tid bits was advice about how to buy a diamond ring. It was brilliant. Probably the most engaging mailer I’ve ever received. One of my coworkers at the time must have agreed because it disappeared from my office a few weeks later.

Shifting gears (sort of)…

A recent (very short) article in Fortune magazine profiled Mark Vadon, the founder and CEO of Blue Nile and asked him about his management style. Mark notes:

“I’m obsessed with Starbucks. I was talking to one of its executives and asked him why they have grown so much when other people have tried and haven’t. And he said, ‘Well, there are 1000 little things that impact the customer where we’re 10% better than anybody else.’ I think that’s exactly what we’re trying to do: stay focused on all the tiny little details that matter to our customers.”

Is Blue Nile 100% better than Tiffany’s or Zales? Probably not. But by being a little more accessible, providing more information than their competitors (they do a great job educating customers on their site), and offering service that’s a little better, they have created a very successful company and brand. By focusing on getting the small things right, the company grows.

Side Note: Blue Nile has a very common brand story—Mark was frustrated by his experience buying a diamond at a retail store and thought, “there has got to be a better way.” Today there is.

Unfortunately you can’t find the Blue Nile story on their site (missed opportunity), but you can read more about the Blue Nile brand story here.

5126 Failures—The Dyson Brand Story

This entry was originally posted on April 18, 2007 at the old Brandstory blog (link for a limited time).

James Dyson is a failer (not failure). While vacuming his home, he became frustrated with the lousy suction of his vacuum cleaner. The bag and filter clogged too quickly, reducing the suction to the point where it didn’t work. I know the feeling. But unlike me, Dyson decided to do something about it. Over 15 years, he built 5126 prototypes before he found the one that worked. 15 years and 5126 failures. How did he find the solution? “Wrong doing.” Here’s how Dyson describes it:

“When I was doing my vacuum cleaner, I started out trying a conventionally shaped cyclone, the kind you see in textbooks. But we couldn’t separate the carpet fluff and dog hairs and strands of cotton in those cyclones. It formed a ball inside the cleaner or shot out the exit and got into the motor. I tried all sorts of shapes. Nothing worked. So then I thought I’d try the wrong shape, the opposite of conical. And it worked. It was wrong-doing rather than wrong-thinking. That’s not easy, because we’re all taught to do things the right way.”

There’s are plenty of lessons in Dyson’s story. Never give up. Don’t settle for stuff that doesn’t work. But the lesson I like most is the idea of right thinking and wrong doing. Doing things in a different (new or unexpected) way is the crux of creativity.

To get his vacuum to work, Dyson had to do it all wrong. And when he offered his new design to Hoover, they did the opposite—right doing and wrong thinking. They sold bag vacuums. This new vacuum wouldn’t fit their product line. It was too different. They had the market sown up. So they passed on the idea. Dyson went on to sell more than 15 million of his vacuums (for as much as $2000 each). Today he is one of the richest men in Britain.

Inside the box, with every Dyson vacuum cleaner is a small brochure that tells the Dyson brand story. How James Dyson failed more than 5000 times. How his competitors first ignored him, then copied him. And how he succeeded despite the odds. This simple brochure is a great way to reinforce the Dyson brand story with every new customer. Of course, the fact that this is an amazingly good vacuum delivering a great product experience also helps.

This month’s Fast Company magazine features a very good interview by Chuck Salter with James Dyson, covering not just his vacuum story, but also his thinking about design and engineering and his latest invention. Read it here. Don’t miss the second page, which is even better than the portion of the interview in the print magazine. There’s also a podcast interview here.

One more clip from the interview:

“A lot of people give up when the world seems to be against them, but that’s the point when you should push a little harder. I use the analogy of running a race. It seems as though you can’t carry on, but if you just get through the pain barrier, you’ll see the end and be okay. Often, just around the corner is where the solution will happen.”

Bear Naked Granola—A Brand Story I Like

This entry was originally posted on February 9, 2006 at the old Brandstory blog (link available for a limited time).

A few weeks ago, while searching around for an afternoon energy boost, a coworker turned me on to a new product—Bear Naked Granola. He said, not only is it good, but it’s a small company started by two high school friends. I was intrigued.

He was right. This granola is good. Very good. And it all started in Kelly Flatley’s kitchen. You can read the entire story here. Of course, a story this good has been told before. In this case, many times.

The Bear Naked story is the American dream. Two kids, who don’t know any better, succeed at doing something they love. They max out credit cards. Mix batches of granola in mom’s kitchen (only using ingredients you can pronounce). They cook all night, then work all day to grow the company. They hire other friends to help out. And after a bit of effort, their product is carried in 11,000 retail outlets nationwide.

The branding is terrific. Bear Naked has a great logo, and clean, distinctive packaging. They are proud of their story and make it a prominent part of their website and packaging. They offer Bear Naked gear for evangelists to wear (just save your packages and send them in). And they have a blog (though it looks as if posting new content isn’t a big priority).

Most importantly, the product tastes fantastic. It’s no wonder that when Bear Naked offers samples at retail locations, sales increase 4x. I’d love to hear the pitch the sample people give. If they’re smart, they share more than a spoon full of granola, they share their brand story.

Krispy Kreme Loses Its Brand Story

This entry was originally posted on January 5, 2006 at the old Brandstory blog (link available for a limited time).

Last week my local paper reprinted an article from the AP wire about Krispy Kreme’s new chief executive Stephen Cooper. (You can also read it here.) The article focuses on Cooper’s status as a turnaround specialist and shares some of his philosophy for fixing what’s wrong with Krispy Kreme. Here’s a sample of his thinking:

“You can’t rely on word of mouth to keep expanding the circuit of very loyal customers… You have to be able to make the transition from being a word-of-mouth, kind of myth-driven marketing company into one that has a much more structured, objective-driven sales marketing program.”

Setting aside arguments about whether or not a company can grow by word-of-mouth, Cooper may want to rethink his approach. The problem with Krispy Kreme (okay, there are many) isn’t that the company has relied too heavily on myth or story-driven marketing, it is that the company has removed the story (and experience) from its product as it expanded into new markets.

No brand story = no reason to buy Krispy Kreme donuts. Let me explain:

Six or seven years ago, the nearest Krispy Kreme to my home was a seven-hour drive to Las Vegas. Whenever you were there, you made sure to stop by the Henderson store, waited in a long line watching the donuts fry, and enjoyed a hot original glazed right off the rack, while you selected your donuts. It was something worth bragging about. People begged you to bring them one. An underground of donut smugglers emerged, bringing these delicious delicacies home.

The company expanded. Two stores were opened just 15-30 minutes away. Lines were still long. The donuts were still hot and fun to watch. Going to a Krispy Kreme store was something my kids begged to do. And I was always happy to indulge that desire.

Then Krispy Kreme started selling dounts in grocery stores and gas stations even closer to home. Now there was no need to go all the way to the Krispy Kreme store, wait in line, watch the donuts fry, enjoy a hot, free sample, and place my order. They were available at Albertsons, less than five minutes away. So that’s where we went.

The only problem was, the new Krispy Kreme experience lacked the story and experience that we enjoyed at the donut store. The donuts at Albertson’s were a day old or more. We didn’t see them fry and pass through the froster. The kids didn’t get a free hat. There was no free sample. And frankly, the donuts weren’t that good cold. So why would I pay $1.40 more for six Krispy Kremes than I would for six Hostess donuts? Why not save even more buying the house brand? Customers caught on.

What’s worse, the experience at the Krispy Kreme store was still there, but no one has a reason to go because they know they can get the same donuts at the corner market. As a result, the store experience has changed from a line of donut in-crowders, to a trickle of customers who don’t shop at Albertsons. Visiting Krispy Kreme is no longer an event.

Rather than moving away from a story-driven marketing plan, the turn-around specialists should reconsider what made Krispy Kreme special, and worth talking about, in the first place (Hint: it’s not the donut, it’s the S-T-O-R-Y).

Note: Yes, I know there are other problems for Cooper to solve at Krispy Kreme as well (accounting, pricing, new product development). Great. Do it. Just don’t forget the brand story is a crucial part of the marketing mix.

Brand Story Thoughts by Martin Lindstrom

This entry was originally posted on December 23, 2005 at the old Brandstory blog (link available for a limited time).

Martin Lindstrom, author of Brand Sense, has a nice website with lots of his thinking on branding. You can sign up for a free monthly newsletter and read dozens of articles here. It’s enough to keep you busy through the holidays.

The following is one of the articles (I’ve reprinted the whole thing). This is not my writing, but I agree with a lot of Lindstrom’s thinking. Enjoy…

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Wonderful Brand

The year was 1895. King Camp (his real name) stood before his shaving mirror, as he’d done many times before. A new thought occurred to him. His cut-throat razor was performing its job as well as usual, but so little of the blade was actually used in the shaving process. King Camp wondered about a new type of blade, one practically all edge. He thought about housing it in a device that would make shaving cuts and accidents nearly impossible. Then, he thought about making it disposable. If he could make a blade that was thin, flat, efficient, cheap, and disposable… did I neglect to mention King Camp’s surname was Gillette?

We all love a good story. More important, we remember good stories. Good stories make things personal. We identify with characters and recall details associated with them. The effect is the same when characters are brands. Introduce a brand in the context of a good story, and the corporate entity gains personality. It becomes warm and friendly.

Many brands forget interesting bits and pieces of their pasts, the details that make them unique and differentiate them from other brands. Why all this talk about branded story telling? The Web is probably the best place for sharing a story.

A Web audience can explore fascinating stories, like why a Coke bottle looks like it does or how Band-Aid and Mars Bar got their names. A good story around a brand, one intrinsic to its identity, is an effective way to generate consumer understanding and loyalty. Why are stories untold by Fortune 500 companies? You hardly ever find a good story on a brand’s Web site, despite the fact most companies would have a story to tell that makes them unique.

Stories don’t need to be spectacular or reside at the core of a brand’s existence, like Mr. Gillette’s. Tell the story of why your design approach looks the way it does, how your name came about, what’s behind your logo, interesting ways your product has been used by customers, feedback from unexpected people. Small stories can differentiate your brand from others.

Branding occurs in the minds of consumers. Humans naturally create associations. We surround ourselves with associations — the physical, intellectual, and emotional familiarities of our lives. When the Internet appeared, instead of URLs there were numbers. Soon, these were converted into text because no one could remember a 20-digit number. Even fewer could relate to one. Numbers may be more rational and systematic, but that’s irrelevant in the face of our human instincts.

Ask your founder about your company’s past. Ask your customer service department about funny or memorable customer experiences. Ask your product development department why your product looks like it does. Then, turn corporate memories into a branded story you can include on your site. Not only will customers love it, employees will feel proud of their heritage and brand’s history.

And don’t miss this story-related article on creating user testimonials in a B2B environment.