What does every good story have in common? OK — aside from having a beginning, a middle and an end?
They all have that special “something” that makes the reader care.
As a marketer, you’re a digital storyteller. It’s all up to you to weave a tale that attracts your target audience and gets them to truly care about your brand’s message. When you do it right, you can avoid creating just another marketing campaign. Instead, you’ll build a genuine, long-lasting connection with your customers.
Read on to learn about 8 best-in-class digital storytelling examples and start writing your brand’s own happily ever after.
Table of Contents
Telling a Story: The Digital Marketer’s Most Powerful Tool
Like any good story, we’ll start from the beginning: What do we actually mean when we say “digital storytelling?”
At its most basic, the digital storytelling process involves using a mixture of content and digital media to bring a narrative to life. These campaigns combine audio, images, animated clips and more all to tell a single story.
As described by Forbes, 3 of the most widely used digital storytelling techniques include:
- Customer-generated stories: This category is basically word-of-mouth marketing to the max. Here, you give your existing customers a platform to speak about their experience with your brand in an effort to connect with and educate potential prospects.
- Data-focused campaigns: By using compelling data and statistics to demonstrate the impact of your brand, you can attract the eyes of your target audience.
- Minis: Sometimes, less is more. Short snippets of teaser information can better capture and engage the increasingly shorter attention span of the modern consumer.
Don’t feel as though your digital marketing campaign has to be constrained to just 1 of these techniques. Depending on your target market, using a combination of 2 multimedia elements or pulling from all 3 might be exactly what you need to tell your brand story. Just remember that all these elements will end up as branded content, which means they need to fully reflect your quality and values. (Hint: Branded content and content marketing aren’t the same, but they have a lot of overlap!
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8 Best Examples of Digital Storytelling
OK — we know what digital storytelling is. But what does it actually look like in practice? Let’s dive into 8 of the most unique digital marketing examples from across different industries:
1. Modelo World Cup Ad-Sacrifice
“Because giving it all for your team is worth every drop.”
The drop in question? Not sweat that the soccer players of the biggest soccer game of the year are doused with, but the golden contents of a Modelo can. This short and simple advertisement tells a story efficiently and in a way that is most certainly relatable to anyone who sat on the edge of their couches, cheering their team on. It’s a story as old as time that taps into the passion of fans and hopefully connects that feeling to their product as well … and it’s no big deal if you spill a little of the drink along the way.
2. Kia’s Robo Dog
This Kia ad is far from the first time a brand has used puppy-dog eyes to win our affection — but this time, things are a bit more electric.
The driver of an electric vehicle is fated to fall in love with an electric dog, right? Well, that’s exactly what Kia is playing on in this narrative: love. They show us that a robot puppy is every bit as lovable as a real one, and then subtly encourage us to apply similar logic to electric cars. It’s a smart way to convince gas-powered vehicle owners that the future is friendly.
3. The McDonald’s Conundrum
If you’ve ever been to a drive-thru, you’ve probably experienced the moment captured in this McDonald’s tweet: No thoughts, head empty — just a menu with a million options.
This is a particularly strong example of simple yet smart digital storytelling. Although it’s technically just text, it becomes something much funnier — and more relatable — by stretching the “uh” to fill an entire Tweet. (That’s called “visual storytelling,” kids.) Plus, it plays off of something that occurs in drive-thrus across the world every day.
To put it simply, we all know this story — but McDonald’s was the first one to put it in front of us.
4. Spotify and Harry Styles
Spotify has positioned itself as the king of music streaming. Just take a look at social media come December — your newsfeed is likely flooded with screenshots of your friends’ yearly listening breakdowns.
In the “Only You” ad, the company plays on this narrative, comedically highlighting a listener who played Harry Styles’ song over 15 times in a row. By providing a personalized breakdown of users’ listening habits, Spotify works to connect with its audience by focusing on what sets each of us apart.
5. Dove and the Reverse Selfie
Since first launching the “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004, Dove has committed itself to tackling traditional beauty standards. With this ad, the brand reaffirms that mission.
We watch in reverse as a young woman gets ready to take a selfie. The video unwinds as she takes a glamorous photo, applying image distortion effects, filters and heavy makeup to achieve the look she wants. At the end, we’re left with a young girl staring sadly in the mirror. Dove shares a poignant message about the negative impact of social media, urging viewers to appreciate their natural beauty.
6. Apple’s 911
Unlike Mcdonald’s and FTX, Apple decided to put humor aside and take their great digital storytelling down a chilling but powerful path.
In this ad, we hear from a handful of people who found themselves in tough situations. Luckily, they were all wearing Apple watches, which allowed them to reach help quickly. It’s a story about the power of connectedness, but it’s also a convincing reason to go buy yourself a smart watch.
7. Bear 71
While not an advertisement, this interactive documentary by the National Film Board of Canada is perhaps the most impressive example of how you can bring different media types together to tell a good story.
The narrative is told from the perspective of a bear who is rescued from a snare and released into the wild with a tracker collar. As she tries to return to her normal life, she shares her new reality with viewers — and we find that our everyday, human activities might be more disruptive than we realize.
Video, photographs, an interactive map and other elements come together to form this immersive experience. It’s not just a fascinating story; it’s one of the best examples of how digital tools can turn into something much bigger than themselves.
8. The 1-Word Tweet Storm
Okay, this one’s happening as we write this article. You’re hearing it here first, folks.
This gives a whole new meaning to “short and sweet.” The fascinating thing about this string of Tweets is that it would be an entirely different digital story if 1 brand did it 1 time, or if a single brand was responsible for every Tweet. Instead, we’re seeing entire conversations happening through single-word posts and replies, and the result is an internet-wide narrative.
For example, let’s say you replied to NASA or Amtrak like this: “what.”
Like it or not, you just took part in the 1-word Tweet story, and now you’re interacting with brands in a fun, playful way. That’s the power of digital storytelling: You’re not always just the audience; sometimes, you’re also the narrative.
The Benefits of Digital Storytelling
In 2000, Microsoft conducted a study measuring how long people can focus on one thing for a specific amount of time. The results came in at around 12 seconds.
15 years later? It dropped to 8 seconds.
Although there hasn’t been an update on the study since, researchers estimated that the number would only continue to dwindle.
Consumers are exposed to thousands of ads every single day. If you’re a digital marketer, cutting through the noise and actually capturing your audience’s attention for that sacred 8 seconds (or fewer) is going to take a more compelling narrative than a traditional ad could contain.
In addition to capturing the attention of your target audience, digital storytelling offers your team a host of other benefits:
- Genuine messaging: Customers are inundated with aggressive advertising and other sales practices all the time. Leveraging a thoughtful brand story can help you stand out among the crowd.
- Cohesive content planning: Once you create a digital storytelling project, the hard part is done. From there, you can leverage aspects of your story across social media and other channels to get the word out there.
- Meaningful branding: Actions speak louder than words for today’s consumers. When you use a digital story to demonstrate how your company is dedicated to your mission as well as your customers, you prove that you’re in for the right reasons.
In today’s market, digital storytelling is quickly becoming the new norm. Keeping up with your customers’ expectations and your competitors’ marketing will take some extra creativity on your part.
Putting Pen to Paper: Your Top Digital Storytelling Tips
Now that we know what a good storytelling campaign looks like and why it’s so important, let’s break down what you should keep in mind as you develop your own:
- Show, don’t tell: It may be tempting to over-explain your story. However, try to lean more heavily on engaging visuals and compelling audio cues to let the audience come to their own conclusion.
- Keep it brief: Just look at the campaigns we went over today — not 1 was longer than a minute. The best digital stories don’t need more time than that to get their point across.
- Stay consistent: Don’t pull a bait-and-switch maneuver and follow an emotional personal narrative with an outright ad. Be sure that your story flows through from start to finish.
- Look for inspiration: There’s inspiration to be had just about anywhere — especially through Creative Commons licenses. This allows free use of copyrighted content, which means you can scour the Creative Commons database for videos, images and other media to use in your digital story.
Looking for some extra pointers when it comes to crafting your own one-of-a-kind digital campaign? Subscribe to the Brafton newsletter for marketing tips, industry updates and more!
Editor’s Note: Updated February 2023.