Small stories sell big

About ten years ago Brand Purpose was the big marketing story – everyone wanted to be Dove, or Pedigree, or Dettol; standing up for women, for dogs and for global health, to engage with audiences in a more meaningful way. But the world has moved on and even brands whose heritage lies in genuine brand purpose, like IBM and Cadbury, no longer rely on that original raison d’etre as their core brand story.

Maybe it’s that the stories brands tried to tell about themselves were just not true. The brands couldn’t live up to them – not across their entire product portfolio or production process or service delivery.

Or maybe the reason for this fall from grace was that the ambition was too lofty – all brand purposes sooner or later ladder up to personal fulfilment and world peace.

Increasingly we are recognising that it’s the simple stories that ring true and have the potential to inspire brand teams and consumers alike. 

A longstanding example of this is Felix cat food, proud owner of several IPA Advertising Effectiveness Awards. Felix’s business story is one of a little brand rising from sixth in the market to number one, and then sustaining its place in an increasingly competitive environment. 

But the story of Felix himself is rooted in the stories that cat owners tell about their own cats. The ad agency (Boase Massimi Pollitt at the time) ran some consumer groups with people who fed their cats Felix. The discussion opened with the question “Tell me about your cat”. What became apparent was that owners who fed Felix described their cats in a particular way – mischievous, funny, always up to tricks. The ad agency Planner recognised that if these naughty cats liked Felix, there was an opportunity to tell that story to a wider audience and the line “Cats like Felix like Felix” was born.

So that’s a cute story. But it’s also a commercially successful one. Felix the black and white cat has been the focal point of the brand for over twenty years. By the time he won market leadership (IPA Award, 2000) the consistency of advertising was demonstrated to have driven a 67% ROI on ad spend and had helped grow brand distribution (Niven & Binet, Advertising Works 11). 

What does this tell us about marketing at the dawn of a new decade?

1 / Listen out for small stories that have the ring of truth to them. They can not only inspire great ideas but they will easily win consumer support.

2 / True stories about your brand can be a north star for the business, keeping teams on track and guiding you more simply (and with less need of a thesaurus) than brand onions and keys and the like. 

3 / A brand can tell multiple stories – as long as they are true. So look at product attributes, at key consumers, occasions, use cases, needs, habits, behaviours. What stories are told about your brand, in your organisation and out there in the real world? How can you use those stories to drive a meaningful narrative about your brand across marketing channels?

If you’d like to talk more about how we discover compelling stories for brands, get in touch on or on +44 (0)20 7438 4950.