Storytelling, and Rebranding


There are many different ways to capture the attention of an unsuspecting customer. Stories are one of them. Humans are social creatures, and love stories and storytelling. Watching a tale come full circle to show you how and where the product fits in is satisfying, and leaves the audience desiring more info. Stew Redwine, the Creative Director at Oxford Road, shows you how.

There are many opinions, well informed and otherwise, on Branding and Storytelling in advertising. Amongst others, this month alone saw articles in Entreprenuer,, and Ad Age on the subject. Needless to say, rebranding is trending. Like 3D movies, it will have it’s day in the hot sun and then go to hibernate for a few years. But why now? All the DTC brands shaking things up for the Big Brands so they want to look cool? Brands going blandOpens a new window to play it safe in a increasingly polarized world? Stranger Things tickling everyone’s nostalgiaOpens a new window ? Whatever it is, if every opinion on the matter were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the words that would be written. So let me add to the pile by narrowing the conversation before it even begins.

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The most engaging, powerful, and persuasive story your brand can tell is the one that is:

a) true


b) comparative

Why true and why comparative? On the first point, um, well, telling the truth is the right thing to do? And if you’re interesting, telling the truth is simply magnifying what makes you different. Then on the second point, comparing your offering to the competition and status quo, this is because people have finite time and money. If you want them to invest either of those in your brand and story then you got to tell them why they should swipe right – by comparing yourself to all the other choices out there.

Perhaps the most famous somewhat recent example is the 2006 “Get a Mac” series with John Hodgman and Justin Long. In this iconic ad series, Hodgman personifies a PC, Long a Mac. In each episode, they introduce themselves to the audience and converse humorously, revealing a specific advantage the Mac holds over the PC. While creating a clever way to present the specific advantages of the Mac, the ads bolstered the overall Positioning established by the two-second intro exchanges that kicked off each ad.

“Hello, I’m a Mac.”

“And I’m a PC.” 

But what if your company isn’t all that different from the competition? Anyone who watched Mad Men, remembers Don Draper’s positioning pitch to Lucky Strike cigarettes in the pilot episode. After presenting the concept that Lucky Strike’s tobacco is toasted, the client replies, “but everybody else’s tobacco is toasted.” “No”, Don says, “everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous; Lucky Strike’s is toasted.” Any of the cigarette companies could have made this claim, but Lucky Strike was the only one who DID (at least in the fictional world of Man Men). To read about the true story behind the Lucky Strike toasted campaign, check out this articleOpens a new window . A real-world example comes from another classic vice: beer. Advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins positioned Schlitz beer by claiming their bottles were “washed with live steam.” Like the Lucky Strike example, ALL beer companies were washing their bottles with live steam at the time, but Schlitz was the only one talking about it. When marketers are having a hard time coming up with a way to differentiate their product or service from their competitors, make the “preemptive claim,” as Hopkins called it. A modern example of the preemptive claim is Jimmy John’s “Free Smells” signs in their restaurant. EVERY restaurant could claim this, but Jimmy John’s is the only one that does.

Charmin did this for almost 20 years in over 500 ads with their “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” campaign. This drive to differentiate evolved into the Rosser Reeves “Unique Selling Proposition.”Opens a new window From Reeves in the 1960s to Trout and Ries in the 1970s, the idea of the preemptive claim was dropped completely in favor of something ONLY your brand can claim. This kind of positioning is perfectly illustrated by M&M’s “melts in your mouth, not in your hand” thanks to a patented sugar coating. However, in his 2008 book “How Brands Grow”, Byron Sharp proved that differentiation is meaningless and brands need to be distinct.  Each of these intelligent people had their own “truth” about how best to position a company that worked for them. Mark Ritson does a fantastic job of creating a “truth tent” large enough for everyone’s views on Positioning.

No matter your approach, you’ve got to connect with the audience – whether it be via differentiation, distinctness, features, benefits, USPs, etc. John Caples’ three-step approach to creative echoes our sentiment. What will your audience get out of the product or service? This is the focus. To answer this you must show why your solution makes sense by isolating the flaws in the status quo and your competitors. However you choose to position yourself against your competition, the audience must walk away with a material understanding of what you do, what you offer, and why it’s better. How much money or time will they save using your product? In what exact, measurable ways will their life improve if they exchange their earnings for your product—as opposed to the equitable product from one of your competitors?

Let’s use the women’s jeans market as an example of how this can be done. A 2018 article in the Independent revealed that women’s jeans have pockets that are 48 percent smaller on average than their male counterparts. Researchers analyzed the pocket size of 80 products from 20 major brands including H&M, Levi’s, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Wrangler, concluding that women’s pockets are “far smaller and therefore purely aesthetic” (“Women’s Pockets Are Officially Smaller Than Men’s Study Reveals””). This is not a new or unknown phenomenon. A simple Google search reveals that similar stories have been published in The Daily Beast and The Guardian, among others. Consumer attention is already coalescing around this limiting flaw in the status quo. For an up-and-coming women’s fashion company, the positioning copy points practically write themselves when focusing on the THREE PRIMARY POINTS of comparison: COST, TIME, and IMPACT.

COST = If women purchase the competitor’s jeans, they have dinky pockets and therefore must spend extra money on bags that they must carry around everywhere they go.

TIME = Women who don’t have substantial pockets must spend a lot of unnecessary time tracking down keys/phone/wallet/etc., and are more prone to misplacing them.

IMPACT = By wearing tiny-pocket jeans, women are complicit with some fashion insiders who decided their customers don’t deserve functioning pockets.

Comparing your brand to others persuades the consumer to take action. It is absolutely key and, sadly, missing from most ads we come across at Oxford Road when we’re grading them with our Audiolyticsâ„¢ messaging framework. One objection to including any comparative language that I run into time and time again are marketers who don’t want to be “mean.” I’ll leave it to the psychologists and Millenial bashers to work that out, but the result of this objection is removing specific comparisons between the advertiser and their competition. Let’s go back to Mac and PC. Was Mac being “mean”? I don’t know. Were they comparing themselves to their competitor? Yes. And does everyone remember those ads? You tell me.

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DON’T WORRY about being MEAN. DO WORRY about NOT going FAR ENOUGH.

So what’s the BIGGEST claim you can make that is TRUE and COMPARES you to your competition and the status quo? Are you 3x faster? Do you save people millions of dollars over their lifetime of using your product? You’ve got to make a bold comparison, like Lee Iaccoca’s courageous, “If you can find a better car, buy it.” How do you know when you’re making a courageous claim? If the lawyers aren’t nervous, you ain’t there yet. Tom Roach lays it all out with delicious data and directness in BBH Labs “The Stupidity Of Sameness And The Value Of Difference.” Their conclusions? Being different drives memorability, brand value, sales, and profit. Any of those metrics work for you? Thought so. If you’re going to rebrand and tell your story just tell the truth and make sure you point out where you’re different than all the other brands. Like David Ogilvy said, “Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.”