The 8 best ads & commercials that tell a story

Storytelling hacks for your marketing

There are some key ways to optimize your storytelling in business. Because you likely won’t have the attention span to get through a large tome of text about why your technical specs are slightly better than your competitor’s technical specs, you’ll have to be quick and efficient with your advertisement storytelling.

So what are some fun, efficient ways to tell extremely short but impactful stories to an audience of people who hate being emotionally manipulated and advertised to? Well, I’m glad you asked!


Everyone absolutely loves to pretend like the past was better than it actually was. Things like dial-up internet and landline phones are reflected back on as “fun, whimsical times” instead of “horribly irritating technological nightmares.” Our innately human ability to make terrible, outdated things seem amazing in hindsight means that a storytelling appeal to nostalgia can be quite effective.

Internet Explorer really pulled out the big nostalgia guns in a recent commercial.

The 90s were strong with this one, and it worked. While Internet Explorer may be terrible as a web browser, it’s hard to deny the storytelling power of this nostalgia bait. This relies on the power of evoking emotion and engaging with the viewer in a way that captures their memories and a shared sense of kinship through the power of storytelling.

Is it an effective strategy in evoking emotion? Absolutely.

But we’re still never going to use Internet Explorer.

If there’s one thing that people love, it’s seeing old recognizable franchise characters in soda commercials. And boy, did Mountain Dew dew-liver.

Coming-of-age tales

Growing up (or, god forbid, growing old) is a reality that science has yet to fully eradicate, no matter how many anti-aging products Dove releases. The emotional journey is one that literally everyone can relate to because time is relentless and comes for us all.

As depressing as that sounds, don’t worry. Capitalism is equally as relentless! These advertisements capitalize on the familiar coming-of-age trope in their marketing storytelling.

Starcraft II, the game everyone’s little brother played at some point, uses the traditional “kid grows up and becomes a man” story in their ad. Yes, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it fits the theme.

In this confusingly long car advertisement, a woman says goodbye to her childish ways upon turning 30 and… buys a Fiat. The point, presumably, is that owning a car is the ultimate symbol of maturity and put-togetherness. While this premise is debatable, the advert uses the coming-of-age trope in a silly way that sends a clear message (that message, of course, is that you have to buy a Fiat to be a real adult).


Humor is one of the best ways to engage people in your content. It’s quick, snappy, and has a quick payoff. It’s easy to tell a story through the language of humor because humor keeps your audience’s interest longer than some self-serving, self-congratulatory spiel about your toothpaste or your amazing, feature-rich storytelling platform or whatever.

Humor example: Dumb Ways to Die

Train safety is important, but, like all safety matters, it is not inherently interesting. ​ Few people want to spend their precious free time watching PSAs on safety subjects, and even fewer people want to share them with their friends, watch them repeatedly, or engage with that kind of educational content more than absolutely necessary.

And that makes this Metro Trains Melbourne video about safety all the more impressive. Not only did the Dumb Ways to Die video absolutely dominate our Youtube feeds in 2012 (with over 245,000,000 views!), but it also managed to teach us a thing or two about train safety.

Signal is a cheeky, privacy-first competitor for other messaging apps like WhatsApp, and they love to make fun of Big Tech. This is effective brand storytelling for many reasons. They could simply say, “yeah, your stuff is encrypted. It’s cool. Just trust us.” Instead, they throw Marky Zuk under the bus by laughing at how hypocritical it is for Facebook to sell all of our data while their CEO is using a competitor to protect his own precious data. This is makes for a hilarious, compelling and slightly infuriating story.

A strong emotional response

Storytelling, at its core, is about evoking emotion and resonating with the audience.

Strong Emotional Response Example: #LikeAGirl campaign

The brand Always ran a hugely successful Superbowl ad where they challenged the conception that people have about doing things “like a girl”.

The ad does an effective job of examining why people negatively associate the phrase “like a girl” and encourages the viewer to question why it is often ridiculed or diminished. It’s a compelling and evocative advertisement and a masterclass in challenging audiences in just a few minutes.

Strong Emotional Response Example #2: Children’s Defense Fund

Non-profits often have to rely heavily on strong emotional messages to get people mobilized about their cause. This can be tricky because there’s a fine line between making people feel motivated to donate or volunteer and making people feel depressed and discouraged (I’m looking at you, Sarah Mclachlan dog commercials). Tugging on heartstrings can be effective, but it can also be written off as emotionally manipulative.

The Children’s Defense Fund does a great job of showing the causal relationship between cutting children’s funding and future increases in homelessness. It can be difficult to demonstrate the future effects of policy, and the Children’s Defense Fund took a creative and poignant approach.


Storytelling is powerful. In a world with billions of advertisements, stand out from the crowd by learning the power of telling great stories. Unless you sell cement mixers. Then just do whatever you want.

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