Technology brands have overtaken FMCG favourites, such as Cadbury and Walkers, as those rated best for storytelling, new research shows. Although Apple retains the top spot in the 2015 Brand Storytelling report by marketing agency Aesop, fellow tech names Xbox (fifth), Samsung (seventh), PlayStation (eighth), Google (ninth) and Facebook (10th) also break into the top 10 for the first time.
The report, now in its third year, surveyed 2,800 UK adults about their views on 154 major brands. Respondents rated all of the brands they were familiar with against nine criteria, including the brands they feel have “a clear sense of purpose and vision”, those that “produce content you want to share or talk about” and those where “you are intrigued to see what they will do next”. Aesop took an average of the scores across all the criteria to create the ranking of the top storytelling brands.
The rise of technology brands has come at the expense of the food and drink category. Cadbury falls from second place in 2014 to 27th, McDonald’s is down from third to 43rd, Walkers from fifth to 29th and Coca-Cola from sixth to 39th.
Ed Woodcock, director of narrative at Aesop, suggests that technology brands are performing strongly because they are seen as “platforms for other people’s stories”. Increased investment in advertising by these brands, such as Facebook’s ongoing TV campaign, may also have boosted their storytelling credentials in the public’s eyes.
Meanwhile, seasoned advertisers such as McDonald’s have slid down the ranking at a time when they are struggling to create growth within their own businesses. “Tech brands are now with us day in, day out,” notes Woodcock. “They are in our hands, taking up a lot of mental space in the way that FMCG brands used to. Now the brands that we’re closest to are the ones on our screens.”
Supermarket brands are also big fallers in this year’s report, with no UK supermarket making it into the top 20 for the first time. Marks & Spencer is the top-performing grocer, coming in at 22nd, while Morrisons sees the biggest fall as it drops out of the top 100 from 47th place last year to 111th.
Woodcock suggests that Morrisons has struggled to tell a coherent story owing to its internal challenges this year, which include a management overhaul and a 52% slide in profits in March. Only 13% of respondents cite the retailer as a brand they ‘feel an emotional connection with’, while just 15% say it produces content that is ‘memorable’.
Similarly, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain Tesco has seen a dramatic fall in its storytelling ranking from 27th in 2014 to 51st this year. Tesco announced its biggest ever loss in April and has also undergone significant internal restructuring over the past year, prompting it to put brand storytelling efforts on hold. Last month, it launched its first TV advertising campaign with new agency BBH, in which it is seeking to breathe new life into its ‘Every little helps’ strapline.
Discount retailer Lidl outperforms all of the ‘big four’ supermarkets, coming in 29th. The retailer launched its widely praised #Lidlsurprises campaign by agency TBWA last year and scores strongly in the report (33%) for ‘vision and purpose’.
“I don’t think Tesco knows what it is about anymore,” says Woodcock. “I know it’s sorting out its strategy, but is it about value, food, or breadth of offer? It used to be very clear about what ‘Every little helps’ means, but I’m not quite sure what that stands for in this day and age.”
Certain business categories appear better disposed to storytelling than others. The charity sector, for example, is the best performing category overall for the second year running, with each of the charities included in the sample featuring in the top 20. Macmillan Cancer Support is second, while Cancer Research UK is sixth, followed by the British Heart Foundation (12th) and Oxfam (16th).
Although charities lend themselves to emotional, purposeful storytelling, other categories such as financial services and utilities struggle to tell stories that the public cares about. Npower is the lowest ranked brand at 154th, while British Gas makes it to only 143rd place.
By contrast, SSE performs relatively strongly, coming in 89th. Woodcock attributes this to the success of its advertising this year, in which a CGI orangutan is seen wandering around a city environment marvelling at the things powered by electricity.
By focusing on creativity, emotional resonance and purpose in this way, brands from all sectors can strike a chord with the public, he claims.
“SSE hasn’t shied away from its central purpose – providing energy,” says Woodcock. “With many utility brands it’s the last thing they talk about. When a brand talks about what it’s here to do, it helps people to understand its purpose in their lives.”