Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

It was a dark and stormy night… Storytelling in Marketing

marketing through storytelling

Storytelling is powerful – it’s a way of teaching and inspiring others to take action.

Why do we read books, watch movies, listen to songs, and hear about one another’s life experiences?

In Made to Stick, Gary Klein, a psychologist who studies high-pressure decision-making, suggests that stories are often retold because they contain wisdom.

A story has the power to provide contextual simulation (knowledge about how to act) as well as inspiration (motivation to act).

Both aspects are “geared to generate action“.

The authors highlighted three examples of story plots that inspire us to act:

  • Challenge plot
  • Connection plot
  • Creative plot

In this post, we’ll explore how those three-story plots are used by brands to do some great marketing.

A. Challenge Plot: Stories about overcoming great difficulty

Stories under this category are all about the underdog; someone facing a great, insurmountable challenge.

Why is the underdog story such a compelling one? Perhaps it’s the way we feel justice and fairness has prevailed when the underdog wins.

Or perhaps it’s the way it inspires us to feel like we can overcome adversity as well.

The brands featured here are fighting against major players to bring the best quality and prices to customers.

1. Warby Parker – ‘socially conscious, designer eyewear at revolutionary price’

Warby Parker About Story ReferralCandy


The eyewear industry is dominated by a single company that produces and controls over 80% of the world’s major eyewear brands. This enables them to control the prices whichever way they please.

Warby Parker was founded with a mission: to disrupt this monopoly and sell awesome eyewear pieces at affordable prices.

2. Dollar Shave Club – ‘a great shave for a few bucks a month’

Dollar Shave Club Home Stories ReferralCandy

Dollar Shave Club answers a simple question: Why pay more for shave tech you don’t need?

Many shavers out there have features that promise a better shave, but also a heftier price tag.

Dollar Shave Club wants to change that by delivering great shavers to your doorstep every month for as little as $1!

3. Greats – direct-to-customer designer shoes

Greats Home Stories ReferralCandy

Jon Buscemi and Ryan Babenzien have been in the footwear industry for a couple of decades.

Their experience made them realize how customers were paying for the costs of an inefficient system.

Selling directly to customers allowed them to sell their shoes for half the price in half the time.

Greats managed to attract a huge following, despite a tiny marketing budget.

Listen to more of their origin story in the video below:

4. Star Wars – a massive Empire of merchandise, games, etc built around a sticky story

Star Wars Day May the 4th be with you Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Luke Skywalker’s story was based on the original Hero’s Journey. Today, that story and the Universe it was set in is at the heart of a massive industry.

5. Everlane – a new story around buying clothes

Everlane Radical Transparency mission

Founded by Michael Preysman on the premise that customers should know what goes on behind each price tag, Everlane promises to be transparent in every aspect of their business and to deliver high-quality products at affordable prices by skipping unnecessary middlemen.

In less than three years, Everlane was reported to be generating $12 million in revenue, with some of its products carried by movie stars.

6. Chipotle – The Scarecrow told a story of a little guy versus a massive, industrial corporation


“The Scarecrow” was an integrated campaign that included an animated short, a mobile game, and a song. The campaign depicts a scarecrow’s (representing Chipotle) efforts to combat the fictional evil industrial farming corporation, Crow Foods, by bringing sustainable food to the masses.

The video garnered over 6 million views and the overall campaign generated over 614 million PR impressions.

7. Under Armour – #IWillWhatIWant represents triumph over adversity

Under Armour I Will What I Want Misty Copeland Droga5

The campaign features ballet dancer Misty Copeland, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and others.

B. Connection Plot – Stories about coming together

It’s always nice to witness characters from different backgrounds bonding together.

These stories of prejudices and stereotypes being cast aside motivate us to be more loving and accepting of one another.

The brands featured below provide a platform where customers can build a relationship with other communities. They are given the opportunity to share as well as learn something meaningful.

8. TOMS – “One for One”

TOMS Home Stories ReferralCandy

The core of TOMS lies in their One for One® model. Whenever customers buy a pair of TOMS shoes, eyewear, or coffee beans, they can feel like they’ve become part of something meaningful.

TOMS One for One Stories ReferralCandy

9. Pura Vida Bracelets – #giveback to artisans in Costa Rica

Pura Vida Impact Stories ReferralCandy

Pura Vida Bracelets started with the idea of providing jobs for artisans in Costa Rica by selling their bracelets online.

It has since expanded with their Charity Collection: helping to give back to more than 100 charities globally.

Whenever customers buy a bracelet that supports a cause, 20% goes to helping that cause.

10. Tentree – Saving the world with every ten trees

tentree About Stories ReferralCandy

Tentree provides a more intimate connection between consumers and the environment.

For every purchase, ten trees are planted on their behalf in places like Madagascar and Ethiopia. Reforestation helps prevent landslides and floods, allowing the locals to farm and stay in safety.

tentree Tree Code Stories ReferralCandy

Each customer is given their own tree tag, so they know which tree was planted thanks to them. This provides customers with a direct sense of achievement and ownership.

tentree Tree Map Stories ReferralCandy

11. Airbnb – Connecting people around the world

Airbnb About Stories ReferralCandy

Airbnb is an accommodation marketplace, where everyone can list and book accommodations around the world.

It provides a platform where people from different countries and cultures can connect through shared living space.

Places such as villas or even castles can be booked, ensuring a one-of-a-kind experience.

12. CrossFit – an underdog rebellion against the traditional mainstream fitness culture

Crossfit training word of mouth ReferralCandy


CrossFit’s website: “We have sought to build a program that will best prepare trainees for any physical contingency — not only for the unknown but for the unknowable.”

13. Google – Google Zeitgeist, “Parisian Love” and other Google Stories garnered millions of views for their moving, compelling stories

Google Stories Word of Mouth ReferralCandy


Since 2010, it has been Google’s tradition to release a video about the entire year’s searches, called the “Year in Search”:

Throughout the video, we get to recap on events that have impacted the world, great people who passed on, heroes that rose to the occasion, and many other emotional incidents. Ultimately, it leaves us with a sense of hopefulness for the next year.

14. Spotify – Say it with music



In 2014, The year after, Spotify launched its #thatsongwhen campaign. Few things are as evocative of memories as music and Spotify is using that emotional connection in a new online and social media push that invites users to share their songs and the real stories behind them.

15. Dove – Campaign for Real Beauty



In 2004, Unilever launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty that purports to be “an agent of change to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty and to make them feel more confident about themselves”.

16. Coca-Cola – Teach the world to sing


Coca-Cola’s “Hilltop” was an advertising jingle that had the whole world singing along. The song was so popular in fact, that troves of people were calling radio stations and requesting the commercial be played.

It featured a “Chorus of the World”, a gathering of people of various nations ethnicities singing the song “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” on a hill.

17. Apple

apple-1984 (1)


FaceTime every day was a series of TV commercials that featured people communicating with friends and loved ones over FaceTime.

Focusing on the actors rather than the product (an iPhone 5), the ad demonstrated the emotional power of visual communication.

The ad ends with the line, “Every day, more people connect face-to-face on the iPhone than any other phone.”

C. Creative Plot – stories about a new way of seeing things

The Creative Plot describes an interesting novel way of solving problems. Imagine the genius inventor who created a completely new element to save his life or any other Eureka moment.

Such stories embody a sense of brilliance and utter genius, giving us a sense of awe.

These brands embody this idea and are one-of-a-kind.

18. Asana – teamwork without email

Asana Home Stories ReferralCandy

In the modern office, we spent a lot of our time with emails: sorting, filtering, replying, forwarding. A lot of time is wasted, and this doesn’t improve the communication and discussion of ideas.

Asana allows teams to create and assign tasks, as well as comment and discuss without the use of a single email.

They have revolutionised the way teams function in a more involved manner while saving time otherwise spent on all those emails.

We’ve been using it for a while now, and it’s really a game-changer!

19. Sugru – ‘the future needs fixing’

Sugru About Stories ReferralCandy


Sugru is the world’s first mouldable glue that can turn into rubber.

Founder Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh worked on that idea when she wanted to fix the stuff she had instead of buying new ones.

The final product was born several years later, with some superhero-like properties: strong, durable, flexible, soft, grippy, waterproof, removable, and more!

It has been used on anything from securing dishwashing racks to securing a camera on a plane.

20. JU.ST – the best mayonnaise and cookies in the world

just foods

JU.ST wants to create a world that’s kinder to animals and the environment.

They started out with their first product, Just Mayo. The special part about it? It contains no eggs.

It’s delicious, better for your health, for your wallet, and kinder to the environment!

They also have Just Cookies: sustainable, cholesterol-free, and dairy-free.

21. Moleskine – the legendary notebook (literally)

Moleskine About Stories ReferralCandy

Notebooks have been the companions of some of the greatest artists and thinkers: Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway.

They stored all their ideas in them and treated them with great respect and love.

Moleskine started out to honor the tradition of using notebooks.

They wanted to provide people with the same notebooks that had served these remarkable, creative legends on all their epic journeys.

22. Kung Fury – a modern-day over-the-top 80’s action bonanza


The trailer for Kung Fury spun a tale of a renegade cop who’s forced to travel back in time to kill Adolf Hitler, with the help of chaingun-totting barbarians, dinosaurs, and a Viking demi-god.

The premise was so crazy that everybody who heard about it was eager to tell all their action-movie loving friends about it.

23. GoPro – your adventurous life



“GoPro was a great name in that it meant “attack it full-on” no matter what your passion or interest is…get after it and live life to the fullest. ‘Be a HERO’ came out of the name of our first product, the HERO Camera.

The idea was that our camera could help you capture photos (and eventually video) that made you look like a HERO.”

24. GoldieBlox – toys to empower the next generation of female engineers



When Debbie Sterling was studying Mechanical Engineering in university, she was bothered by how few women there were in her program.

Her calling to start GoldieBlox came when she realised that construction toy sets like Lego, which developed logic, spatial understanding, and other important skills, were often given to boys and not girls.

GoldieBlox was to fill in the gap and be the toy Sterling wished she had, to allow young girls to develop an interest in engineering and building. This would then help them gain an equal footing when competing with the boys in those career fields.

At the core of every great brand is a story.

Ask yourself: what is the motivation behind your brand? What problems did you set out to solve?

The story you tell shouldn’t be any story; it should be a story about your passion and motivation.

Focus on telling that story, and people will listen.

And this concludes our six-part series on the principles behind Made to Stick!

Check out the other five principles below, and stay tuned for more branding and marketing examples!


Read next:  Storytelling For Brands: The Ultimate Guide To Storytelling [Infographic]


Samuel Hum

Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.

1 comment

  • “Story” is pretty much ubiquitous in everything– in every single book. Made To Stick has it, Contagious has it, there are entire books devoted entirely to some subset of story itself. The Hero’s Journey and so on. I was scrolling through our older posts and realized that Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was all about story, too. Same for Charles Atlas.

    Story is at the heart of everything. If you’ve put together a good story, you’ve put together something that’s intrinsically sticky (because stories are more memorable than facts and figures), and intrinsically contagious (because once someone tells you a story, you can typically tell it to somebody else).

    Powerful stuff.