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Thursday Thinky: Storytelling, Emotions & Actions

Who does not like a good story?

As much as we like to think that we are rational animals, our behavior and decision making are controlled by our limbic system. The part of the brain that is responsible for our feelings and emotions (if you want to know more on this topic, google Simon Sinek or click here). As Amy, the creator of the Thinky once said, “You can’t move someone to act, if you don’t first move them to feel”. That’s why stories are such a powerful tool.

Whether it starts with “once upon a time” or “I have a dream” — MLK Day is coming! — good storytelling resonates with us. That’s why today’s Thinky is dedicated to good, and not-so-good, instances of storytelling. We will highlight Campaign US top 5 PSA of 2019 and take a deeper look into 3 of them. We will also bring back our “Brands that caught our eye” section with an “all in” approach to CSR from Timberland and a useful and compassionate initiative from Optus, an Australian phone company.

Here we go!





Campaign US named their 5 best PSA of 2019. Much of the work they’ve highlighted is worth revisiting, whether as examples of how tell incredible stories that connect and compel, or how they could have been told better. Two of their top picks appeared in previous Thinkies as great examples of the power of story and unexpectedness to connect and resonate. We won’t go into all of the reasons these are wonderful–just click below to read back our review 🙂

San Hook Promise – Back to School Essentials(Thinky Grade: A)
Anti-bullying interactive spotThe Epidemic(Thinky Grade: A+)


Below is our take on the other 3:


Ad Council – A Mother’s Story

It’s a first person narrative, which should be SO powerful. But the read doesn’t tug at my heart strings. There’s no reveal or revelation. No aha moment. No conflict or climax or resolution–all key components of storytelling. The narrative style is innocuous. And in a time when there are literally thousands of messages competing for our attention, innocuous doesn’t get the job done.


Thinky Grade: C-



US Dpt of Health & Human Services’ Administration for Children & Families – Dance Like a Dad

We like this one. It’s not earth shattering. It’s not revelatory. It’s quiet and unassuming, but also heartwarming. (Did it drive URL visits or # mentions? Dunno.) But with no dialogue, it manages to elicit more of an emotional response in me than “A Mother’s Story.” I think it’s because this spot is showing the relationship and situation between parent and child rather than narrating it. We’re stepping into a moment in time in this family’s house, being a fly on the wall, seeing it unfold with our own eyes. We can feel the exchange between father and son, we see the expressions. There’s a familiarity that comes from being in that moment together. And even though this spot also doesn’t have a conflict or climax or resolution, there is some tension built as we wait to see how the boy is going to respond to his dad’s dance antics–the aha! unexpectedness here is almost that he doesn’t respond with an eye roll at all, but rather a loving expression. Subtle, right? But the first time I watched it, that’s what I was waiting for–some kind of “DAD, sheesh!” comic turn. The absence of that is actually what’s unexpected, and part of what it makes it work.


In contrast, in “A Mother’s Story,” we’re just…well..being told a story. And there is nothing unexpected to punctuate it. Even though it’s from the mom’s personal POV, it’s very much HER story, not OUR story. We’re hearing about it from the outside. We’re not IN those moments or experiencing the feelings she’s talking about. Bringing the viewer/audience into the situation so that they’re they can actually experience the emotion and the scene as it unfolds is so critical to connecting.


Thinky Grade: A



Movember – Man of more words

To me, this one suffers from the same fate as “A Mother’s Story.” First person accounts can work…but again, these are just narration, and the testimonials somehow feel detached. They lack a kind of candor or rawness I would want to see from these. They’re almost too composed, if that makes sense. The campaign hook and execution also feel a bit disconnected. “Man of more words” is meant to be about opening up and talking about mental health issues. But because these testimonials feel so “clean,” they’re more like depositions than conversations. The words are there in quantity but not in quality. How could this have evoked a more emotional and compelling response?


Thinky Grade: C-



Brands That Caught Our Eye


Timberland –Taking on retail as its next proof point of becoming an eco-sustainable brand (The Drum)

Timberland is not a brand we hear of much here in the US these days. But it’s making some solid commitments to becoming more sustainable in all of its operations, from marketing to product manufacturing to its retail store environments. This “all in” approach to CSR is what we need more of from brands. They’re living their commitment in all of their practices.


But from a physical brand experience perspective, part of me wishes they had done something bigger than these “purpose-led” flagship stores in London, NY, and Philly with “real trees, a full-height living green wall, and natural elements throughout.” I had the chance to visit their pop up store in Mexico City and the experience doesn’t feel that differentiated. It’s just… clean. Why not open stores in literal treehouses? Or for that matter, wall-less stores in parks? Sure, that’s not a long-term solution, but if raising awareness of their efforts is the first step, why not go big and unexpected to hook people in–then get them on board.

Thinky Grade: B-



Optus – Allowing people to donate their data to those who can’t afford it (The Drum)

There are 1.1 million young people living in poverty in Australia. Without expendable income, things like internet and data are luxuries rather than necessities. And without the internet, there’s a gap in access to information, connection, and education: a digital divide between the haves and have-nots.


Optus discovered this human/issue insight (AHA!), and realized they were in a position to do something about it. So they created a “donate your data” project in collab with The Smith Family and the KARI Foundation–giving free sim cards to low-income Aussies, and giving customers the ability to donate their own data to those in need. While the article doesn’t go into detail about the mechanics of the program, or how the recipients were selected/determined (or if they were also given phones/laptops to be able to use the data?) this is a super interesting case of a brand using its own product for good. They didn’t have to go out and create anything because their product is somewhat intangible. There’s no cost to them to give away data, but there IS a massive benefit to the recipients.


Thinky Grade: A-

If you’re looking for ways to help Australia in the wake of the devastating fires, we have tips.

There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to effectiveness and measurement…but that’s a post for another day. Thanks for reading today’s Thinky. See you next week!

PS: If any of the above made your wheels spin, we’d love to hear your thoughts–get in touch with us!

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