Brand storytelling: The Ogilvy’s way to tell a story that sells


The common of all great brands: the existence of a brand story

Sometimes, somewhere, someone predicts the death of branding is coming. The clutter of messaging will be overwhelmed to the consumers, and then, one day, everything will return to 0, because that’s the way nature works: up and down in a cycle. The clutter of messaging is correct, but the result of branding becoming extinct is very questionable. Despite the growing complexity of information of the world, countless brands still thrive due to effective branding. What is their common? They own a brand story that is relevant and appealing to the customers. Today, we discuss the Ogilvy & Mather’s way to tell a brand story- the secret which makes them the most prominent and pioneering in the world advertising industry.

According to Robyn Putter, the leader of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide Creative Council, most admired brands are built not just on big ideas, but on big ideaLs. Big ideaLs are the underpinning on which every other brand and company activities are built on. This underpinning holds a strong and definite point of view on the world that appeals to everyone who has the similar opinion. Those big ideaLs are much greater than the sales figures or economic GDP. They are not driven by a goal, but an IDEAL, or a philosophy and belief.

Nike says that “if you have a body, you are an athlete”. Their ideal is that every body can train like an athlete. They inspire people to get people’s ass off the couch. Apple says “the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are often the ones who do”. That is a very strong living ideal to encourage people to “think different”. Or IBM’s living ideal is to make the planet smarter. Those above ideals are all very inspiring, and that is how great brand ideals should be!

One notice is that the big ideaLs should come from the root of the business, not just from the brands. All the greatest business has a consistency and synchronization of big ideaLs, and that ideal is always coming from the business top leader, who is responsible for defining the ultimate purpose of the company.


The big ideaL- O&M’s trademark root thinking

The big ideaL in a nutshell

The big ideaL is not a slogan. It is simple, but not simplistic. It is short and memorable, but inspiring. It is the ultimate result of the combination of ethos of the brand, company, people and the target consumers. It is the company’s or brand’s point of view on the world, or on life, or on the country it lives. It takes side, not trying to please everyone. It is a statement as hard as nails, which creates an impression that the opinion cannot be changed.

The easiest way to come up with a big ideaL is trying to fill in this formula

“(Brand/ Company) believes that

the world/ life would be a better place if …”

If we try this formula on existing brands, we might observe that the greater the brand is, the easier it is for us to fill on this big ideaL formula. Brand that just focuses on its functional benefits can hardly be expressed in this big ideaL, because we can hardly see any higher purpose that it is serving.


Big ideaL is the intersection between the the brand’s best self and a cultural tension.

As shown in the Venn’s diagram above, a bid ideaL firstly comes from the brand itself. The brand’s best self is not a list of benefits. Most of the time, the best way to look for a brand’s best self is to ask its loyal users, who often surprise us with their rich and specific language about their favorite brand. For example, Louis Vuitton’s best self is that it embodies the spirit of travel in beautifully crafted luxury goods. Or Pepsi’s best self is that its drink makes every single moments of life worth it.

The circle named “The cultural trend/ truth” can be very misleading. To my surprise, many professionals in the ad industry do not understand what the cultural trend/ truth is. It should be a cultural tension. If market is a debate room, the brand should be a speaker, who has a strong valid point of view. One cultural tension among the youngsters in Vietnam is they have dreams, but do not dare to live those dreams due to social and family expectations. Or the cultural tension Nike utilizes is that ordinary people desire to train like an athlete, but they believe the athletic activities are not for them.

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