Free-fallin’: Red Bull, Expedia and the Evolution of Advertising Storytelling

I’m teaching a class on brand writing right now — and I’m really enjoying it.

When you work in online marketing as I do, I tell the students, often you are consumed with the technical side of things — the intricacies of conversion and getting people to do what you want them to do. Brand writing seems to me altogether elevated from the tactical fray, much more about storytelling.

In our class discussions, we have the luxury of getting to do deep-dives on major brands and the stories that they tell, whether successfully or unsuccessfully.

One thing that I’ve been preoccupied with lately is the increasingly elaborate manifestations of brand storytelling I see online.

The Red Bull Stratos project is a perfect example of this. I found out about this space jump from Facebook and clicked over yesterday to watch Felix Baumgartner attempt to break a world record for longest free fall, among other various and sundry notable achievements.

It was a riveting spectacle and the social networks were ablaze. It felt like I was taking part in a mass collective experience. And what’s more, the brand Red Bull was getting omnipresent positive association with something truly ground-breaking.

And that leap from space! I held my breath. It was a risk, but probably one that made the whole enterprise a lot more engaging. Imagine what would have happen had this leap not been as successful?

I’m excited to see big brands breaking the boundaries of what sort of content will engage people. Felix’s space jump was almost entirely an online phenomenon  a stark contrast to when we used to watch this sort of thing on the tube.

If you’re interested in seeing another manifestation of a brand breaking the boundaries of traditional advertising narrative, check out Expedia’s latest long-form campaign:

While “documentary-style” is nothing new in advertising, this spot uses it in a wholly different way, to declare an intimate stake in a hot-button issue of the day.

It’s very easy to feel the tug at the heartstrings through this spot, something that’s traditionally been hard for brands to do convincingly online. I’m sure the objective is for this video to gain notoriety, to spark outrage and discussion, and to ultimately be shared. It demonstrates something that’s hard for brands to grasp in the online space: in order to engage, sometimes you have to push the boundaries.

What do you think of these campaigns? Are they effective? A sign of something new?

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