7 stunning visual storytelling examples

Summary Today, videos are the preferred content of users, who choose them along their purchase path to obtain information or for pure…

Visual storytelling examples
Elisabetta Severoni
Video Marketing 7 stunning visual storytelling examples


Today, videos are the preferred content of users, who choose them along their purchase path to obtain information or for pure entertainment. That’s why they have become an irreplaceable part of any company’s marketing strategy. This post offers several examples of visual storytelling: seven videos – among the many that could be equally mentioned – that in recent years have contributed to the success of some of the most innovative and engaging marketing strategies. Enjoy!

Videos tell stories in such an engaging way that they manage to capture and hold the attention of increasingly elusive and distracted viewers. How do they do it?

  • They create a tension that forces the viewer out of their comfort zone, promising them resolution to a conflict that somehow affects them and is mostly internal….
  • …they entertain in the highest sense of the word, providing a new point of view on an old problem
  • … and in doing so they inform and educate the viewer, without patronizing or lecturing approaches that are suffocating and not very incisive.

The seven videos described below beautifully incorporate these characteristics and represent as many examples of how visual storytelling has been successfully used to simplify complex phenomena without trivializing them, indicate possible courses of action, and drive viewers to participation.

1. “Gold medal” marketing: animated pictograms for communication without borders

Perhaps you too were glued to the screen to watch the Olympics and maybe you have even fallen down the rabbit hole into a parallel dimension of random sports, each governed by their own rules (often complicated to understand).

Well, people like you (and me) every four years find themselves having to quickly relearn the rules that, after the Olympic hangover, are inevitably forgotten. We can easily imagine what enormous communication challenges organizers face when they have to transmit this large, chaotic amount of information to a diverse audience.

Add to that the fact that there are “people like you and me” all over the world. So: how is it possible to communicate with athletes and spectators while taking into account the enormous number of languages and alphabets used in different nations?

This is the challenge from which the pictograms of the Olympics were born, illustrations that have evolved over the course of the legendary history of the Olympic Games until they assumed the essential and minimalist style that transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries.

For the Tokyo games in 2021, pictograms were animated for the first time, adding movement to a language that was already shared and international, to make it even more informative and evocative.

Ranking first among the examples of visual storytelling cited, these little videos – essentially gifs – of sports marketing – look at the Olympics! – using sign systems reminiscent of ancient scriptures, have succeeded in having universal reach and immediate impact in a society, such as the one in which we live, chronically affected by info-besity.

2. Dumb Ways to Die: the life-saving marketing of a ‘dumb’ video

In second place among our visual storytelling examples, we find a self-title ‘dumb’ video, an animated video that, as of this writing, has well exceeded 223 million views on Youtube, a video that entered the iTunes top 10 chart within hours of its launch, and that won 28 Lions and 5 Grand Prix awards in the 2013 edition of the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

These are just a few of the truly impressive numbers of Dumb Ways to Die, a wacky animated video at the center of an integrated PSA (Public Service Announcement) campaign commissioned by Melbourne’s Metro Train, which helped reduce accidents in Australian stations by 21%.

On the notes of an irresistible musical nursery rhyme, a series of two-dimensional and vaguely human characters die demented and hilarious deaths (for example: setting fire to their hair, taking expired medicine, teasing a grizzly bear).

The objective was to make passengers aware of the need to adopt safe behaviors, but the tone of voice chosen was so far from that of institutional communications that it succeeded in capturing the attention of viewers, intriguing them, and finally pushing them to an amused realization.

The Dumb Ways to Die campaign implemented strategic solutions that we might call inbound:

  • valuable content and experiences targeted to a very well-defined audience (information regarding safety “around trains” aimed at rail users)
  • no interruptions imposed on recipients with content they didn’t want (messages were communicated in non-intrusive ways; for example they were broadcast on station monitors or distributed on dedicated digital channels)
  • focus on problems that are real but probably still perceived, to some extent, as generic (commuters often have repetitive daily schedules and very low attention spans).

3. Nosferatu The Non silent Film: when video is the product

“In a world where Getty Images is a benchmark in image sales, one man came back from the past to show off the variety in our collection of music and sound effects. Yes that’s right, our audio stock.”

The trailer of Nosferatu – The Non silent film is an example of what extremely intelligent visual marketing is capable of, thanks to Getty Images Brazil. The video succeeds by playing on a sort of short-circuit, both sensorial and semantic.

  1. Sensory because audio elements are added to visual ones, which calls both audio and visual into the experience.
  2. Semantic because two levels of meaning are superimposed in the video:
  3. the re-signification of a great silent film classic, which is re-categorized as a sound film. And so a famous silent movie – a product of an era marked by specific technological values – is projected into the contemporary cinematographic dimension;
  4. the use of video with two different communication objectives: not just a trailer but a demo of the services offered by Getty.

The Nosferatu Non silent Film figures in this list of visual storytelling examples primarily because of this layering. For the two readings to which it lends itself, both prescribed by the commissioning brand: one where the video is simply an invitation to watch a film that is different from the original and the other that puts the video in a different conceptual framework.

In the second case, the video is, to some extent, also a commercial proposal, because it speaks to the viewer considering him/her a potential customer, incorporating in its content the value of the products or services offered by the brand.

4. Epic split: a viral video to describe an inner conflict

In the absence of conflict, a story is not a story. And conflict exists even in the kind of narrative that from the outside may seem perfectly peaceful and harmonious. It exists in terms of a breakdown of an initial equilibrium, a clash between value systems, and actions necessary for a change that has become inevitable.

The fourth of the examples of visual storytelling concerns precisely those conflicts that are less evident and recognizable because they are above all “internal,” and that, from an intimate and spiritual level, manage to develop externally in scenic, colossal, epic situations.

We’re talking about – you’ve probably guessed it – The Epic Split feat. Jean-Claude Van Damme, the famous Volvo commercial that raised the bar of quality in digital advertising to a level that is still difficult to equal, now almost 10 years ago.

The message the company wanted to communicate was absolutely practical: Volvo trucks allow easy, safe, smooth driving, even in reverse. Volvo could have communicated this information (a substantially technical characteristic) in a thousand “literal” ways, but it instead chose an evocative, almost poetic tone and entrusted itself to an actor who had built a career on conflicts – those, however, of the external and thunderous kind of action movies.

During the epic split, Van Damme fights against the force of gravity after having spent his entire life fighting against the villains of his films. The conflict transfigures him, transporting him to an elsewhere of peace and serenity. It is yet another battle he has won, after all the battles he has had to face along windy and bumpy roads – as told by the voiceover.

The protagonist of the story is, therefore, impersonated by an actor who plays himself – or rather, who plays the current version of himself – and who has managed over the years to overcome the most terrifying challenge of all: that against his fears.

The Van Damme character coincides with the Volvo character and his trained body corresponds to the perfect engineering of the trucks, obtained thanks to tenacity, will, the kilometers covered and the experiences lived.

5. Wix: because listening is always the winning move

Wix is a platform that specializes in HTML5 and mobile web development. In 2020, the platform was faced with a perception and reputation problem caused by the over-frequency of its videos on platforms like YouTube.

This over-presence on channels frequented by the target audience is a critical issue that all marketers who need to reach consumers online at scale, but struggle to make a connection with those who will actually be most receptive to their product or service, must constantly contend with.

After noticing the large number of negative comments on their videos – in dangerous and constant growth – Wix decided to run for cover: it didn’t ignore the comments, it didn’t minimize them but used them in a self-deprecating way. And it created a campaign that sounded at the same time like a surrender, an attempt at apology and a sort of amused mea culpa.

Listening to and considering viewers was a courageous move that was destined to prove successful.

6. MasterClass Videos: Serving tailored marketing

While entire sectors, such as travel and retail, struggled to survive, some organizations found ways to exploit the opportunities of a world in lockdown: e-commerce giants, fitness companies capable of organizing programs remotely, companies providing streaming content services. Among the latter, MasterClass, a famous platform for online training, deserves special mention.

With its video courses, MasterClass is among the “winners” that have emerged from the crisis caused by the pandemic stronger than before.

Among the examples of visual storytelling reported in this post, this one by MasterClass is particularly interesting more for the way video is used within the marketing strategies adopted than for the expressive dimension of the story. However, this does not mean that the thinking behind their actions is any less creative or meaningful. But let’s try to explain.

At the beginning of March 2020, Masterclass had begun to notice that subscribers were spending more time on the platform than before. It had also found that people not yet subscribed were watching ads (short excerpts of lectures given by experts, edited in the form of trailers, with a fast pace and a compelling soundtrack) more frequently and from start to finish.

Faced with a situation that seemed promising and in a context where the demand for online training was growing steadily, MasterClass decided not to divert the budget in the indiscriminate publication of advertising content.

How did it manage, then, to achieve that apparent ubiquity on Instagram and other channels that you, too, may have experienced?

The answer has to do with the process of optimizing the frequency of dedicated ads and on their careful distribution to a defined audience.

Using the data available (coming mainly from social platforms, Facebook primarily) MasterClass decided to engage in a more profiled communication, addressing people between 30 and 40 years old, who were looking for their professional path at that time: a very tailored marketing approach.

7. Personalized videos… and we become the protagonists of our own stories

At the end of this roundup of visual storytelling examples and before proceeding to the last video, there’s another kind of list I want to share: a list of shortcomings. So far, a few things have been missing.

  1. There has been a lack of opportunity to gather truly timely information and then to tailor the message to people, based on their unique qualities.
  2. We also lacked the ability to communicate one-on-one and collect accurate information to be used to build credible buyer personas.
  3. Finally, the necessary step towards making sure that the consumer was actively participating in the conversation with the brand has also been missed.

In other words, there has been a lack of interactivity, understood as a systematic and direct exchange with the viewer.

All of these shortcomings find a solution in Outdo you by Nike (2015), as a result of the convergence of a number of technological, economic, and cultural factors:

  • the deep knowledge of the market and consumers, enabled by the granular information made possible by digitization,
  • the careful listening to customer needs,
  • the commitment to offering a truly meaningful experience.

The combination of these factors has allowed the creation of an interactive project that can be customized by leveraging information from an ecosystem of sensors, dedicated products, and community sharing and activation platforms (Nike+). Starting from the data that these tools have helped to collect in the previous year, Nike created a video where we become the absolute protagonists.

Nike’s Outdo you video Is the last in this list of examples of visual storytelling – a list that is inevitably partial and susceptible to a thousand changes – not because it is any less important, on the contrary, precisely because it represented a decisive moment in terms of the transformations we have been witnessing in recent years.

Because it is one of the first cases in a chronological sense and certainly one of the most powerful to mention if we talk about a creative use of data in advertising.

Because it brings to fruition a trend towards personalization and interactivity that is typical of the most advanced video marketing strategies and increasingly characterizes the relationship between brand and consumer.

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