Great brands tell stories.

Thumb through most B2B-oriented magazines, and even many consumer-oriented magazines, and you’ll see a great many ads that get straight to the point. Here is a case in point:


HP Printer Ad



There’s no mistaking what this ad is about, nor the value conferred. Buy this printer for your business and save money on printing costs. That’s a very valid and wanted value proposition.

Except, it’s boring.

So boring, that I’m likely to just flip past this ad without giving it a second thought.

What’s missing here?

The headline is factual and arguably strong.

The subhead is compelling – who wouldn’t want to save up to 50% per page?

The visual is appropriate – business people in the office looking at pages that just came off the printer (though it looks like stock photography).

The copy doesn’t waste time, giving you the benefits in a tight, concise paragraph (though, the final sentence is a nonsensical, incomplete sentence).

What’s missing here is a good story.


What is the brand’s story?

Let’s start with that tagline. “HP – Make it matter.”

Make what matter, exactly?

What story is this tagline supposed to help tell? Just what is HP’s brand story? In fact, can we summon up any images, feelings, emotions or meanings when we see the name “HP?” I can’t.

Once upon a time, HP’s tagline was “Invent.” Back then, HP was still known for innovating. In fact, HP was one of those storied startups that originated in someone’s garage. (Read about HP’s beginnings here »)

Nowadays, HP is known for – I don’t know what. HP is a company without a story at this point. Yes, they make computers, printers, and electronics. So do a lot of other companies. There’s no story there.

Compare that with Apple, which has no tagline, and yet, has a powerfully emotional story with an irresistible gravitational pull. Could you ever imagine Apple running an ad like the one above?I can’t either.

Some quick research turns up a web page ( from Moving Brands, the branding firm which worked with HP in 2008 to reinvent (no pun intended) HP’s brand. The firm is impressive and their work is stunning.

Still, I’m not getting a story here.

In 2012, then new HP CEO Meg Whitman (formerly head of eBay) introduced today’s tagline, “Make it matter.” New tagline – same old story – or rather, lack of a story.


What makes a good story?

A good story has:

  • A protagonist that we can relate to
  • A tough challenge facing the protagonist which we can relate to
  • Suspense – what will the outcome be??? Keeping us guessing keeps us engaged.
  • Surprises – these make a story more memorable
  • Emotions – things happen in the story that make the protagonist happy, sad, scared, angry, determined, and more. Since we relate to the protagonist, we empathize with the emotions.
  • Shock value – the more shocked we are, the more engaged we are. Shock doesn’t have to mean scandalous, by the way. Shockingly funny is good. (And aren’t we all shocked when an ad actually makes us laugh?)

In a good story, the protagonist is really us. We see ourselves in this story; i.e. the story is really telling our story. That’s why we can relate. It’s either the story we are already living, the story we wish to avoid, or the story we aspire to live.

The best marketing and advertising tell stories that include these elements.


Branding and Marketing are Storytelling.

The brands that capture our imaginations, our hearts and our undying loyalty are the ones that tell great stories and put us right in the middle of them. In a way, these brands are really cults – in the best possible way. They are subcultures consisting of the brands and their customers, with common values and a shared, compelling narrative – the story.

Examples: Coke. Apple. Mini. Nike. In-N-Out Burger. Harley Davidson. Disney.

These companies have created enduring stories we can all relate to, and stuck to their stories over the years. Consequently, these brands mean something to all of us. They are brands with customer loyalty bordering on religious fanaticism.

But, we needn’t only look to the big brands for creative, storytelling inspiration.


Examples of Great Storytelling Ads

33 Powerful And Creative Print Ads That’ll Make You Look Twice:

Each of these ads uses the elements of a good story to make an impact on the viewer. Why can’t all advertising be this way – even B2B advertising? In fact, it should be.



We all love a good story – even us boring business types who sometimes have to buy office printers. If HP wants to be the one who sells us those printers, I contend that they must do a better job of storytelling – in their ads, and with their brand. I should want to buy their printers because I love what HP stands for. That’s no exaggeration. Remember when “no one ever got fired for buying IBM?” IBM had a story that resonated so well that in their day they dominated the computer industry. It was the same for General Motors in the auto industry. HP too. All of these companies lost their way – and their story. They became boring, and forgettable.

Even Apple lost its story for a while. In the years during Steve Jobs’ absence, Apple became just another bland, beige PC maker. It had no soul; it lost sight of what had once made such a great story: “Macintosh: the computer for the rest of us.” Fortunately, Steve came back, the candy-colored iMac was released, then theiPod, then the iPhone, and the rest is history. Apple is now arguably the most valued brand in the world.

So, what is your brand’s story? Make no mistake – you need one. It’s the single best way to stand out from your competition and gain customers. Again, this is no exaggeration.

A great place to start is with your customer’s story.

We’ll tell that story in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned..

Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.





ZUZA is your printing services resource. Let us help your company look its very best across the full spectrum of printed pieces with our commercial printing services — from one-page flyers to the most intricately designed collateral and everything in-between. Get the highest quality for your projects with ZUZA’s veteran team of creative professionals, based in San Diego, CA and serving Southern California and beyond.