July 1, 2016

3 Ways Brands Can Learn Storytelling from Cartoons

It was our first appointment viewing. Our first open-mouthed, awe-inspired, aspirational experiences with storytelling: cartoons. You might think what Wile E. Coyote and SpongeBob can teach us is well, elementary, but you would be wrong. Whether it’s a factual story, a fictional one, or a promotional story like advertising or marketing, we can all learn from storytelling tools to be found in cartoons.


Wile E Coyote, King of Storytelling


One of Pixar’s storyboard artists, Emma Coats, compiled a list of the keys  to storytelling that she learned while working at Pixar. The animation giant consistently pumps out Blockbuster movies with incredible heartwarming stories like Inside Out, Finding Nemo, and Toy Story, so it’s safe to say that they are somewhat masters in the art of storytelling.

These key tenets of storytelling can translate to the real world and be applied to your brand, project or campaign in a very uncartoony way.

  •  You admire a character more for trying than success. 


This rule can be seen in almost every Pixar movie. In Finding Nemo, we fall in love with Marlin for crossing the ocean to find his son, even at points where it looks like he will ultimately fail. In Toy Story we watch as Woody and Buzz try their best to get back to the arms of the child who loves them.

At some point in every single one of our lives, we have all tried and failed at something we desperately wanted. The stakes are impossibly high. Our lives hang in the balance. That’s why this story key resonates so deeply, and it translates perfectly to real-world examples such as this inspiring video from DICK’S Sporting Goods.




The Contenders shows Olympic contenders pushing to their very limits so that they might have the chance to represent America at the Olympics. As the story builds, you can’t help but pull for these Contenders. Because the Olympics haven’t happened yet, you’re not concerned with the prize, the gold medals, or the glory… you’re wrapped in the story because it showcases the tremendous effort these athletes put into achieving their dream. The end hasn’t been written yet.

This is such an authentic way to tell this story, because it utilizes real athletes, in gritty, real-world settings, facing actual challenges and attempting to beat not a competitor at this point, but themselves. That’s pretty darn admirable and impactful. It leaves you wanting more, so here’s the longer version.




  • What is your character (or talent) comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?


In this whopper of a video series for the remarkable Dove, the brand taps into what makes so many women uncomfortable: their looks, their body image, and how they perceive themselves.




This video shows what happens when you challenge pre-conceived notions and our own inner thoughts, laying bare our insecurities and pulling them kicking and screaming into the light… a much more flattering light. That journey to knowledge, that transformation to a new self-awareness, is the story.


  • Why must you tell this story? What’s the belief burning in you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.


Sometimes stories aren’t aspirational. Sometimes they provoke, surprise, or alarm. Underlying your motivation for writing? A conviction that it must be written… whether that’s to get it off your chest, to buck societal norms, or to promote a movement. This piece is one of those. **Warning… its language isn’t for your grandma.



I’ll just leave that one there… because if you have a beating heart in your chest and not a fuse box, you know why the producers felt that story needed to be told. And I guarantee you’ll remember it for a long time. Not unlike those endless episodes of the Smurfs you watched in the 80s, (or Thundercats, or Inspector Gadget, or whatever got you out of bed at 6 am on Saturday mornings in your footed jammies). Themes we remember from childhood remain indelible storytelling tools today.


If you’d like to read more about authentic storytelling, check out my recent blog. If you’ve seen or created a powerful form or example of storytelling lately, send me an email. I’d love to feature it in an upcoming post. Thanks for reading!


Special thanks to our intern, Zach Eckhart, for co-writing this blog.