The art of brand storytelling by Jonathan Crocker

The art of brand storytelling

By Jonathan Crocker Jun 24

Human After All’s Editorial Director, Jonathan Crocker, explores why a positive belief is the secret behind the world’s most successful brands.


“By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising… kill yourself. Thank you.”

Some friendly advice there from the great comedian Bill Hicks. He knew that advertisers persuade us, as economist Tim Jackson memorably put it, “to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about.

Human After All is a creative agency that makes “communications” for brands. That, really, is just another word for advertising. So how do we live with ourselves?

Well, Human After All’s logo isn’t an umlaut. Those two dots above the “u” represent our mission: using creativity to connect people and brands, making others smile even when they don’t expect to and putting ‘you’ at the centre of our work.

We spent seven years building our company before rebranding as Human After All. That was a tricky process and certainly not a time when we were in a position to be too choosy about work.

However, one of our first ambitions was to be a ruthlessly independent agency - so we stuck to our mission. We work with people that we feel speak to our desire to use design as a force for good and with brands that we’re comfortable aligning ourselves with.

A children’s charity, the world’s two biggest tech giants, a global NGO, an accountancy firm, a house-music label, music and entertainment brands, famous London attractions, a prestige watchmaker… We work with clients of all shapes and sizes, but every one of them has the power to help people and to make the world a little bit better. When we help them reach their audience, we make sure that’s the message they’re sending.

Don’t think that this is lofty moral stance. We’re in the business of helping our clients succeed like never before.

It’s best codified by Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The world’s greatest brands sell a positive belief that’s impossible not to share. Harley Davidson, for example, doesn’t sell motorbikes. It sells ‘Freedom’, which is why Harley riders feel like modern cowboys. Nike doesn’t sell sportswear. It sells a belief that’s powerful enough to make anyone feel they can ‘just do it’:

Maya Angelou famously quipped that people will forget what you said, what you did, but never how you made them feel. She was right. The emotional part of the brain, the limbic system, is what makes decisions for us. Like which accountant you use, which coffee you buy or which charity you donate to.

So with every client project, we always start at this level. What does the brand stand for? What’s its purpose? What does the client believe it’s doing when it’s selling a product or providing a service?

We work hard to burrow into the positive beliefs at the brand’s heart, because these are what hold the secret to creating an honest, inspiring emotional connection with its audience. The communications we create - whether it’s a logo, an above-the-line campaign or a booklet - are consciously designed as a compelling expression of this core mission.

When BAFTA needed an awards campaign that worked above the line and on the night, for example, we designed every piece of collateral to express its heartfelt belief in the transporting magic of cinema and television.

Whether we’re rebranding a hands-on London accountancy firm,an iconic music-label or a life-changing charity, the process remains the same: find the unique purpose and passion at the brand’s heart, find an irresistible way to express it.

Much is made of “storytelling”. But really, a brand’s story is just its beliefs made real. By bringing to life a brand’s true belief and purpose, we hope to create communications that make a positive difference to people.

That goes for each of us, too. The story of our lives will be how we brought our values into the world. What values are you honouring when you come to work? Good values are what motivate us to do good things. They’re what make us human, after all.

Otherwise, it’s kinda hard to argue with Bill…