Our aptitude for visual processing was well tuned long before Apple created its iconic, minimalistic brand appeal or Starbucks offered a trendy space to relax between home and office. In fact, our affinity for visual storytelling is as primitive as our instinct to eat or be eaten. Imagine you’re strolling back to your cave after a long night out with the other Neanderthals when you hear a rustle in the bushes. You can’t text your friends to come and help; there’s no flashlight app to shine on it. No, you have to rely on your visual cortex to determine if it’s friend or foe. This heightened evolutionary conditioning of our neurological system is one of the most fundamental keys to our survival as a species. So, it’s no small wonder that we process information and emotions based on visual context. And for those ancestors who didn’t, well, they may not have made it back to their caves.

Fast track to today. We now occupy virtually every square inch on the globe, we’re always ‘on’ and we’ve developed highly sophisticated systems of communication. However, our processing of information remains largely unchanged. Will it bring me pleasure or will it cause me pain? Each has its place. We can use fear to motivate, such as in a quit smoking campaign that shows the terrifying effects of cigarettes. Or we can use pleasure, as in the case of a travel ad for an exotic beach destination. Sometimes we even use both.

With pain and pleasure as a foundation, we then add context to form a narrative. People became brilliant storytellers, and stories became a means of teaching and informing. Yes, this is a generalization, but the basic principles are truly that simple. Effective brand storytelling captures the essence of a brand while engaging and captivating your audience through their emotional reaction to pain and pleasure.

Here are a few great examples of brands that have built highly effective brand stories through powerful visual context:

1) North Face – fear of the unknown, the pleasure of challenging yourself

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2) Apple – the pleasure of simplifying life

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3) Ford F150 – the pleasure of feeling safe and empowered

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4) Whole Foods – the pleasure of a healthier self and planet

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5) United Way – the fear of being without, the pleasure of helping others

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