If I have a hobbyhorse these days in my conversations with marketing executives it is that too few advertisers understand that they have a “brand story” to tell. If it’s not ready to tell, then they have to deploy the resources to craft a good story. Get a storyline going, and every piece of advertising and brand communication should underscore it, add to it and reinforce it in the consumers’ mind.

Traditional advertising can be and should be deployed for this. But there is perhaps no better medium for telling brand story than online video.

This brings me to Shell Oil. As I lay around my house recovering from knee replacement surgery like James Stewart in Rear Window, I have been watching way too much MSNBC. A series of quick and puzzling film snippets from Shell got my attention. Why, I asked myself, is Shell running an ad showing a teenager draining a milkshake by way of a bendy straw? Okay…I had an idea that if I chased down the answer online that the straw was going to have something to do with a piece of technology Shell is using.

So, off I went to Shell’s website, and then two clicks later to a site where a nine-minute film is viewable. The film tracks a Shell engineer in Southeast Asia whose job it is to figure out how the energy giant can get hard-to-reach oil out of the ground. There is a back-story of how the engineer has been neglecting his teenage son back in the Netherlands. A reporter doing a story on him and his team suggests thata he might want to try and get away from his problem in order to find an answer to it. Indeed, he goes to spend some much needed time with his son, takes him out for a hamburger and shake. As the son, Max, slurps the dregs of a milkshake from a glass through a bended straw, engineer Jaap Van Ballegooijen gets an inspiration for something that becomes the “snake drill,” which allows Shell to drain isolated pockets of oil from beneath the sea floor without erecting an entire platform for each small reservoir of oil.

I probably don’t do the story justice. It is a slickly directed, captivating film that is full of story. It makes Shell look like a company of people, not financial statements. It tells a story of reducing environmental impact of oil exploration. And it makes Shell look like an innovator. The length of the film, nine minutes, is just about right to tell the story right. Some research shows that the longest consumers are willing to stay with such a film is about five minutes. I think if the film is good, you’ll hold em for at least 12 minutes.

I like the way the TV ads drive curiosity to check out the longer film online. I’m not getting into whether Shell’s environmental record is as good as the film suggests. But assessing the film’s merits as brand communication and part of a viable brand story, it scores well.

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