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There are few things more utilitarian than a battery. But in June 2016, Dentsu Tokyo’s campaign for Panasonic cells saw it take home the Design Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions festival. ‘Life is Electric’ aimed to show people the ubiquity of electricity in everyday life, in the process creating a bridge between digital and analogue.

‘Life Is Electric’ took 21 eneloop batteries and charged them in 21 different ways. Each contained a different kind of electricity, and each cell was packaged in a different way pertaining to the origin of the energy inside – be it a hamster in a wheel, cheerleaders waving pom-poms or a man lifting weights. The idea was that when confronted with the source, people would be forced to consider where electricity comes from and the amount they are using.

In doing this, Panasonic brought whole new life to the simple battery. “It managed to use the power of design to change the perception of a product that has become a commodity, by bringing storytelling in,” says Macherel. And since the backstories to each cell feature themes ranging from people power to the environment, the brand successfully engages viewers beyond the energy itself. “Our goal isn’t just to make efficient and energy saving products – our goal is to have an ongoing conversation about electricity’s real value to people,” reads the website.

“When a brand talks about what it’s here to do, it helps people understand its purpose in their lives,” says Ed Woodcock, director of narrative at Aesop. It’s for this reason – adding intangible value to a product – that brands have been turning to storytelling when advertising or packaging their products. Take Dutch milk shop MelkSalon, which ran a pop-up that invited customers to meet the farmers behind the milk. And Hiut Denim goes a step further by employing a ‘Denim Breaker’ to wear-in jeans before people buy them, lacing them with a different kind of story.

For some brands, telling a story comes more easily than others. “Tech brands are now with us day in, day out,” says Woodcock. “They’re in our hands, taking up a lot of mental space in the way that FMCG brands used to. Now the brands that we’re closest to are the ones on our screens.” This makes building a narrative much easier for these companies, with 49% of people intrigued to see what Apple will do next, for instance. But this marketing technique isn’t restricted to a few select sectors; with enough focus on creativity, emotional resonance and purpose, any company can strike a chord with the public through storytelling, no matter their product. And Panasonic bringing a battery to life is proof of this.

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Adam Steel is a researcher and music lover. When he's not writing for Canvas8, he occupies himself with coming-of-age movies and American fiction.

18 Jul 16

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