Why Story Works — A Changing Market

A Dishwasher Diaries Case Study

In a changing market full of disruption, viewing behaviors of audiences change drastically and brand communication has to keep up. This is the first article about how we created a branded Youtube series.

Storytelling & branded entertainment got a lot of buzz within the last years — but not every stylish video actually is storytelling. In these articles we will shed some light on how we develop & produce branded entertainment products.

Dishwasher Diaries is mobile-first campaign, a web-series with 12 episodes, translated into 12 languages for 32 markets, and — at the time of its creation — the first sitcom featuring a living dishwasher worldwide.

This series of articles we’ll cover the following topics:

#1 A Changing Market
#2 Campaign & Content Strategy
#3 When Story drives Strategy
#4 Hello World
#5 Running the Campaign


So, what are we talking about here in detail? A picture says more than thousand words and a movie even more — so before I’ll crack the thousand words, here’s the trailer of the finished campaign “Dishwasher Diaries”:

Dishwasher Diaries Trailer

Commercials are Annoying

If you are familiar with classic detergent commercials and ads, a talking dishwasher might seem like a crazy idea, but the media landscape is changing so drastically over the last few years and these changes provided a fertile soil to build this campaign on.

Digitalization and especially the rise of social media changed the habits of audiences heavily — in vast contrast to TV, branded content doesn’t really disrupt the actual entertainment anymore, at least not to the degree of advertising windows. Commercials are annoying — especially the ones that feel like commercials — and the next exciting piece of content is just a click or swipe away.

Modern brand commutation lives next to Game of Thrones trailers, Netflix shows or cat & baby videos of friends and family. Users create highly personalized streams of content and everything that doesn’t fit in or at least sparks an interest, has lost immediately.

With the rise of social media it became less and less popular to communicate top down — when you saw a blatant commercial on TV you probably got annoyed, but that was it — the message was spread.

While in the old days it was quite popular to push the product, nowadays the audiences care about meaning and shared values with a brand. In this regard, I can highly recommend the book “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek (https://startwithwhy.com) or his TED talk “Why Great Leaders Inspire Action” (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action).

The modern audience has the power to talk to brands directly, to downvote content they don’t like or even heat up a conversation to become a fully matured shit storm. You want to avoid that and the very best way to just that is to create entertaining content instead of commercials.

Disruption of businesses is nothing new, but the pace in which it happens sped up dramatically and it’s crucial for new business and especially heritage brands to change the way they talk to their customers.

It’s not about B2B or B2C anymore — it’s Business to Human.

And right in this time of change we had a really interesting meeting with the digital team at Henkel.

The Briefing

The first client briefing already hit the mark and was the perfect foundation for creating an engaging campaign: Henkel’s brand team for SOMAT was looking for a mobile first campaign for various markets around the world.

It should address a young and modern audience, they had developed a solid brand persona and the clear focus was to create something that was more than a mere commercial — create relevant content for the audience.

The whole briefing was based on an important consumer insight: customers would search for solutions if their dishwasher wasn’t performing as it should — and the main media that was searched was Youtube, not Google.

So our task was clear: create something with valuable information for the consumer that people would enjoy watching — so let’s dive right in.

The Ideation

When we sat down for the first brainstorming we immediately set our goals very high: not only did we want to develop a solid campaign, we wanted to prove that the power of story can vastly increase the organic growth of the campaign.

We wanted to create something that was never done before — at least not for a detergent product.

And it all started with research: what would a consumer actually find on Youtube — and the results were catastrophic, there was no solid content that would provide both helpful information and entertainment. Good for us — let’s do this right then.

The brand persona was defined really well: a modern woman that has better things to do than wash dishes. This is a solid start, but now to the harder part: conflict.

While an engaging story needs some kind of conflict, the term alone is kind of a red flag in the corporate world and especially when it comes to marketing & commercials.

So we started with two things: the characters and the format of the campaign.

Format & Sustainable Characters

The goal was to pair a successful entertainment genre with a popular Youtube format, the “Instructional Video”.

We considered the following parameters to set up the best fit of a format:

  • Short episodes that have to work on two levels: provide information and entertain
  • A sustainable setup for many episodes — there were at least 8 topics to tackle
  • The content has to speak to different cultures in many markets and it should be easy to internationalize

Based on these prerequisites we came up with an animated sitcom with two distinct characters: a modern woman defined by the brand persona and her needy roommate who is the vast opposite of her — and on top of that he’s a dishwasher.

Animation might seem like an odd choice, but considering what we wanted to achieve, it was the perfect tool:

  • Abstracted characters work well across different cultures and markets
  • It’s easy to internationalize
  • Create a really unique character with Dishy, the dishwasher

The possibly biggest benefit of animation is that we would actually create an Intellectual Property (IP) for Somat — everything we develop would ultimately belong to the brand and the campaign could evolve into a true 360° campaign outside of the series.

Creating a World & Pilots

Early pencil sketch of Maria & Dishy

Before we head into serial production the first step was to develop the story format, the characters, the location and actually everything else since you start from scratch in animation.

Together with the digital team of the client we decided to produce two pilot episodes and test them in one market before developing all the other episodes.

The next few articles will also focus on the creation of the characters and the format since everything had to serve the overall campaign strategy.

So after an extensive development phase, we found our two main characters: Maria & Dishy.

Dishy lives with the misunderstanding that he is Maria’s boyfriend and each episode would tackle a universal relationship problem with instructional information woven into the storyline.

The good thing about the animation workflow is that there is an important step right before the character animation starts: after the script is finished and the voice actors are recorded, we created a so-called “Animatic” or “Storyreel”: an animated storyboard with music, voice and sound effects that would actually let you watch the episode before it’s animated.

A perfect step for a big feedback round with different departments of our client — and a big surprise awaited us after this important meeting.

But that is a different story. (Hint: it’s the second article).

Little Lights Studio is a multi-platform storytelling studio specializing in branded entertainment, digital content and traditional publishing — almost everything aimed at a Family Audience.