Why Story Works — Campaign & Content Strategy

A Dishwasher Diaries Case Study

Michael Sokolar
Apr 9, 2018 · 6 min read

Each content strategy follows certain KPIs to evaluate the success of the campaign. In this article, I’m shedding some light on the most important KPIs and the creative collaboration with the brand team.

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

In the last article, I talked about a changing market that offers fertile ground for Branded Entertainment and about the early development of this web series.

We developed the characters, did a storyboard and animated this to temporary voice tracks — the first two storyreels were ready for a big feedback round.

At this moment each episode was 30 seconds long — far off from a solid half-hour sitcom, but groundbreaking, full of crazy jokes and solid stories nevertheless. So actually anything could have happened in this big meeting and the one thing we expected the least, did happen: it was one of the funniest meetings the digital department & the brand team had in quite a long time and they came back with the decision to double the length of each episode to a solid minute.

That’s still far off from a TV sitcom, but it allowed us to include more emotional character moments, heightened conflicts and therefore dramatize the product even better (meaning: better woven into the story and therefore more subtle for the audience).

Great, back to the drawing board then — but definitely in a good sense.

The holy grail of marketing strategy are key performance indicators (KPIs) — so what metrics should be used to measure the success or failure of a campaign.

User engagement, for example, would be an important KPI for all kinds of Social Media campaigns — but like every statistic, you certainly have to know how to read it. A full blown shit storm can be a catastrophic event for a brand — but user engagement goes through the roof.

I will certainly only scratch the surface of KPIs and I’m by far not an expert in that field, but in modern campaigns certain KPIs play an important role and can make or break a campaign.

For Dishwasher Diaries the three most important KPIs were:

  1. User Retention (how long does the audience watch the episodes)
  2. Organic Growth (attract the audience naturally apart from paid acquisitions and ads)
  3. User Engagement (does the audience engage with other episodes or even better — other brand content)

These KPIs actually are a best-case scenario for storytellers since they align perfectly with a storytellers most important KPI:

Create a compelling and emotional story with well-developed characters and engaging conflicts.

This is also the reason why solid storytelling always elevates branded communication: the sole purpose of stories is to engage an audience and make them care.

If they care about the story, the product or brand message is charged with the emotional backbone of the narrative — which makes it more relatable and memorable.

So these KPIs meant a win-win-win scenario:

  • a win for the brand since we perfectly aligned the story with the KPIs
  • a win for us as the storytellers since we had the permission to tell engaging stories with well developed characters, conflict and humor
  • and a win for the audience who wasn’t forced to sit through 20 seconds of utterly boring ads on Youtube

So with the aligned KPIs, double the length for each episode and a talking dishwasher at hand, it was time to set up the production workflow.

There are numerous well-established production workflows for agency-client-production collaborations — but for this particular campaign, we wanted to try something crazy:

We aimed to be as inclusive as possible, nobody knows the product better than the brand team and in the end, all of us had the same goal in mind.

The client was invited to story workshops to share their creative ideas and input. We didn’t try to keep them as far away from the creative process as possible but to let them chip in whenever they were free to do so. On the other side, we gained insights and background information that wouldn’t have been easily available any other way — we learned why certain things are important to them and what their customer insights meant for the creation of the campaign.

And probably even more important - every bit of information that hardly finds it’s way into the briefings and memos: what does our client really care about emotionally?

Overall it was a truly fruitful process and while this approach certainly isn’t possible with every creative project, it was not only productive, but really fun for both sides.

All of that being said it almost sounds a bit too easy in retrospect: most of the time the brand, the agency and the creatives basically agree on the same goals and perspectives but still, the process of production sometimes turns a solid idea into some kind of mush.

In my opinion, for most project collaborations this boils down to three main reasons:

  • Mismatch of core values
  • Lack of communication
  • Lack of trust

Oftentimes the creative side doesn’t trust the brand side to judge the brilliance of their story and would ideally like to downplay the product or brand. The brand side might not trust the creatives to have the best interest of the brand or the product in mind.

To some extend, this dilemma can be solved with honest communication and especially: listening. If the creative side really understands what the brand wants to achieve there will always be a creative solution to achieve just that. And it’s equally important that the brand team really understands why the story is built in that particular way and why this is the best for the brand or the product.

But even if both sides trust each other and communicate in all honesty — if there is a mismatch in the core values of the brand and the creatives, it will be a tricky collaboration.

For my part, I’m really excited about stories with a solid amount of human connection and emotion, stories with humor and / or a target audience of families.

This was a perfect match with the campaign the brand had in mind — so again, win-win-win.

After the prolonged pilots where approved as Storyreels (animated storyboards with voice over, sound effects and music), we were finally ready to head into animation.

The animation workflow is a pretty good match for these kinds of campaigns — the animation milestones are perfect approval milestones with the brand team:

  1. Script & Storyreel
  2. Blocking (rough positioning with key character poses)
  3. Splining & Smoothing (character animation)
  4. Rendering & Compositing (add textures & light)
  5. Final Master (sound mix & color grading)

After we finished the two pilots it was time to get our feets wet in the first test market: Italy

The two pilots ran on Youtube for a month — and those were the numbers:

  • Over 1 million views
  • Organic growth twice as high as expected
  • User retention rates 30% above expectations

So to make it short — the pilots were a huge success internally and externally.


So we’re ready to head into serial production and tackle the batch of the next 6 episodes — but before I’ll dive into this adventure, I’m going to talk about something that I care deeply about:

Storytelling the Buzzword vs. Real Storytelling

More on that in the third article of this series.

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.

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