What can the Samsung ostrich teach us about storytelling?

by Anna Fozzard

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Have you seen Samsung’s advert with the ostrich? If not you’re in for a treat.
Samsung has brought us one of the most adorable adverts of the 21st century, and that is no overstatement. It is lush. An ostrich wanders away from its flock and starts pecking at food on a table before getting its head stuck in a virtual reality headset. What does it see? Clouds and clouds, like it’s tumbling through the start of the Studiocanal ad. Despite its natural limitations, it starts trying to fly and after a few failed attempts (aww), it triumphs as the first ever ostrich to get more than a foot off the ground.
It’s impossible not to be charmed by this advert. It’s engaging, emotive and inspirational. And it’s all down to the clever storytelling. In fact, the storytelling is so good that it deserved a blog from us. *wink face*
Lessons learned
Samsung’s masterpiece teaches us a lot about storytelling, but interestingly nothing new. It succeeds simply by doing the basics well.
If you dust off your English books from school, you’ll probably find a few handy theories from Aristotle and Freytag about what makes a good story. What our old pals taught us is still as relevant then as it is today.
Aristotle started it
I don’t want to bore you by going back through old theories, but this one is important and you can see every bit of it in the ostrich ad.
Aristotle said that all good stories (well, tragedies, but stick with me) must have six elements:

  • Plot – What happens (obviously)
  • Character – The protagonist who must have personality
  • Thought – Universal truths shown through the action
  • Dialogue – Conversations and monologues that sum up the theme of the story
  • Music – Drama created by background music
  • Spectacle – Staging and artistic visuals

Confused? Let’s look back to the ostrich to play out Aristotle’s genius. I’ve already told you the plot, so you can tick that one off. The ostrich is the protagonist, and a great one, with a big, fearless and adventurous personality. At risk of sounding like a broken record, the ostrich teaches us that ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ – there’s your universal truth. Dialogue? Okay, no manic squawking occurs but we do hear Elton John’s ‘Rocket man’, which we can assume is what the ostrich is singing in its head, right? That’s also a double whammy. Yes, you guessed it, it’s the music too, bringing an uplifting, inspirational tone to the advert. Then the spectacle has to be the ostrich finally flying with its shadow cast on the ground. You really don’t see that every day, and it is beautifully shown.
See, it’s all there.
Freytag chimes in…
Dramatic structure is another important theory of storytelling which is a bit easier to follow than old Aristotle. It’s basically the idea that all good stories should have more than a start, middle and end – they should have five stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. Meaning in plain English, a setting that turns into a problem which gets worse and hits a climax, then gets sorted and concludes. What a joyous tale. You can see this everywhere in all your favourite books and films. Yes, even Bridget Jones, Notting Hill, Finding Nemo – all the greats.
In the ostrich advert, he is seen living a relatively bleak life in a barren African savannah. The conflict comes when he finds the virtual reality headset and starts trying to fly – it’s heart-wrenching watching the poor thing fall flat on its beak. Then he overcomes the difficulty and manages to fly to freedom, which stands out as the climax of the story, all with the added crescendo of Elton John. Then Samsung winds things down with the line, ‘We make what can’t be made’ in the middle of the screen, and concludes the story with ‘so you can do what can’t be done’.
It draws us in, fixates us then ends on an uplifting note. It really feels like a complete tale, and we simply wouldn’t have felt as intrigued if we only saw the ostrich flying with the two lines.
Anything to add?
The only thing we would add to the vital ingredients for good stories is relevance. There has to be something that rings true with your audience. For the ostrich, it’s virtual reality, linking our world with the ostrich’s.
Stuck trying to tell your story? Start with your audience – what they are currently interacting with, talking about and just generally feeling.
More than just a buzzword
Hopefully by now you’re convinced that storytelling is more than just a marketing buzzword. But if you need a bit more encouragement, just imagine what could happen to a beauty brand if it created an advert with narrative. It would probably be a bit more engaging than those we currently see – ‘this mascara gives you better-looking eyelashes’, and ‘look at this beautiful model, she applies pink lipstick and gets pink lips’. Food for thought…

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