A lesson in storytelling by British Airways and Ogilvy.

Let me clear the air. A lot of people ask me why I teach storytelling workshops but never talk about it in posts. The truth is, I stopped mentioning the word storytelling for the last year because I’m sick of it. Too many consultants jumped on the bandwagon masquerading as chroniclers. I constantly asked, “but do you write for pleasure?” – zing!

So, let us now examine a proper piece that deserves recognition. British Airways just launched a new video as part of their long term initiative promoting flights to India. It tells the story of Helena Flynn (Worldwide main crew), and an elderly woman who is flying to visit her family in India. Over the course of the flight they bond and when they arrive, the elderly woman invites the flight attendant to visit her home. What happens next is remarkable. Note – This is not a stereotypical/orientalist story. A nod to Edward Said.

Teary? Smiling? Me too. Here’s why this story gives you the feels:

Empathy, not sympathy.
The flight attendant shows humility by helping the passenger with her sock. This act of kindness creates trust. We know she isn’t just doing her job. People relate to the tolerated discomfort of flying and the awkwardness of sleeping in a room full of strangers. And in this case, the flight attendant very authentically reaches out to assist in an empathetic way.

After the kind and humble gesture with the sock, the elderly woman, in a very motherly way, helps Helena tie her hair back. This closeness on screen makes our heart melt. Think of how you feel when you allow someone into your personal space and it feels comforting. The humanity that oozes off the screen is irresistible and in that moment the audience is in the palm of the storyteller’s hand. For her kindness during the flight, an act she never expected to be recognized for, Helena is rewarded with an experience she’ll never forget and a keepsake that will always remind her to never abandon her values. That’s powerful.

A little courage goes a long way for our protagonist. She takes a chance and discovers the treasure of community, culture, family, and love. It’s not about the damn flights! So many people can’t get past the sale of their product. I get it, you want to sell, you have board members that want to see results…blah blah blah… but the truth is nobody really cares until they absolutely need your offering. That is, unless you can engrain your brand into their memory. You have to make them care. And guess what? Last I checked we are all living, breathing, and feeling, human beings. I don’t care if you are selling to teens or bloated executives. People are people and brand marketing is all about emotion. Perhaps heavy handed sales messages work better on artificial intelligence.

Ogilvy is doing a phenomenal job with these stories. And you can learn from them! Next time your team starts sounding off about telling “the story” and how paralyzed they are in doing so, remind them that in order to be a great storyteller you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. In order to capture the remarkable in everyday things, you have to be able to observe! Get out of the building! Take off the tie! Become one with your audience and great stories can arise. Become an ethnographer. If you need help getting it done, I’m here for you.

What was your favorite part? Did you like it?