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4 Brands that Practically Invented Customer-Centric Advertising

Why putting your customer in the spotlight creates a human connection to your brand

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Kindra Cooper

As modern consumers develop an increased distaste for traditional advertising, brands are seizing upon a new trend to capture hearts and minds: storytelling advertising that spotlights real-life customers. Focusing on real people enables brands to not only forge a human connection with the customer, but to model behavior so potential customers can picture how the product or even the brand fits into their lifestyle.


Brands like Seamless and Spotify interpreted user data to create a community around their apps simply by providing relatable insights into who the typical customer is (hint: he’s slightly narcissistic, a very picky eater, and his taste in music will surprise you). Here are four brands that are killing it in customer-centric advertising:

1. Manhattan Mini Storage’s ‘Mini Stories’

New York’s first self-storage company celebrated its 40th anniversary last week by launching a series of short films showcasing quirky customer narratives interpreted by a cast of New York-based performers. Aside from modeling various use cases for the product (eg: storing inventory for your small business or safeguarding your lifelong comic book collection from ridicule) the ads speak to the customer’s need to declutter their homes and minds amidst a hectic city lifestyle.

Real-life customers like the Feldman Family, founders of Doughnuttery, use their storage space to keep boxes and equipment for their mini doughnut shop in ‘Oh Sweet Storage,’ while newlywed retail entrepreneur Andrew finds a home for his custom clothing, to his wife’s relief. In ‘Storin’ Alive’ we meet Barbara, a self-described “fashionista and club hopper” who’s grateful for the added hanger space outside of her cramped apartment.

“Ain’t no reason for her to do the squeezin’, Manhattan Mini Storage is in fashion every season,” goes the jingle sung by internationally renowned drag queen Alexis Michelle. Before each re-enactment, the customer whose story inspired it introduces the performer and watches the act on the sidelines, so the viewer can guffaw at the dramatization and still feel an affinity for the customer.

2. Spotify’s ‘Thank You 2016. It’s Been Weird.’

For the second consecutive year, Spotify culled user data to extrapolate insights into listener habits. In doing so, it created communities of people with shared musical tastes, like the 1,235 guys who loved the ‘Girls Night Out’ playlist, or the 3,749 people who streamed ‘It’s The End of the World As We Know It’ the day of the Brexit vote.

customer centricity

In other instances, Spotify called out individual users with clapbacks like: “Dear Person Who played ‘Sorry’ 42 Times on Valentine’s Day: What did you do?” or the subscriber who made a playlist perplexingly titled: ‘One Night Stand with Jeb Bush Like He’s a Bond Girl in a European Casino.’

customer centricity

The Swedish-based company used the same premise for its ‘2018 Goals’ ad series to float ideas for kooky New Year’s Resolutions like: “Take a page from the 3,475 people who streamed the “Boozy Brunch” playlist on a Wednesday this year.”

customer centricity

With a clever, engaging way to humanize technology, Spotify leveraged the insight that you don’t really know a person until you know their music listening habits.

Customer centricity

3. Seamless’ ‘Special Instructions’

Another example of a brand building a community around its product is when Seamless bestowed offbeat awards on various New York City neighborhoods based on their ordering habits.

Customer centricity

Highbridge in the Bronx was earmarked “Least Ideal Neighborhood for Making Out” based on the number of garlic bread orders, while Staten Island took “Most Relatable” since its residents order in on Friday nights more than any other borough.

Customer centricity

The ads fared slightly better than the previous year’s ‘Special Instructions’ ads, in which Seamless spotlighted funny customer requests from the ‘special instructions’ feature in the app. One Lower East Side user named Alexa allegedly ordered a smoothie and requested ketchup on the side because she was “out of ketchup.” Another asked the cook to “make one additional tiny version of my order for my hamster,” while Charlie from Astoria wanted a whale drawn on the order bag. “He doesn’t need to be eating bread, just believing in himself!”

Some commentators criticized Seamless for framing the average New Yorker as entitled and excessively demanding while encouraging the exploitation of underpaid restaurant workers, but the ads still highlighted the personalization aspect of the Seamless customer experience.

4. Google’s ‘Year in Search’

While the Google Trends interface provides real-time insights into dominant search trends from around the world, the search engine giant compiled them into an emotionally rousing retrospective for 2017. ‘Year in Search’ provides a flashback of some of the year’s most significant events and the corresponding Google searches people made in times of doubt and fear - once again succeeding in creating a sense of community by making us feel connected to other Google users.  

Footage of the Women’s March on Washington, presidential addresses, and natural disasters coincides with searches like “How much will the wall cost,” “How to make a protest sign” and “How to help flood victims …  refugees … Puerto Rico … Mexico … Las Vegas,” before transitioning to sunnier search terms like ‘How to be a strong woman” and “How to be a good parent.”

Customer-centric advertising brings authenticity to brands while reducing the customer’s impression that the business is trying to push a product on them.