Award-Winning Video Storytelling Lessons | Content Marketing Institute


Few shared experiences possess the emotional resonance and universal relatability as the one embodied by this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It served as a tentpole for Purdue University’s student recruitment marketing through a video that illustrates one ambitious person’s vision of their journey – with Purdue playing a pivotal role at every step.

The video achieved notable success against the institution’s marketing goals. It also won the 2023 Content Marketing Award for Best Motivational Video/Video series and was named a Project of the Year finalist.

What do you want to be when you grow up? The ubiquitous question inspired @LifeAtPurdue to create an award-winning video via @Joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Let’s explore the vision behind this visual content hit and how it contributed to impressive marketing results for the brand.  

What Can You Imagine at Purdue?

The video – What Can You Imagine at Purdue? – captures the essence of the university’s message: “The only barriers to what you can achieve should be the limits of your imagination.”

In the video, a young Black girl wonders aloud about what she’s going to do when she grows up. As her father braids her hair, he replies, “Whatever you can imagine.” Then, he covers her eyes and asks what she sees for her life.

Viewers glimpse her desired future and all the milestones she’ll reach along the way. The visuals and voiceover relate to the story of her dreams of building robots at Purdue Polytechnic High School, going to Purdue University, and exploring her passions through extracurricular activities and on-campus communities.

She relates her vision to that of her father, who’s earning his degree at Purdue Global (the institution’s online university for working adults). At the end of the video, this proud father asks his daughter what she’ll do from there. Her answer: “Whatever I want.”

4 lessons on video content marketing success

Purdue’s video storytelling teaches important lessons – ones your brand can follow on its path to marketing success.

Align content with core brand values

In an interview with the Content Marketing Institute, R. Ethan Braden, Purdue’s executive vice president and chief marketing and communications officer, says his team crafted the story around core tenets of Purdue’s brand essence – ‘persistent innovation together’.

  • Persistent: The central character works on a challenging project in a Purdue classroom. Her father asks what she’ll do if she doesn’t succeed at first. Her answer: “I’ll try again, and again, and again …” That message is reinforced as viewers see her troubleshoot her experiment and, ultimately, make a breakthrough.
  • Innovation: The girl mentions career possibilities in rocket science and computer science. That emphasizes Purdue’s curricula in those fields of study while modeling available opportunities for women who want to pursue career education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
  • Together: Purdue sees success as achieved through collaborative – not competitive – efforts. This concept is reinforced through the girl’s vision of meeting other students on campus, making memories with friends, and enjoying time with her peers in the Purdue student community.

@LifeAtPurdue crafted its No. 1 video message around the brand’s core tenets – persistent innovation together, says @REthanBraden via @Joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

A clip showing the girl’s father logging into an online portal to receive his assignments as a student at Purdue Global connects the story to the brand’s commitment to making higher education accessible to all, including adults furthering their education while remaining in the workforce.

Purdue’s video smartly communicates how offerings like Purdue Global make higher education more universally attainable, regardless of their stage of life, economic circumstances, or scheduling needs.

It’s also worth noting that the video features a Black family, given the systemic disadvantages experienced by people of color that may affect their vision of college. “We wanted to tell that story with asset framing, through that lens of a little African American girl and her father, and we wanted to really get it right,” Ethan says.

Enchant your audience with emotive storytelling

Ethan says enchanting Purdue’s target audiences is his team’s sole goal for content creation. “It’s to rouse them and attract their ecstatic admiration and demand for Purdue, whatever that means in that moment.”

The video achieves this with its relatable theme of dreaming of the future. Emotive experiences reinforce that message – a father helping his daughter prepare for school and a student exploring her passions and building friendships.  

Ethan notes those details inspired viewers to comment: “You know when he’s braiding her hair? I teared up because that was authentic,” and “I’ve never heard of Purdue before, and now I wanna go there.”

This evidence indicates his team hit on the right emotions and insights to expand audience awareness, interest, and consideration of Purdue.

Through a terrific product and content efforts like this, Ethan says Purdue has seen a 30% increase in its student body over 10 years, and applications have doubled in the last five years.

Applications to @LifeAtPurdue doubled in the last five years thanks in part to its inspiring and motivational #ContentMarketing, says @REthanBraden via @Joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Show how your experiences connect

Brands need a clear content marketing strategy to guide their customers through all the stages of their buyer’s journey. Purdue’s video takes viewers through an aspiring student’s personal journey – one that highlights the Purdue portfolio of offerings and the institution’s various pre-college, online, and extracurricular offerings.

The Purdue team deliberately emphasized how its experiences connect under a broad portfolio of educational products. Ethan says this distinguishes Purdue’s content from standard university marketing focusing on a single institution.

“We wanted you to see her go to high school. We wanted you to see her aim for Purdue,” Ethan says. “We wanted you to see her father going to Purdue Global and achieving his degree as a working adult, and how those [experiences] stitched together [as part of the] Purdue portfolio.”

Expand reach with multiplatform distribution

According to Purdue, the video earned more than 28 million views on YouTube, with an astounding 82% view rate. In just 28 days, it became the most-viewed video on the Purdue YouTube channel, besting a video that had earned views for over 15 years.

Those are impressive results for any video asset, let alone a two-minute ad. But Purdue didn’t rely on organic reach alone. The ad gained a big promotional boost in critical visibility moments like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Big 10 championship football game, and the Citrus Bowl.

Ethan says the campaign also involved posts on social media (where it earned 170,000 views and more than 670,000 impressions) and was promoted through award entries, including the Content Marketing Awards.  

The team also invests in socializing its content internally to ensure their organizational stakeholders understand and appreciate the value of content. “We prioritize marketing the marketing so others can see the excellence and expertise of this team and their contributions,” says Ethan, which gives them the buy-in they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

See increased video success in your brand’s future

Purdue’s video ad captured and kept its target audience’s attention. It also ensured more viewers would see the breadth of what Purdue has to offer. So, what can your videos be when they grow up? Let Purdue’s four lessons help you manifest that vision.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute


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