Andy O’Brien, Creative Director at Amaze explores the enduring role of story-telling in creating engaging video content. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
Quick question: what do brands and fairytale princesses have in common? They both long for engagement. Another: what do brands and fairytale scullery maids have in common? They both want to be invited to the ball. One more: where do the majority of fairytale princesses and scullery maids live? In stories, of course. (And in the creative departments of most marketing agencies.)
In stories, princesses and scullery maids have to go to the ball before they can get engaged – that’s where the prince falls in love with them. And in marketing it’s pretty much the same; the best chance a brand has of developing a decent relationship with its audience is by being invited to do so. Now that digital belongs to the consumer, rather than the brands and the publishers, they’ll only invite brands in if they want to hear what the brands have to say.
The long predicted (some might say awaited) Facebook fatigue seems to be taking hold – and simply having a ‘presence’ in social spaces no longer cuts the mustard, in fact it never really did. The canny brands have started to tell stories as a way of engaging and it’s working, something I expect we’ll see a lot more of in the coming years.
Are You Sitting Comfortably?
Stories last forever. That’s because we are hardwired to appreciate them; we hand them down through generations, remembering, embellishing and re-telling. Every now and again brands have had a go too – remember the Nescafé Gold Blend TV adverts in the 1980s? Although derided for being cheesy and predictable, this was an extremely successful campaign – people actually made an effort to see the next instalment, unheard of for an advertisement. It worked because it told a story. Today’s equivalent has to be much more than a simple one-way unfolding narrative, but still has to have a story at its heart.
BT is a classic example – their modern-day take on Gold Blend’s ‘will they/won’t they’ has proved to be enormously successful. Using TV as the primary awareness vehicle, BT stretches engagement into social channels, notably Facebook, showing ‘episodes’ before they appear on TV and inviting people to decide the next chapter. In 2010, 1.6 million people voted for Jane to become pregnant (so that’s how you do it!) and in 2011, viewers chose her wedding dress and the music for the first dance in their droves. Two of the voters even got picked to be guests at the wedding itself!
We will see more and more of this; brands creating stories that can be handed over to the consumer – and back to the brand, and back to the consumer – and still stay true to the original plot. The Old Spice series of commercials and social activity has been a roaring success – its YouTube channel has received over 250 million upload views.
Video – and the ability for consumers to manipulate it – is the most effective way of demonstrating a brand’s commitment to open story-telling. The creation of professionally produced video is still seen by most as untouchable – it’s produced by others for us to consume. Opportunities for consumers to change a story through film are few and far between, hence the huge impact when it happens. As this gets easier to do, more brands will get involved.
The Truth Will Out
Possibly the most successful brand of all time is Christianity and its 2,000 year-old campaign is based on a story, often cited as ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’. Core to Christianity is belief – and core to creating a good brand story is understanding why you’re in business and what your brand believes in. Consumer research is all well and good but it can’t (nor should) tell you what to believe in. The ‘why?’ should be a brand’s muse, its truth, its theme – that way, whichever direction the audience takes it, the story is still the brand’s.
Sometimes brands get really lucky and the fact they’re telling a story becomes the story itself. Bahrain Telecomms’ (Batelco) ultra-slick and big budget Infinity video released in 2010 did just that.
The video itself is fantastic and tells the story at the heart of the brand’s reason for being, ‘bringing ideas to life’. Although always a gamble, the viral nature of the video ensured worldwide exposure, but that’s not all. The trick is to extend the story-telling into consumers’ social spaces, as BT has done. Batelco encouraged users to take pictures of themselves watching the video and upload them to Facebook, giving the story an extra dimension and, crucially, placing that control into the hands of users. The results were staggering – over 70 per cent of Bahrain’s Facebook users are now fans. And it doesn’t even contain the brand’s products or services – just its belief.
So, this year, we’ll see much more creativity and more inventiveness, such as Mercedes’ Escape the Map campaign. We’ll see much more content being created by brands (look at Coca Cola’s long-term ambition, moving from Creative Excellence to Content Excellence), and we’ll see that content being used to tell stories in instalments using video, with the consumer co-writing, co-directing and co-creating alongside brands. And once we’ve done that, we’ll all live happily ever after.