We Asked:

What Makes A Good Story And Why?

Neil Heymann Global CCO, Droga5

Brand Storytelling in Wonderland

“I want my McNugget dipping sauce Szechuan sauce, Morty!”

As seen on a t-shirt, inspired by a real-life frenzy and for an actual limited-edition fast food- chain dipping sauce. This was the brand tie-in with a ’90s Disney movie that was whipped up by a cult animated show. It spawned, among other things, a Pringles flavour and accompanying Super Bowl spot.

It’s time to shift the way we think about brand storytelling in a way that is as inclusive of our audience as the other narratives they interact with every day.

The nature of storytelling today is as sprawling, nuanced, personalised and interwoven with reality as it’s ever been, and it’s not slowing down. The lines that once separated news, entertainment, politics, gaming and, indeed, marketing are almost imperceptible and arguably now irrelevant.

And, in a world where one of the most powerful political figures is a former reality-TV star most known for a brand based on his own name, it’s fair to say we’re on the other side of the looking glass.

The currency is the same as it ever was: memorability.

And as the media landscape becomes more multi-dimensional and challenging, it’s up to us as marketers to combine ideas, words, images, video, music, interactivity, data and scheduling to deliver new, exciting and relevant experiences.

To create memories, we need to take audiences to places they haven’t been before.

When everyone is grasping for seconds of our audience’s attention, the only way to truly capture their imagination is to be creative not just with our stories but with how and when we invite them to experience those stories.

It’s this type of approach that allowed audiences to play along with a movie reboot that was actually an Australian tourism ad. Or get discounted Whoppers by covertly purchasing them from McDonald’s. Or to toast your gin brand by cleverly recasting the unexpected star of a stationary bike brand’s commercial at her peak.

Stop and consider how we could best exploit the dimensions of time and space for the maximum impact with the people we’re trying to reach. It’s about how we choreograph the media to lead people through an experience as an integral, functional character in the story.

The audience isn’t reading Alice in Wonderland. They are Alice. With an iPhone. Bring the audience with you on the journey, and they’ll always remember you.

Morten Grubak Executive Creative Director, Virtue

The Only Storytelling that matters is Retelling

Some people believe the word ‘storytelling’ means people will listen to them talk about their brand – if only they use the same structure found in every narrative from Hollywood to Homer.

This, of course, is a lie. In truth, the only stories that matter are those that are retold. And the only stories that get retold are those that are as seductive as new sneakers and as condensed in meaning as a footprint on the moon. Stories boiled down to a single symbol – an image, an artefact – that tells it all on its own (our industry used to call this an 'idea').

Anything you say may be used against you on the internet

We could call it storytelling by device – the concept of forging your message into a shape that retells itself just by being.

This has two big benefits.

One is that it’s more resistant to tinkering: people can’t cherry pick your words to distort their meaning. If your story derives its power from the order the words are strung together in, you are asking to be messed with.

The other is that it lends itself so well to sharing. You don’t need people to memorize or even listen — just picking it up will spread the word. With The Last Statement T-Shirt, we wanted to give people a way to bring their story and their voice to the world without adding to the current waste of the fashion industry. And at the same time, every post out there tells our story: fashion no longer needs to be physical.

Nellie Santee Copywriter, DAVID Miami

BS is the enemy of a good story

We’ve all experienced this truth: our audiences just don’t buy content that is overtly advertising. People know the strategies brands use to try and sell them things and they are aware that there are teams dedicated to do so (us). And when every brand is putting out the same message in such an overwhelmed environment, people tune out.

Now, contrast this with the rise of reality TV. There are so many options – some practical and some bizarre – that at the end of the day people find a way to relate to. That got us thinking, how do we treat our clients and their stories like something that comes out of real life? Something people actually want to watch and engage with?

That’s why we always ask ourselves this question: what is the truth of this brand?

And then the story comes easily.

If it’s true, it just makes sense. A great recent example is the campaign DAVID did with Heinz and Ed Sheeran. Ed has always been a fan of Heinz, so much so that he has a tattoo of a Heinz ketchup label on his arm. All that was already true and honest. Our job then became telling this story in a way that didn’t misrepresent the truth and that honoured Ed’s true love for the brand. We decided to run one of the most honest campaigns I’ve seen with a celebrity. We created a bottle that was a replica of the tattoos he has on his arm, using his Heinz Label tattoo as a base. And we ran on our TVC the fact that Ed Sheeran reached out to Heinz via Instagram DM, proposing an idea for an advert (like Ed Says), and then we shot his pitch for the idea.

People still know it’s a commercial for a brand, but if it is BS-free, it feels like a story that should be told.

Prasoon Joshi CEO of McCann World group India and Chairman APAC

Storytelling is at the very core of civilisation

It’s what joins us thread by thread and weaves a fabric called Life. Stories bring alive cultures. It’s through stories that we deep dive into minds and times and foster an understanding of each other across boundaries.

There is a story about traffic lights, where the traffic light is viewed differently by the beggar and the person who’s driving a car. To the beggar, the red light is an opportunity to make some money; to the driver it means slowing down. This is a gifted writer thinking; making something so profound out of an everyday thing.

Such is the power of Stories.

In the everyday world of challenges, banalities and prosaic conversations, the human mind and heart craves for gentler emotion. Stories can be therapeutic, inspiring, philosophical, or just a gentle bond. To me, they signify the faith that, amongst the many challenges, life is still beautiful – there is much to live for.

A living, throbbing sense of an experience is irreplaceable and that is where I feel humans will always be different from AI.

AI will have access to all the expressed data but not the individual unique experience itself which is consumed not in a linear way, but through lenses of layered realties. This is where the form, the craft becomes very important, so the limelight comes on to the “what” and also the “how”.

What you are saying and how you are delivering it. If you don’t have the right emotion behind them, the words will be hollow. The right time, the right emotion, and right delivery is what makes a great story or a great brand story.

In my work I like to explore aspects of human relationships and the many unsaid things we forget to celebrate or recognise on a daily basis; the ability to dive down to pluck out hidden desires and touch the raw nerve helps. This is what gives stories of any kind a cross-cultural sentimental connect.

In India, the essence of civilisation is (seen? experienced?) through the idiom of storytelling. Our 5,000-year-old civilisation is woven together through its oral tradition of storytelling. Our ancient texts talk about the ‘Navras’ loosely translated as the nine essences.

The Navarasa, refer to the nine expressions that humans often show. These are love (shringaara), laughter (haasya), compassion (karuna), anger (roudra), courage (veera), fear (bhayaanaka), disgust (bheebhatsya), wonder (adbhutha) and peace or tranquility (shaanth).

Any one or more can be accentuated and be the thread to weave a story with. One key thing to remember is that it’s not just the what and how the story is told but to whom. Narratives need communities. And communities comprise of people who share similarities but also need to have differences so that newer shapes are formed, reformed, grow and evolve. And we can’t have fixed rules of storytelling. There must be authenticity at the core. It’s not about peeling off the mysteries of life but deepening the very sense of existence. Every individual and brand needs to create, then reimagine itself and reidentify with its own essence and its own experiences.

After all, as a communication industry we are not just storytellers but memory-makers.