There's a lovely quote that says "The shortest distance between two people is a story". Storytelling is not a new concept to marketing and communication - a great commercial can tell a story that moves us to tears or has us laugh out loud. John Lewis' "Hare and Bear" ad and the meerkats for me, while Gatorade and Chipotle do it incredibly well across multiple platforms. What does seem to be evolving is the adoption of new or less-familiar storytelling formats to connect brands to their audiences. It takes time to understand the basic principles of storytelling as an editor, commissioner or producer from the entertainment world would understand them - and respect the craft skills required.
The fundamental difference between more traditional, shorter-form advertising formats and what we now all seem to call "content" - films, documentaries, books, musicals, TV series etc - is where the message lies. In a 30-second commercial you don't have the time to be subtle, you have to be overt. The reverse is true in longer formats. The writer or author's message is subtler, it can be in the subtext or overall theme, a character's point of view on the world or how the story resolves, but there is always a message. In the best stories, the audience discovers it for itself. It's just a different experience.
Storytelling on that level can have a great impact and be very emotional and memorable. It requires investment in new skill-sets and knowledge, and being prepared to take risks. More than anything, however, I think that it requires the development of new relationships and embracing new ways of working.
I really believe that a story can come from anywhere and anyone. To help us and our clients better understand how the story principles can be applied to brands, we've partnered Bobette Buster, adjunct professor of cinematic storytelling at the University of Southern California and senior lecturer at Pixar University, to develop bespoke seminars that focus on what story a brand is trying to communicate.
All brands ultimately have a story to tell. Many, such as Nike or Coke, already know what that is. Understanding how to retell it in formats that are perhaps less familiar to us is a new challenge that requires expertise and support.
Learning new techniques - as I think we all have to do - is ultimately empowering: it brings us closer to what emotionally engages audiences.
Al MacCuish, co-founder and executive creative director, Sunshine