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Storytelling in commercial creativity

Gary Hoff explores what we mean by 'storytelling' in the world of commercial creativity, and walks us through an award-winning example.
I’m Gary Hoff. I’ve been working in digital design and brand experience for the past 22 years. I’m Executive Creative Director at design consultancy Grampy. We’re a digital product design company here in London. So, what do we actually mean when we talk about storytelling in design in advertising? Simply put, it’s putting your creative work in a structure that has a beginning, middle, and end, just like a story. But making that story as compelling and truthful just as you would in filmmaking.
My name is Jim. My name is Otto. Pleased to meet you, Otto. You think of every interaction and piece of work as another chapter in that story. Get it right and it will elevate your brand above others by making your work memorable in an emotional way. For me, storytelling is key for any sort of communication. It makes a campaign richer. It helps you understand what a brand stands for. It builds a relationship between a customer and that brand. It brings more value to an idea, moving it on from a concept and lifting it up to another level where it could be a better connect with the right customers. Storytelling creates interest and intrigue.
It makes the user and the customer much more engaged. And it makes your message much more memorable. There’s a study that says that stories are 22 times more memorable than just facts alone. So that makes stories obviously a great idea to start communicating to people. But it’s not just about remembering the brand. It’s about fostering an emotional connection with your audience. If you’re true to your word and the product and the brand live by that word, then customers will be loyal. You only have to look at a brand such as John Lewis to see that.
Robert McKee says, when a society repeatedly experiences glossy hollowed-out pseudo-stories, it degenerates. And the point he’s making here is that we can’t just put filler in. We need to be making something that’s sincere and has got substance. Something we believe in. A great example of storytelling in advertising is the Canal+ campaign, “The Bear”.
So, just watching “The Bear” here and straight away you’re into this scene. There’s this mediaeval war, there’s this fight, there’s this hero heroine woman fighting. She’s slaying people. OK. That was great, guys. Really great. The fire should be higher. This bear walks out onto the set, but it’s like a hollowed out bear. You’re thinking what? Why is it not like a proper bear? He’s giving direction to the actors. He’s, like, pointing out things on the set. He’s then working with the special effects team. He is an amazing director. Very sensitive. I don’t give a shit. He has this explosion in the sort of meeting with the production team. Castle burning. We like that. Everybody screaming. Lot of blood. Boom.
But he’s got this sort of pretentious air about him as well. [SPEAKING FRENCH]
The twist is that the bear is obviously a rug on the floor watching films. The core message is that Canal+ have a huge library of films, which will make you passionate about cinema. They could have communicated that message by showing a montage of film clips available or stating the number of films that they have online. But it’s really generic. Would you have formed an emotional connection to that? Probably not. Instead, by creating a memorable character like the bear and telling his story– a movie watching bear turned Hollywood director– this instantly becomes an engaging, funny, and memorable campaign. So, where do you start your idea? How do you begin to imagine your story?
Often, people start to think of the types of media that they want to use. It’ll be an app or it’ll be a website or maybe a poster. These aren’t stories or ideas, they’re just tools that you can use to tell the story with. They’re just vehicles. What you need to do is go back a step and always start with the big idea. And start with the insights around that idea. What is it you’re trying to communicate? In the case of “The Bear”, Canal+ can make you fall in love with cinema.
Then you can move on to the storytelling piece. How can your big idea be enhanced by a narrative? What emotion do you want to evoke? Again, in “The Bear” the big idea is brought to life by a funny French bear rug turned director. We see him as a bad tempered and an emotional creative person. We know the stories of hot-headed directors in Hollywood and believe this situation. This narrative brings the big idea to life. I want that bear to actually make films. I want to see them. So to reiterate, you need the big idea before you can attach a story.
And you need a story before you can start thinking about the touchpoints and the tools of how you tell that story. Next time we’re going to look at a series of tools you can use to start to create and map out your story.
A brand needs to carve an identity for itself – it needs to make clear to its audience exactly what it stands for. Storytelling does this in a memorable way, engaging consumers.
It’s estimated that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone. When you come to build a narrative for a campaign, first think about what the facts are that you need to communicate to the audience. Write them down and keep them to hand as you build your narrative, using story to highlight benefits or values. This will ensure your story remains as a piece of communication.
But it’s not just a question of communicating the facts; it’s about emotional connections too. If a brand follows through sincerely on its promise of what it stands for, the consumer believes in it, and becomes loyal. The brand builds a relationship – one with potential to last.
Two Minute Task
What emotions can you identify in the clips shown? How do these link to the messages of the brand?
You can watch the full videos mentioned in the related links below.
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Storytelling in Advertising

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