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Always put the story first

In an excerpt from his 2015 D&AD President's Lecture, Ben Tricklebank reiterates the importance of putting the story before technology.
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You know, a lot of the times with this sort of hybrid of working with new technologies and people always want to kind of jump in and leverage the newest thing, it’s sometimes easy to forget that if you don’t have a good story, then it really doesn’t matter what technology you use, because people aren’t going to enjoy it, or you’re not going to get the desired reaction to it. And a piece I’m using as an example for that is this piece for The Order, a new video game on PlayStation 4. It came out earlier this year.
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And it sort of began with this idea of this very involved kind of almost alternative reality game, where people get to kind of take part in the story, solve these clues, expose these puzzles. And the idea was that this guy had uncovered that The Order in 1886, really existed, and he’d gone on a mission to uncover the truth and find the clues, and passed that on to anybody that wanted to follow. And we talked about all these things, about different ways that we could try and get people to interact with the story, and do we do something within Facebook? Do we get people to connect with this thing? You know, do we do something on mobile? All these different, erm..
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that was my Americanisms coming out there. Mobile. I’ll never say that again. Mobile. But what we ended up with was a series of short films, sort of documenting, well, these guys documenting their own story. And the site itself was incredibly simple. It ended up being a Tumblr page, where we kind of documented all this stuff. And what we found was that people actually took the story elsewhere. There was some commenting happening in Tumblr, but what the fans of the game did was they took all of these clues, they took them away, and took them to their message boards, and their own little networks, and sort of figured out the puzzles by themselves.
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And then kind of went back in and were posting about that stuff. So it was just kind of a really interesting idea that you don’t need to necessarily always think about the most amazing piece of technology. It’s about sort of finding the right platform, and about giving people the best experience that they can, but ultimately thinking about the story, thinking about what it is that’s going to entertain people, what it is that people are going to latch onto and care about.
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And obviously you need to be a fan of PlayStation and these kinds of games, but to be able to bring that story to life, and not try to create a game, to sell a game, or, you know, try and build some wild interactive experience that the creates this very elaborate way of mapping out these different clues, but you present people with a story that they can get involved with, it can find success that way.
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And this ended up kind of latching on to these people, and they followed the story in solving all of these clues, and ends up kind of with a reveal in an apartment where people turn up and find a real-life version of this set that we used for the shoot. Although this was in Lithuania, and the actual apartment was in London.
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But people were able to arrive here, and with a final clue, unlock a safe and get an unbranded CD, or disc, of the game, which I felt like was a very brave step on part of the, of PlayStation and of the game developer, that they were willing to let people take away essentially what looked like a pirated copy of the game. But it really helped, again, to sort of tie into the story, that you kept it in character and you kept it in a way that people would care about it and would get engaged with it.
Here, in an excerpt from his 2015 D&AD President’s Lecture, Ben Tricklebank reiterates the importance of putting the story before technology, demonstrating this with his work for The Order on PlayStation4.
Ben Tricklebank is one of the industry’s most celebrated directors and prides himself on crossing many visual disciplines. His career has focussed on finding innovative ways to engage with audiences and his cutting-edge work has been recognised globally. Since joining Tool of North America in 2012, Ben has continued to explore new projects as an interactive director with a focus on blending innovative technology with smart storytelling, and has also moved into directing live action.
You can watch the full 38 minute lecture by following the link below.
Two Minute Task
Ben talks about how he felt the game maker was “brave” to distribute unbranded copies of the game, and how this bravery contributed to the success of the campaign.
  • How important do you think it is to be brave in your creative work, and take creative risks?
  • Can you think of a campaign or piece of creative work that you feel is brave? Why do you feel this works?
  • Now keep hold of this idea of bravery so you can apply it to your own work.
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