During Advertising Week New York 2018, storytelling was a common thread among marketing leaders. Yes the idea that marketers are storytellers is not a new one, it’s been universally accepted for a long time, and more recently marketers have taken on other roles, that of educator, inspirational speaker and advocate. But, lately, marketers have been handing over the wheel, in terms storytelling, to the consumer.
This attitude toward brand storytelling has inspired brands to view campaigns more like a producer sees a film. It has become more common, therefore, to tell a brand’s story through more traditional, roundabout means—focusing not on labels but ideals. Heineken recently produced a documentary on NatGeo about a new kind of yeast, for example, focusing on the spirit of discovery to promote its new H41 Wild Lager.
For the entertainment industry, where competition to attract user attention is at its highest, some interesting examples of immersive branded content have emerged. The Blue Ray release of Sony’s Hotel Transylvania 3 will include a 360-degree VR experience that puts viewers inside a virtual vacation with the film’s characters and Snap Stories, a new series of exclusive content on Snapchat, will feature AR moments that allow viewers to explore scenes in augmented reality.
Given all these options, the top-down approach to marketing has shifted. Depending on the campaign, consumers are able to dictate much of the story and brands are finding that collaborating with those consumers can foster strong relationships through storytelling.
“In generations past, culture was a top-down driven process,” said Viacom Velocity CMO Dario Spina. “Big companies, news organizations, sports entities were spewing content down to the masses and it was hard for us regular people to take part in the conversation. Now we see with the advent of the internet and social media that us regular folks actually have a hand in shaping culture.”
Mastercard is shifting its iconic “Priceless” campaign to tell customer stories through an initiative called “Start Something Priceless.” The movement encourages customers to pursue what drives them. Speaking on a panel about the shifting role of CMOs, Mastercard marketing chief Raja Rajamannar called it a shift from storytelling to story-making.
In a recent study by the CMO Council, marketers named “Storytelling in a Digital World” as one of the top skills mandatory to shape a company’s growth agenda.
“Any good story starts with knowing your audience,” L’Oreal USA vice president of marketing Sivonne Davis explained in one panel. “For me, it’s also about talking to consumers whether it’s before, during or after you develop that story.”
From an advertising point of view, this slight change of perspective has opened a door for campaigns that think outside of the box.
“I feel like everyone is saying that advertising is dying, but I actually think it’s the most interesting time to be an advertiser because we’re doing things that used to not be called advertising. It was called entertainment. Based on consumption habits, you’re able to tell stories in more robust ways,” said Ari Weiss, chief creative officer for North America at DDB.