Telling A Richer Story

Storytelling is not only the oldest form of literary communication; it’s also the newest way to engage consumers in an online dialogue. This shouldn’t be surprising. In a world of the Internet and rapid technological change, everything old is new again. It’s all about context.

What is new is that people are realizing some of the greatest storytellers aren’t necessarily novelists, directors or Luddites. FOX Television’s recent announcement that it struck a deal with Crispin, Porter + Bogusky for the right of first refusal of program ideas is a statement. Advertisers are taking an important place in the commercial story.

Think about your favorite ad. It makes you think, persuades, even gets you to try a product you may not have considered. The story may be about a product or a service, but it really doesn’t matter because when it’s done right, it resonates. It makes us laugh or cry, and it captivates us and draws us in — for about 10 to 30 effective seconds. Now, think about online advertising. It has the capacity to captivate users for much longer than mere seconds, and for a fraction of the cost.

This idea of cost-effective, interactive viral marketing is where most of the buzz is coming from these days. For brand marketers, it sounds almost too good to be true. Make something remarkable, send it out and let the story-sharing public spread the word. The obstacle is that the audience is a lot more discerning about what’s good, and what isn’t, when participating with an interactive ad.

And while many interactive agencies do have the creative power to pull off a “viral” campaign, we must still demonstrate online’s power and its pitfalls to earn our clients’ trust, and ultimately, to succeed.

Find the right interactive story for the product, and tell it in a way that will captivate users and leave them literally asking for more (through the actions they take on your Web site or in your online ad) is the task at hand. The task itself isn’t hard. Face it; there are no new stories. It’s all about context and execution. An important hurdle is the brand manager. The Internet is a channel, but brand managers haven’t “reprogrammed” themselves out of a mass-marketing mentality. Their expectations from their agencies need to change, too. Helping clients tell the story of their brands through the complexity of interactive takes time and patience on both sides.

Are most brands ready for this? My clients constantly forward me the latest viral campaign or video, whether created by an agency or by users. While they’re more than merely interested in such campaigns’ success, few are ready to explore the kinds of viral ideas that are, well, viral. These campaigns are still in their infancy. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be very glad when more viral campaigns don’t include Paris Hilton in one form or another.

The fact is, many interactive agencies don’t have the kinds of resources necessary to develop and execute the rich media/viral campaigns of the future. The storyteller is missing. This person can assume many titles: director, copywriter, art director, even engineer. But they must be able to tell a story that incorporates interactivity as part of its story- or character line (see for a good starting point).

And so, instead of looking forward to the summer9s hottest movies, look forward to this summer9s hottest advertising. With the release of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, the advertising (online and offline) is as entertaining as the movie trailers, and in some cases even more so.

Simple as it seems, across the world tens of thousands of ad writers, art directors and talented creative people have the same goal: create stories that make you interact, think, reflect and ultimately, persuade — in any medium. Telling a story is a constant in advertising, and in our lives. What’s destined to always change is how we tell it, as the modern world continues to reinvent itself.

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