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Storytelling online

May 23, 2008

Here are a couple of quotes:

According to Michael Eisner, story-driven online content is the next big app. “YouTube is to the Internet what a nickelodeon is to the movies. It’s the preliminary installment of what is to come,” he said So what is to come? “Great, creative storytelling.”

That’s Michael Eisner, being interviewed by adage. This is Lee Clow, at the AAAA’s courtesy of Adrian at Zeus Jones (again).

“Online advertising is still semi-nowhere. It’s very intrusive and annoying and kind of the worst of our business in terms of pop-up and flash, and jump up and down”….”The ability to use the Internet in terms of great brand storytelling is still at its infancy,” he said. “The Internet advertising media, cross my fingers and hope to God, with bandwidth and with some ability, is going to become more artful; it’s going to become more interesting. … But it’s going to take creative people to embrace the possibilities of what you can do on the Internet in terms of advertising and storytelling and make it a little better and smarter.”

Lee Clow and Michael Eisner, two giants of the world of marketing, are telling us what we already knew. The world of online advertising with its flashy banner ads is pretty bad. It needs help. They think there’s a place to look for that help. Storytellers. From Eisner’s perspective, it’s the people who create the stuff that makes Disney magic. From Clow’s perspective, it’s the art director and copywriter team that makes SuperBowl ads clever. Either way, creative people will save online advertising through storytelling.

Before we go any further, take a look at the word storyteller. The second word there is “teller”. The advertising industry is designed around the word tell. Advertising is ‘telling’ the target market ‘something’. At places like Chiat/Day, the agency Lee Clow is from, they usually do it in an entertaining fashion. A places like Disney, they call the product of storytellers movies.

But, what if the web isn’t all about telling? I would argue that the brands that are working with so-called Web 2.0 tools, are doing so by listening. And when someone is telling a story, they aren’t inclined to listen. That’s not to slag the art of storytelling, but when was the last time a movie, or a book listened? They’re excellent mediums for telling a story. But is story telling a good tactic for marketing online?

It’s at this point in my post that I must turn again to McDonald’s. Specifically, the A.R.G. — which is online marketing, and is also an evolving online story. That’s storytelling. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the kind of story that the marketing men above are talking about.

It’s also true, I think, that a good story from a brand can get enough traction to get a conversation going. That’s a link to the Cadbury’s Gorilla Ad on YouTube. There are 3,258 text comments under the ad. That’s a conversation. Now, admittedly, a lot of the comments aren’t worth even responding to. There’s a lot of “I love this ad”, but there’s also a lot of “Who’s the drummer?” questions. I wonder if the next step could be picking up on that in some way?

Meaning, on the social web, it’s important to start with a story, but it’s less important to keep the focus on telling. Map out possible lines of conversation, or simply watch and see how the conversation unfolds. From there, add elements to it. In the case of the Gorilla, run a contest seeing if people can guess the drummer. Or get the Gorilla to be busker in Piccadilly Square, or something (it’s a British spot) .

I don’t pretend to know what should have, or even did come next, but I do think the strategy to start with a story and then let it unfold is most likely the winning the direction. Assuming the brand can jump into the conversation without appearing needy and confused.

This isn’t easy. As soon as the conversation starts, the message has to go off script. And advertising agencies aren’t set up to work without a script, and it’s the rare movie that works without a script. Stories usually have scripts. If they don’t, they aren’t called stories, they’re called conversations.

Which begs the question: who talks? The brand? The agency that represents the brand? The creative team that did the ad? It’s hard to plan for the conversations, because it’s almost impossible to predict them.

Still, as the Chiat/Day’s of the world struggle along with Disney to figure it all out, it’s going to be interesting. Right now, I’ll say this: if it is all about storytelling, at least it will be the end of banner ads as we know it.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2008 3:50 am

    Online advertising has taken advertising to a whole new level. Sure pop-ups and flash get annoying for internet users but that is just a fraction of what online advertising is all about.

  2. June 2, 2008 8:38 am

    SEO Pune: I totally agree. I think the alternate reality game from McDonald’s is proof of the amazing things that one can do in digital. Too often we start with a banner ad when we really should end their use.

  3. June 21, 2008 11:13 pm

    Nice post … can u please subscribe me to your newsletter if u have any.
    Thanks –

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