Grab Storytelling By The Horns

It’s National Storytelling Week! Now in its 18th year, this week-long celebration sees story-telling events take place up and down the country.

But as advertisers realise how effective stories are as forms of communication, every week is becoming story week for them and their brands. In fact it’s this trend that led to the creation of Adweek’s Arc Awards 12 months ago, recognising the best brand storytelling (click here to see 2017’s winners). In particular, it’s the emotional element of stories that capture an audience and lead to positive business effects. The work being done by System1 (who just released their FeelMore50 list of most involving ads) is driving awareness that emotion is the flavour of the month with consumers.

In The Long and Short Of It, Binet and Field lay out a convincing case for the power of emotion, summarising:

“Emotional campaigns, and in particular those that are highly creative and generate powerful fame/buzz effects, produce considerably more powerful long-term business effects than rational persuasion campaigns.”

If emotional storytelling is the most effective method of communication, then it’s vital that we understand where the future of storytelling lies. This week we take a look at how tech is influencing modern storytelling, and find out why ‘storytelling’ is actually dead, and examine what the future of the creative industries might look like.

And, for the first time, Grab By The Horns hits the streets to talk to the public in our new vox pop series: Ad Libs.

Storytelling is Dead

As both Campaign and the CEO of Mastercard have announced, storytelling, in its traditional sense, is dead.

This inflammatory statement is the mark of a growing movement amongst consumers and brands.  Traditionally, stories have been monologues, prescribed narratives with no space for input from the audience. But in this new ever-more connected age where authenticity, individuality, and ownership are valued, we need to shift from monologues to dialogues. The role of the brand is to cultivate a story and foster participation in it – to converse rather than lecture. As expressed by the new Adidas campaign, it’s time to invite audiences to be co-creators of the stories we tell.

1. Create Experiences

The best stories are immersive and detailed: full of small moments that resonate with an audience. Brands need to create the little touches that bring their story to life– be it personalisation, an event, or just the chance to interact with the brand in a meaningful way. Simplicity and authenticity will be key trends in the coming year.

2. Live Your Story

Authenticity is a driving factor for modern consumers, who look for trustworthiness in an age of tax scandals and bandwagonning. Whilst many brands look to cash in on the authenticity and personality that comes with live social platforms, the leaders will be those who ensure that their brand values are adopted at all levels of their business.

3. Show, Don’t Tell

All writers know the mantra ‘show, don’t tell. Whilst many brands are keen to interpret this as a reason to focus on visual media (with the knowledge that images are processed 60,000 times faster than text), it is more a principle than a practical recommendation.

In short: brands need to stop telling and start doing. If you’re encouraging consumers to ‘open happiness’, start by making sure you yourself are ‘opening happiness’. Assess how behaviours (‘showing’) align with messages (‘telling’).

Artificial Creativity: The Death of Our Industry?

Shelley – the AI bot that learnt how to write horror stories on Twitter

James Patterson is one of the most prolific authors of the 21st century, at one point releasing 15 books per year. But in order to produce this massive amount of content, he openly uses a team of ghost writers. Patterson writes the plot outline, fleshes out the characters, and then lets his team go to work.

It’s an efficient and effective technique: he’s sold more than 300 million copies and won numerous awards, despite writing an average of 20% of the finished product himself. And it’s a perfect example of the ‘human input, automated output’ model that’s on the way, due to advances in AI.

Last October, news broke on a Twitter bot that wrote horror stories. ‘Shelley’ studied over 140,000 horror stories and used the techniques and phrasing she found there to write (quite good) original stories, based on starting inputs from Twitter users.

In the 90’s David Cope (a music professor at the University of California) wrote a programme he named ‘Emily Howell’. By a similar process of machine learning, Emily was able to compose three classical albums; her music is beautiful, and to an untrained ear indistinguishable from many modern composers.

So with AI capable of so much already and continuing to advance, how long is it before our novelists are replaced by programmes, or our adverts are written by AI? In July of last year, Engadget reported that Google was helping put AI into local newsrooms, so you may have already read an AI-written news piece…

It’s inevitable that we will soon have AI capable of generating, distributing, and providing interactions around creative content. In fact, a 2013 study from Oxford University predicted that almost half of US jobs will be susceptible to ‘being computerised’ in the next decade (although Bill Gates thinks this is a good thing). So is there any space left for the more creatively and artistically minded?

Brad Smith (the president of Microsoft) certainly thinks so. As he predicts in his latest book The Future Computed, continuing developments in AI will require the input of the arts to educate and direct the emerging artificial work force. As AI becomes more human, ethics, philosophy, and psychology will all be needed to inform the development and management of AI. For a while, at least, humanity and artificial intelligence will tell their stories together.


Social media has changed how we tell stories, turning us all into the cultivators of our own personal narratives. It has made us all image-savvy – able to detect honesty, marketing speak, and appreciate truly personal touches when they’re presented to us.

As tech opens up more avenues for brands to be present in our lives (Augmented Reality, more highly-targeted ads, and smart cities) brands need to embrace the fact that they are experience providers and story creators, and ensure they are instigating honest dialogue with their audiences. If there’s one thing that needs to be taken forwards, it an attitude of ‘story doing’, not story telling.

#insight #voxpop #adlibs #creativity #grabbythehorns #tech #storytelling

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