The Art of Narrative Storytelling

Last week, I got to watch Harrison Ford’s Air Force One on TV. In the climax, the Villain informs Ford that the only person who knew how to pilot the plane was dead. Now, it was upon the Hero, to acknowledge the call to action and do the impossible. He had to not only maneuver a highly sophisticated and complex vehicle but also save it from crashing.

For a typical Action genre movie, this would have provided a high-octane climax sequence. But this is 2015, and the film was released in 1997. Since then till today, this has been done to death in many other films. So, watching it now, the climax failed to create the thrilling moment.
The same applies to so many Brand Commercials. Consumers, who represent the same spectators as movie audiences, have evolved. What was novel yesterday is ineffective today?
Take any television commercial. Traditional Advertising uses the color of the Brand Logo in the story. The Brand Ambassador’s attire will be of the same color code. And if the Art Director has its way, we will have to endure a matching backdrop. As a result, the “mis en scene”, its composition, theme, and colors do not serve the actual story that is being communicated. It becomes a mere signpost.
The concept of Subliminal Messaging is not new and has been used in advertising for long. However, consumer psychology is a broad and constantly evolving domain.
As consumers evolve, so does the approach to connect with them. It’s no longer effective to use the old tricks hoping they’ll do the job. Now, Agencies are not blind to this fact, but many seem to fail to adapt to a changing communication and consumption landscape. What we get are a few parlor-tricks recycled in the name of “subliminal messaging”.
Perhaps because psychology-driven consumer insights demand highly professional expertise and a business model that integrates creative construction with the science of perception.
Narrative Storytelling differs from traditional brand messaging / advertising, firstly because it is rooted deeply in insights derived from extensive psychological research. Secondly, narrative storytelling requires a careful balance between story development and the role of the brand while creating a compelling experience.
The art of this lies in weaving a story that inspires the target audience to “want” to emulate the protagonist’s experience and emotions—which are now “owned” by the brand, and which offer a sharp, tangible brand experience. Of course, this is easier said than done.
It’s easy to give in to the urge of making the character endearing, likable, heroic and—in marketing parlance     —“highly aspirational”. Which often results in formulaic fantasy. What is required however, is to convey the brand story and experience in a way the target consumers can relate to on an emotional level because that is where true aspirations reside.
To use Branded Entertainment beyond surface spectacle (and, for instance, paying through the nose for a celebrity that is entirely meaningless to the brand story), one must therefore carefully follow a certain process:
  • Defining core Brand Values.
  • Analyzing the emotional equity of the Brand, its emotional motivation and experience, in the mind of (target) consumers.
  • Defining the emotional theme the brand experience should address, and own.
  • Identifying the gap between “Brand Messaging” and “Consumer Insights”.
  • Weaving a narrative story that ties experience and brand together, in a coherent and exciting way.
In today’s marketing and communication environment, where an almost unbearable cacophony of brand messages echoes around your target consumer, what would you prefer—joining the Chorus or singing your own novel and engaging Solo?
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