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The secret formula for storytelling at speed and scale

View ‘Storytelling at speed and scale' panel discussion on demand.

Watch the 'Storytelling at speed and scale' digital panel on demand.

Authenticity, emotion, simplicity, a human connection, relevance and the right platform are essential elements of the secret formula for storytelling at speed and scale, according to a panel of experts at The Drum Digital Summit, hosted in partnership with Shutterstock.

In a year where speed and scale have been of the essence in marketing, less has proven to be more when it comes to storytelling. Not only do brands want to capture attention but also create emotional connections with their consumers. But in building that human connection, a brand’s whole purpose has to resonate with consumers.

“It’s not only creating a really good script but also the casting and setting of the scene, the imagery and if it feels authentic,” said Flo Lau, creative director at Shutterstock. “It’s also very important to keep your story relevant to what’s going on in our society.”

Sometimes brands need to take a back seat

Panelists agreed on a standout example from 2020: Nathan Apocada became an internet sensation when a TikTok of him gliding serenely down the highway to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” with only a bottle of Ocean Spray for company went viral. Interestingly, the brand only got attached to it later, which made for a much better story.

“Besides keeping it simple and authentic, sometimes the brand just needs to get out of the way and let the story come through,” said Walt Connelly, executive creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York. “Put the brand in the back seat, the story in the front seat and let that authentic storytelling happen. When a brand wants to own the story and be the main character, people lose interest and it doesn’t feel authentic anymore. Don’t try to own the whole thing.”

A simple but powerful storytelling platform

Creating emotive advertising starts with storytelling, but in a world where you need to reach more of the target audience quickly, scaling stories takes the right strategy and tools.

“Choosing the right platform for your content is very important,” said Lau. She noted that ‘Ocean Spray-Fleetwood Mac guy’ might not have taken off so organically if it wasn’t on TikTok: “A lot of times when a user is on TikTok they have the audio on but if that video was posted on Instagram or Facebook where many users have audio off, it might just not be as successful.”

“Starting with a strong brand platform is really important - once we have a strong platform, we can build stories out of that,” said Lucy Ferguson, head of content for Google UK. “Making sure your platform for storytelling is always simple and you have one to build from and continue stories is so powerful.”

The future of creative agility in storytelling

With Covid-19 restrictions on big photo shoots, many marketers have had to take a more time- and cost-effective approach to keep up with increasing demand for content during lockdown, turning to animation or stock image/video content to supplement what they are already creating.

User generated content (UGC) has experienced a resurgence during lockdown and is likely to continue as it not only taps into that human connection but also saves on time and costs.

“Creative inventiveness is going to continue and I think we’ll be surprised where that inventiveness comes from,” said Connelly. “The art of the simple, emotional story is the thing we’re all going to hold on to and continue to tell, but with animation, stock or shadow puppets. As long as it’s true to itself and authentic to whoever’s telling it.”

The panelists agreed that in order to be more agile with storytelling, clients, agencies and media owners need to move away from exclusive and time-consuming processes and create a more inclusive and transparent creative process because “we’re all in it together” said Ferguson.

“Agility is key right now and it’s a cultural shift for a lot of bigger brands to work differently,” said Lau. “You have to empower your marketers and content creators to be able to react quickly.”

Flo Lau, creative director, Shutterstock, Lucy Ferguson, head of content, Google UK, Walt Connelly, executive creative director, TBWA\Chiat\Day New York were taking part in the 'Storytelling at speed and scale' panel (sponsored by Shutterstock) at The Drum Digital Summit 2020, moderated by Imogen Watson, journalist, The Drum.