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Unit9 Philip Ellis Mobile

Successful storytelling: Ditch your preconceptions and avoid tech for tech's sake

By Philip Ellis, journalist

Ogilvy & Mather Group UK


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May 12, 2015 | 4 min read

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"Far too often, we think we know better than our customers. It’s time to stop following the stereotypes and really listen."

SapientNitro’s Daniel Harvey

“Whatever the brief, it is crucial to find the human story behind that information,” says Ros Gihan Williams, creative director at London Video Productions.

“Stories bring people together and bridge divides,” Williams is adamant that this connection can be made regardless of the narrative, citing a corporate video she shot for a hair transplant company.

She and her team went into the project with certain ideas regarding the vanity of the entire endeavour, until one patient told her story; having lost her eyebrows through stress following bereavement, this operation was an important step in reclaiming her self-image. Williams’ takeaway from this: “Never go in with preconceptions about the story you’re trying to tell.”

Understanding the ‘silver economy’

Preconceptions and stereotypes also pose huge issues for brands hoping to reach a fast-growing, potentially lucrative market; the over-50s. 30 per cent of the UK’s population is aged 50 or above, and this group holds more than 80 per cent of the country’s wealth. More and more marketers are keen to harness the power of the ‘silver economy’, but still this demographic is sorely overlooked from a UX perspective.

These oversights can manifest in some morbid ways. For example, at present, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find links to funeral planning on any 50+ insurance website. Reminding consumers of their infirmities is no way to win them over, says author Crispin Reed. “Why lump all over 50s together?” he asks, “You wouldn’t treat 8 to 50 year-olds as all the same.”

“Design for people and their passions,” says Joo Teoh, managing director at Ampersand Mobile, “Not their age.” The issue with tech brands approaching the 50+ market is that their target consumers are often generations behind when it comes to the devices and operating systems they are familiar with.

While younger generations might be more inclined to adopt newer devices for their own sake, 50+ consumers need first to know how it will enrich their lives. Should this matter, though? As Ampersand Mobile’s chief technology officer Dean Adkins says, “good UX design is ageless”. But while it is possible to achieve graceful design regressions across 3G, 2G and even WAP devices, this takes time, which client briefs and deadlines often don’t allow.

Avoiding tech for tech’s sake

Creative technologist Dirk van Ginkel points out that far too often, clients are tech-driven for all the wrong reasons; they want to force new technology into a project in order to generate buzz and be perceived as cutting edge. But if the technology and creative aren’t compatible, this can result in a clunky, unpleasant and overall “gimmicky” user experience.

“User first, not tech first” is the motto at Unit9, where Ginkel and his team always endeavour to select the appropriate medium. Virtual reality and hi-tech installations can transport a consumer and add genuine value to a brand, but only when they are done right.

Ultimately, the medium and strategy with which we engage our consumers rely on an in-depth understanding of that consumer’s life and interests. This is summed up rather neatly by SapientNitro’s Daniel Harvey, who in his talk referenced cave paintings, where people created narratives out of their own memories: “Experiences inspire stories, which in turn inspire new experiences.”

Philip Ellis is a journalist for, Ogilvy’s global thought leadership channel. The Drum and Ogilvy UK are working in partnership to share the latest thinking from Digital Shoreditch 2015. Read more at The Drum’s Digital Shoreditch hub.

Unit9 Philip Ellis Mobile

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