Seven stories: What’s your spin?

Kate Tancred of The Smalls on how to create inspiring video content when there are only so many stories to go round, and they’ve all been told before

It is said that there are only seven stories in the world: rags to riches, escaping death, rebirth and so on. Movies, books, stage plays all work on these themes, and so do ads and videos. It’s how you deliver the story that makes it unique.

It’s the same in advertising and in the video we see online. Each is a slightly different version of one of these seven, often repeated, storylines. In today’s cluttered media environment, your spin on that story is vital if you are to stand out from the crowd.

It’s all about emotions.

There’s a common theme that ties together all storylines: emotion – the love story brings us joy; the hero offers admiration; the monster brings fear. There is no medium better than video and film for evoking those emotions and, as we know, the emotive response is at the heart of any brand message. That’s why we see so many puppies and children on TV ads.

It’s a big call, though, isn’t it, to encapsulate that emotion in a video. Massive film productions like Zhang Yimou’s ‘The Great Wall’, a bit hit in China late last year and on global release this month, can pluck at many heartstrings – anger, optimism, fear, surprise – but they have a couple of hours in which to play with our feelings.

In video the focus has to be on using a story to create a specific emotional response – and it has to be relevant to the brand. You don’t want to sell Louis Vuitton using fear, for example, but you can link Airbnb to comfort and ease. That’s what Cirkus achieved with ‘Welcome to Airbnb’.  They turned  a quest – one of the seven basic storylines – into a one minute voyage through a global model village. It’s inspired and well executed and by depicting the scenes with toys it reminds us of our childhood (nostalgia) and creates that feeling of safety, friendship and familiarity.

Time is short

It’s always been a challenge creating the emotion and relaying the message in the space of a 30 second TV commercial. We know, though, when it’s done well, the results can be very powerful.

Online video faces the same challenge although, thankfully, the format is less restrictive than TV. The creative can be 10 seconds long, or 3 minutes – there is no formal limitation and no evidence than one timeframe works better than another. The question is, what’s relevant to the user – have they requested to view the content, or is it an ad that’s vying for their attention?

We do know that we need to be careful when advertising to mobile users. Our phones are highly personalised devices and ads that are seen to be intrusive can damage your brand’s reputation. Videos that take over the screen are a perfect example – the best creative in the world is still an annoyance if you didn’t ask for it.  In addition each social network has a unique audience, social videos need to be optimised for different channels. A video that works on Facebook may need a serious edit before it can work on Instagram. And you might have to take an entirely different approach to video on Snapchat or Twitter. The challenge is choosing the best creative route that can then have multiple executions that have been designed for where they are playing out.

This highlights the need for a strong, adaptable, creative approach to your video content – whether it’s for TV, for digital ads, or short-form content for your website. And it has to be an approach that evokes an emotional response – a connection with the viewer.

Up to the task?

The question for marketers is, can your agency deliver all of that? The depth of their creative ability is only as good as their talent pool. Whilst there are benefits to having the same team working on your product – they know you, they know your brand – can they guarantee to always deliver new ideas that will appear fresh and tug at the emotions of the viewer?

Hollywood producers don’t use the same cast and production team each time round. They like to stir things up a little. They recognise that routine is the enemy of creativity.  

That’s why crowd-sourcing is becoming a more effective way of developing creative outcomes. We saw it with graphic design marketplace 99designs. Home builders can do the same with CoContest, that allows architects to pitch design ideas. We’re now seeing similar opportunities in the video production space.

It’s always refreshing to hear new ideas and ways of thinking, and it can come from the most unusual quarters – places in the world you might not even have heard of. But talent, is talent, wherever it is based, and in today’s media landscape we need ideas that cut through and deliver quickly and more cost effectively. That probably means trawling the talent pool a little further.

Think global

Don’t get me wrong. There are some brilliant agencies out there and it’s staggering how they continue to output innovative productions, but even they recognise the need to pull-in talent to meet the gaps in their skillset, or to provide fresh thinking and avoid stagnation. They too are starting to turn to crowd-sourcing to find innovative directors, production companies, writers or designers who can add that little pizzazz to their next production.

In summary, we know there are only so many stories to go round. Whichever one you’ve used, it’s close to something that’s been done before. The secret is in giving it a new look, with a strong emotional connection. That’s getting harder because there’s so much media out there, and a lot of it is increasingly confined to a small screen. Being fresh and true is the key to success. You need to trawl far and wide for the best idea – or should we say, the best iteration of an old idea.

Kate Tancred is co founder & managing director of The Smalls’ 


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