Brands as extended storylines

Brands as extended storylines

The temptation when you’re working with a brand is to continue to treat it just as a product or service. It’s simpler to do so. It’s contained. You can add features to it or introduce a variation to it. But I’ve wondered aloud with marketers in the past whether treating a brand as the personification of an idea – one that needs to develop and evolve – is not only more interesting but actually vital in a world where story is king and great content is rarer than one might think.

Taking the concept of brands as ideas further, what would happen if marketers acted more like television producers and creators? How might that change the way brands tell their stories? This fascinating interview between Jon Bokenkamp, the executive producer and creator of Blacklist, and Jason Evans points to some interesting possibilities for where brand storytelling might go.

Brands would have a writers’ room. There would be a group of people whose role in the organisation was to create and regulate the release of the brand’s storytelling around a pivotal idea. Right now, ad agencies would claim that role. But I think it’s interesting to speculate on what would happen if the long idea was resourced, developed and managed by the brand itself, and then captured and expressed by its agencies.

Brands would take consumers on journeys – long, involving journeys that inspired and intrigued and that were well signposted within the brand itself so that things happened with deliberation and care. Brands might start to treat each year as a season of the series and build in plot turns and reveals to keep people looking for more. Sure, there have been long running ad campaigns but these have tended to be focused on mainstream media and been told as episodic commercials rather than as rich, deep stories in their own right. (More on how brands might fit into such an approach below.)

Stories would mix formats – using a combination of serialised storytelling, to give the brand idea momentum and enable it to evolve, and shorter, more specific “campaign” scenarios that enabled the brand to play up key aspects and dimensionalise the long story form. These different formats could be spread across different media, meaning different types of storyline happening at the same time in different places, or campaigns could interrupt or even cut across the main story to add episodic interest.

Brands would have a deep mythology/backstory that they would draw on and reveal over time. This would add both intrigue and depth. They would raise questions that they might take some time to answer – in order to build in tension.

When they did delivers answers, they would be both to the issues the brands have raised and to issues that others have raised. Some of these answers would have been developed well in advance, others would seem more spontaneous, depending on the channel in which they were raised. The key thing is that every moment in the brand’s life would have relevance and provide context for those experiencing the brand.

The stories would be human – they would be populated by people, and those people would be spontaneous, changeable, imperfect, relatable. Those stories would completely change how brands built their relationships with buyers. Brands would be product placements in their own human stories.

Advertorial will give way to advertories.

As the worlds of brands, media and entertainment converge, and channels become screens rather than outlets, my own view is that each of these disciplines will borrow success factors from the other. Just as the media has successfully branded its offerings and even turned them into franchised offerings (think Law and Order, CSI, NCIS, Survivor, Masterchef and more), we shouldn’t be surprised if brands themselves don’t start incorporating more of the conventions of TV into how they tell their tales.

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