Creative first, tech second; Choice-driven narratives are the future
Nathan Phillips, CCO, Technology, Humans and Taste (THAT), explains why giving consumers choice is key to the successful integration of creativity and technology.
In brand marketing, the buzz for new technologies and mediums sends curiosity and excitement up from the R&D department to the CEO, causing a rush to be among the first to shine with the latest and best tech applications.
“For the first time ever we don’t have to explain why a product is effective, we can let people use it inside the fictional world of a story.”
While it is absolutely essential to add these emerging storytelling technologies to your toolbox as early as possible, creating brand experiences tailored to fit within the specific parameters of a new application can stifle the narrative, and ultimately dampen participant involvement. Just because the algorithm tells you the first four seconds need to be the best part of the story, that’s not really how stories work.
A creative-first approach to new technologies is particularly important when it comes to interactive stories in any medium. Interactive entertainment stands to be one of the most transformative technological applications for brands today. Not only does it engage participants in a way that is increasingly difficult in our multi-device society, but it is driven by the power of choice, which simply doesn’t exist in linear entertainment.
“We can ask [consumers] to throw their phone in a locked bag when we want their attention, or we can give them a job to do and accept their participation as an additive experience, rather than a distraction.”
That means it’s much closer to real life, where you guide each step of your journey by choosing what happens next, versus linear entertainment where you sit back and passively listen. Brands that leverage choice-driven experiences – whether it’s in a hands-on IRL activation, or digitally in an interactive film – let consumers directly engage with their products and services. For the first time ever we don’t have to explain why a product is effective, we can let people use it inside the fictional world of a story.
Building a world for people to explore isn’t a new art form. While the technology is new, the craft required to design non-linear frameworks for stories is ancient (ever been to a church for Midnight Mass or to a good Passover?). Effective interactive experiences blur the line between a real experience and a fictional world by simply letting you participate.
“Great stories are about getting over challenges, not avoiding them.”
By making your choices matter, brands can craft blended experiences that weave physical and digital worlds. And most importantly, it’s a sure-fire formula to leverage cutting edge technologies that give participants a choice in what happens. As storytellers, it’s important for us to accept that people are engaging with technology in their daily lives. We can ask them to throw their phone in a locked bag when we want their attention, or we can give them a job to do and accept their participation as an additive experience, rather than a distraction.
The creative development process for both an experience and an interactive film is essentially identical. While their technical application is drastically different, the creative vocabulary used to design the experiences are very similar. They each require mapping out various different tracks for the participant to choose, developing a matrix of possibilities based on the cumulative decisions made by the participant.
“Find someone who knows how the tech works to answer your brief, which should sound a little magical and impossible.”
Likewise, the ideation process for a brand experience is still aligned with the creative process of traditional advertising. First, it’s key to identify a need state in the life of your target audience. From there, rather than come up with a concept of what to show them, it is more important to determine where they could fulfil that need. This is the world of your story.
“By granting participants the ability to drive their own experience, they are less likely to regard it as advertising.”
Once the world of the story is established, you can determine which technological application best serves the participant journey, and lets them make the choice they need to make. Then, find someone who knows how the tech works to answer your brief, which should sound a little magical and impossible, something like “I want kids to be able to play with every toy in the toy store.” or “I want the birds on that wallpaper to fly out and flock around me while I look at art.”
When it comes to technology – especially emerging technology – early adopters often jump in and, with a tech-forward approach, enact crazy ideas in these virtual worlds that hold little regard for the rules of engaging storytelling. With digital experiences, there is often a notion that a frictionless experience is optimal for the user, but this goes against what we know about story.
“If you start with the technology, you may end up with a great use-case for the tech, but a terribly sub-par story.”
Great stories are about getting over challenges, not avoiding them. To facilitate a richer result, these experiences need to be designed to make it harder to achieve the ultimate end goal and resolution. Though they may not be cognisant of the fact, people find simple choices incredibly rewarding. By granting participants the ability to drive their own experience, they are less likely to regard it as advertising. There is more potential for the brand to create a powerful personal memory that is longer lasting than passive viewing. If you start with the technology, you may end up with a great use-case for the tech, but a terribly sub-par story, which will ultimately be forgettable.
“Brands are uniquely poised to bring interactivity to the forefront of advertising.”
We recently launched a new interactive video experience for families called KidHQ. Designed on the eko platform, it’s an original entertainment destination featuring brand-funded experiences from Mattel and Walmart designed for kids and families. To make this playable digital world, we delved deep into how and where kids engaged with digital media, zeroing in on the unboxing, playtime and educational videos that have been increasingly popular for tablet viewing. The KidHQ universe is designed to present learning as entertainment, engaging kids with choice-driven experiences that allow them to learn by interacting, not just watching.
“A primary goal for brands is to encourage participation with their products or services.”
Brands are uniquely poised to bring interactivity to the forefront of advertising. A primary goal for brands is to encourage participation with their products or services, and interactive entertainment is designed with an invitation to participate as a cornerstone to the experience. Brands need interactivity in order to succeed in the future. Without it, they are further fragmenting their interaction with consumers in a society where two-way digital dialogues have become the norm.