Paul Domenet of Free The Birds: why storytelling has a bigger role than ever in advertising

Stories have been shared and enjoyed in theatres, museums and schools around the country this week for National Storytelling Week. The event serves to remind people how integral stories are to the human experience. But in the ad world, where it feels like storytelling week every week, we really don’t need reminding. We already got the memo. For what seems like decades now, we’ve been talking about how important it is for brands to tell stories. What we could do with is a bit more insight on how best to tell them.

Brands and agencies currently labour under the assumption that the younger generation has the attention span of a gnat with ADHD. Anything more involved than a tweet or a meme, and you’ve lost them forever. Yet, one of world’s most watched shows is Game of Thrones an epic that has been unfolding for over eight years now. Proof, if needed, that if what you’re creating is interesting and entertaining enough people will be riveted. People’s attention and time is there for the taking. And those in doubt about whether brands can compete against the best of film and TV should buy themselves a ticket to see The Lego Movie 2 when it comes out next month.

Like TV, radio uses long-running series to draw audiences in. The popularity of podcasts like Serial and more recently Dear Joan and Jericha have proven that long-form audio content is a compelling prospect. I’d also argue that, as a medium, audio is more absorbing because it forces the listener to imagine what is being suggested to them and therefore makes them more invested in the story. It certainly has more power over the mind than some glib Instagram post or pointless hashtag.

Audio’s rise should make us reassess how brands make their presence felt in that sphere. Often with podcasts, the advertising just interrupts the story. Brands could make a much deeper connection with the audience if they helped create the narrative. General Electric took this approach eith much success with its hit eight-part science fiction podcast series The Message.

Brands need to start thinking more in the long term and create narratives that build over time that consumers can be involved in. Let’s stop underestimating audiences and start approaching what we do like the rest of the creative industries does – by creating content that is interesting, entertaining and well crafted enough to intrigue people and immerse them in a new world. Only then will they keep coming back for more.

Paul Domenet is a partner & communications creative director at Free The Birds.

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