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Brands have told stories online for as long as the internet has existed. Recent technological changes, however, abetted by evolving reader habits, have meant that the way in which brands creates stories online has entered a new and exciting era.
The days of producinglower quality content as quickly as possible in order to be first - a kind of digital land grab – are giving way to new phase where brands can unveil intelligent, innovative, immersive content that is rooted in their core values. Here are the reasons why storytelling is changing.
1 The arrival of the tablet PC - It is an obvious thing to say, but tablets make it easier for brands, or anyone else, to tell stories online. The way that people navigate tablets, via flicking on a touch screen, replicates the movement that humans have used for centuries while reading books. For people to immerse themselves in stories requires them to be comfortable and tablets give us a large screen that can be used pretty much anywhere – just like a book.
2 The growing popularity of longform content – From BuzzFeed to The Guardian talk to any mainstream publisher at the current time and chances are they will be enthusing about longform content. Put simply longform is another word for stories that take reader more than a few minutes to digest. The story could be several thousand words or it might be an interactive multimedia post with images, video and graphics. In a world of digital noise longform content underlines that publishers, and indeed brands, take storytelling very seriously.
The New York Times recently published a storytelling experiment in the guise of this content rich story about The South China Sea. It blends conventional journalism with multimedia elements (pictures, maps, video, graphics, GIFs) to take people on a journey through a story, complete with different chapters.
Other publishers that have unveiled immersive multi platform storytelling experiments include music website Pitchfork, which has used interactive elements in its stories, perhaps most successfully in an interview with Bat for Lashes singer, Natasha Khan and the BBC in its Arms Wide Open special about Rio.
3 New technological platforms for storytellers – The most high profile launch of a platform for storytellers that celebrates longform content is Medium. Created by the founders of Twitter and Blogger, it concentrates on packaging lengthy and interesting stories by subject rather than recency. Realising that people’s time is precious, however, it tells them how long it will take them to read the article and at the end directs them to other similar articles they may find interesting.
There will be lot more of this type of content too as new technological platforms emerge which make it easier for brands to blend words, images video and graphics in a seamless way.
Shorthand has already worked with a number of clients including the BBC and The Guardian and will launch formally shortly. It is essentially the Wordpress (blogging platform) for longform content in that it is, so its makers say, simple and intuitive to use. Yet, if the BBC example is anything to go by, is capable of delivering quite stunning interactive stories.
4 Readers are more open to storytelling from brands – It is a moot point, but as brands have begun to understand how storytelling can be used to connect with their customers, so consumers seem to have developed more of interest in hearing about the evolution of brands. Take the recent Bacardi advertising campaigns which takes the reader behind the scenes of the brand and explains its turbulent, and in many ways fascinating history.
Brands have also experimented with offering their take on important national stories. Coca Cola stayed true to its brand mantra about ‘making the world a better place’ in its story ‘1 million reasons to believe in Thailand’ launched after the country’s Tsunami.
5 Changing Video opportunities – Twenty years ago brand video storytelling was largely about making short iconic ads that were played in between TV shows. The web has of course changed all that and brands can now experiment with video in many different lengths from ten second snippets on Instagram to much longer mini documentaries.
In the UK Honda recently pioneered a series of animated films, which can be split up into segments, that show an engineer’s hands playing with Honda products and in the process viewers see the story of Honda’s landmark achievements. This includes some of its early racing vehicles, the original Honda Civic and the humanoid robot Asimo.
Across the pond Intel’s The Beauty Inside, is a ‘social movie’ that centered on a guy named Alex who wakes up every day with a new face and body. Meanwhile mobile phone chip maker Qualcomm has been using video to tell behind the scenes stories of its technological innovation at its Spark site.
In one of the most ambitious brand videos ever Jaguar harnessed director Ridley Scott to create Desire, a thirteen minute mini movie that combined a great plot with subtle but intelligent product placements for its new F-Type car.