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I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier October 13, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, storytelling, strategy, Video Games.
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When I was in the games industry I spent a lot of time writing and thinking about how to deliver narrative in an environment where the progression of the story depended entirely on the end-user’s ability to navigate the obsacles we put in their path, all under the guise of gameplay. It sounds counter-productive, but some of those games can go for upwards of 60 hours, and running in a straight line while a plot unfolds is fun for about 67 seconds, so you have some space to fill.

One of the other crucial elements is understanding what stories you can and can’t apply. Design is invarably driven by experiences designers believe players what to have, you almost never hear a designer say “This is the story I want to tell, what is the best way to do that?”. Funnily enough, while that was my approach, very few people wanted to make my re-telling of King Lear set during the handover of Hong Kong…I can’t say I blame them. Games are, for the most part, engineered so you play the hero and affect the main course of the narrative (what little there is), so the stories are constructed within cumbersome paradigms of good vs. bad, triumph over impossible odds, saving the day and winning the girl’s heart (because you’re almost always a guy).

This may all sound fairly abstract under the harsh light of day in marketing, but the parallels are there to be drawn and should be if we want to get better at telling stories with and through our brands, products and services. I’ve said hundreds of times now – experiences facilitated by but not about a brand; this is key.

When dealing with brands we need to understand the parameters within which we have the opportunity to engage narrative, both for the benefit of an audience and for the brand itself. I’m proposing that there are three types of story-telling we engage in in marketing, and each one should be employed in different circumstances depending on what the aim is:

  1. A traditional, linear narrative where a single point is meant to be reached, leaving the audience with a very distinct idea of what the brand, product or service is about, what it means and what its intent is.
  2. A narrative with the brand at the centre of the story but with the story being generated by consumers, leaving the direction of it loosely defined, usually through a particular campaign moving in a very particular direction.
  3. Narrative with the audience at the centre of the story, narrative where the story is in fact the customer’s own, one where a person doesn’t inform the brand’s story, rather the brand plays but a part in a much larger whole. Hardest to affect, though I’ll argue the most compelling by a long way.

I’m really looking forward to getting into this. If you have any ideas or if you think there are other categories story-telling with brands can fit into, I’d love to hear from you. See you tomorrow when we tackle the first one on the list.

**Update** Tim Beveridge left a great comment below and then wrote some more on Insight + Ideas. Worth checking out!

Image courtesy of Doğuş Kozal, with thanks to compfight.

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Comments»

1. Tim - October 14, 2008

I think you should perhaps take it upon yourself to give every post a title which is pulled from a song. Here’s a challenging one to get you started…

“Whenever I was a child I wondered what if my name had changed into something more productive like Roscoe”

Although perhaps that’s a bit cumbersome. Better to stick with “Shananana”

On a more serious note, I think the nature of narrative is interesting to think about when we’re exploring how to evolve brand stories and your three-tiered model certainly breaks different narrative approaches down pretty well. For me though, the narrative is only part of it.

To me the interesting thing is the nature of relationships people have with brands, how those relationships are informed by the various stories (or narratives if you will) surrounding the brands, and the roles that each party plays in telling those stories. The thing is that if we’re using analogies like ‘relationship’ or ‘conversation’ or ‘narrative’ to try to understand how brand meaning permeates into the minds of consumers, changes over time, and therefore how we can continue to remain relevant to those consumers, we need to explore the fundamental nature of those analogies. The forums in which the conversations take place now are vastly different from what we’ve known previously. They raise questions, and highlight subtleties in how we communicate and process messages that until now have either gone unnoticed or have been unimportant to marketers.

2. David Gillespie - October 14, 2008

Tim, thanks for the comment. On the first point, all the post titles are lyrics from songs, you just probably don’t know any of them given my MOR leanings vs. your indie stripes :)

You raise an interesting point, though I have to say I’m just fascinated by narrative in and of itself. I read a great (also very long) piece the other day on George Lakoff, a linguist who was hauled in to help the Democratic party in the US try and understand why they kept getting beaten up by the Republicans. On a very simple level, Democrats would make rational arguments while Republicans made emotional ones, a fatal flaw in that we’ve long overestimated our own ability to remove emotion from decision making – something explained in this great book I’m reading at the moment.

What interests me in your comment though is the suggestion of a fourth category, stories about a brand that consumers tell, the conversation that exists around them irrespective of the brand’s involvement. I’m going to have a bit ore of a think about that…

3. Narrative, Relationships, Conversations, Brands and falling in love. « Insight + Ideas - October 14, 2008

[…] Gillespie over at Creative is not a department wrote this nice post about narrative and brands. This was my […]

4. oolong - October 14, 2008

I don’t know if it’s still online given the age of this, but try checking out Dr. Inkbeer by Euro RSCG.

Have fun. I found it hilariously entertaining.

5. Tim - October 14, 2008

Who sings “Why Australian GQ sucks – part 4: Audience & Competitors”? it sounds catchy!

Point taken though. Touche my friend!

6. Ambiguity in narrative, in advertising « Creative Is Not A Department - October 19, 2008

[…] of what they were promoting and asked themselves what the best way to tell the story would be. The other day I said the best examples of narrative in games are the ones where people think first about the […]

7. Using consumers to tell your story for you (or “Hey diddle-diddle to the people in the middle”) « Creative Is Not A Department - October 23, 2008

[…] web 2.0. Tags: BMW, Ralph Waldo Emerson, U2, Wembley Arena trackback So last week I identified the three ways stories are getting told in advertising. Today I want to talk about the second one: A narrative with the brand at the centre of the story […]

8. More than skin deep « Creative Is Not A Department - December 4, 2008

[…] a while back I got up on a high horse (I know I know, say it isn’t so) about story-telling in advertising. I identified the three […]


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