Archive for the ‘storytelling’ Category
23rd November 12
The Guardian’s Editor, Alan Rusbridger, came into BBH earlier this year and spoke to a group of us about what it takes to deliver open journalism. In particular he described how one of his most awarded journalists, Nick Davies, operates day-to-day. He shared three or four articles Davies had written recently, breaking down the anatomy of each story in meticulous detail. And it properly sank in that “open journalism” doesn’t just mean simply laying the news bare, unfiltered, checked or analysed, nor does it mean opening up a new fire hose of information in the hope someone will make sense of it.
Perhaps the clue is in the phrase “Open Journalism”. As they say at The Guardian, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. The Guardian staff are information omnivores, analysts, fact checkers and storytellers. And, as Rusbridger put it to us, there are 3 characteristics that define ‘craft’ in journalism. Very few journalists master all three (Nick Davies is perhaps a rare example), but here they are:
1. A relish or hunger to find out new intelligence
2. The intellectual ability to see patterns in that data; see the big picture and understand the facts
3. An ability to write beautifully
It sounded strikingly similar to what makes a truly great Strategist in an agency. Three things a Strategist usefully might aim for, either way.
Good weekends, all.
18th July 12
Posted in storytelling
Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH London & BBH Labs
The girl, Nina , is dressed for a meeting. “I’ve only got two business plans left,” she states matter-of-factly. She places two objects on the table in front of me: a condom, and a pouch of pills. “I would be very grateful if you could decide.”
I hesitate, and the girl’s mask of professionalism falters. “These are my only options, so could you choose…please..?”
In that moment, I realise that my choice is her choice, and her choice is the choice of a hundred young people across London.
At an IPA event on Tuesday, Saatchi’s Head of Planning Richard Huntingdon commented that “beyond all else, what we do is empathy.” It’s true – the comms we create should be an act of empathy towards our audience. When the problem is just right, empathy itself can be the answer. Complicated issues of debate – particularly around things like social justice, where the topic is one we don’t like to discuss – can lose people in the discussion. When the most important measure of success is understanding, the quickest route to the head is through the heart, as empathy. Parents know this. When they try to convince children of the wrongness of a situation, the phrase you’ll most often hear is: “well, how would you like it if…?”
When we feel anger or distrust towards someone we’re often told to walk a mile in their shoes. As humans, we’re actually very good at playing roles and seeing things from another person’s point of view – if we get the right prompts. But executionally, it’s a fine balance. You have to manage the audience’s experience positively enough to draw them into a character, and only then can you subject that character to their (often harrowing) fate. Finally, the immersive experience must offer the ‘immersed’ some sense of redemption, the sense that there’s something to be done to give this character a better future than their present. Only then can the audience leave not just with understanding, but with the desire to act.
One of the most profound cases of alienation that divides “us and them” is shocking because it’s so everyday – homelessness. Centrepoint Parliament know this all too well. They campaign to raise awareness of youth welfare, but it’s easy for the messages to get lost in the debate. We all remember the point and counterpoint that swirled around the London riots last August. Whose responsibility was it – the kids’? The media’s? Blackberry’s? British society was about to give up the youth for lost and no amount of rational discourse would overcome those images in the press of a burning M&S, a looted Tesco, a burnt-out car.
Centrepoint Parliament needed a way to viscerally cut through it all – and over six months, we worked with them to find it. The answer came directly from recordings of the youth hostel itself. No rhetoric, hyperbole or ‘advertising’ could match a simple recreation of the truth – this was Nine Rooms, an experiential theatre piece devised by its own members, with help from BBH. You are placed directly into the worst scenes of a young homeless person’s life – the loneliness, the idleness, and the dilemmas.
My choice made, I hand the item to Nina. Her expression flickers with pain but all she says is a polite “thank you for your time.” She collects her notes and walks out, leaving me alone with the untaken choice, and a sense of gratitude that I’ll never have to make this kind of decision for myself.
They are scenes that we all have suspected are happening to ‘someone, somewhere’, and internally written off as the facts of life. To be forced to go through them – to wear the shoes – drags them out of the realm of statistics in the head, and into a the form of a nuanced human experience in the heart. To read the impact Nine Rooms had on people is both affecting and uplifting. It’s clear that the power of the performance has made this a brief well answered:
“Powerful and emotive. So well done to get in touch with the reality of homelessness. Portrayed in a way which allows the audience to feel what the characters feel.”
“Moving and very effective – being so close and personal made it a hard journey.”
“Powerful stuff. Is this really going on in London? We all get so tied up in our lives that we don’t know what’s really going on. Thank you for the experience.”
There were tough strategic choices to be made, too – we reasoned that delivering a powerful experience for the few was better than a message that would get tuned out by the many – as long as those few were so impacted that they would pass it on. The sense of shock and outrage we got from our comments book shows that it’s worked. And as we said above, immersive theatre at its best doesn’t just affect people, it moves them to take action – in this case, signing the petition to restore careers advice services so that no young person has to make Nina’s choice.
From ‘events’ like Secret Cinema to political projects (Coney’s Early Days Of A Better Nation) and even new twists on horror, both secular (Hotel Medea) and sanctimonious (see the rise in the US Evangelical concept of the scare-you-straight “Hell House”), immersive theatre has come into its own as a way of heightening reality for a media-skeptic generation. Even traditional media becomes that much more powerful when technology lets us step into the scene (see the experiential touches of our own work for Missing People). Whilst at its most shallow, ‘experience’ is a play for PR-able creativity, at its best, it’s a dose of empathy that’s truly transformative.
Ask the residents of Nine Rooms.
You don’t have to have been through the rooms to take action – sign Centrepoint Parliament’s petition here.
15th December 11
At Labs we like nothing more that creativity put to good use (reference our love for ichainsaws, gloves, design-led activism and fightwear with a social mission). Chuck in some Mortal Terror and we’re yours.
With the recent launch of their online shop, www.monstersupplies.org, our friends at Hoxton Street Monster Supplies have extended what is essentially an imaginative, immaculately designed fund-raising platform. It’s all in aid of Ministry of Stories, a creative writing non-profit which is supported by all proceeds from the shop.
And, hey, the holidays are upon us, so satisfy the buying-spree beast within with a little monster-based goodness – just make sure you get your order in by this Friday 1pm (GMT), if you want to make last orders before Christmas.
Behind the shop at 159 Hoxton Street, through a hidden door, the Ministry of Stories exists to help young people in East London learn how to be storytellers. Which, as @jeremyet always likes to say, is where the magic happens.
The website was created “by a small group of unpaid humans in their spare time”: design by Gavin and Jason Fox, build by Simon Pearson, project management by Chris Meachin, user experience by Mike Towber; and art direction by We Made This.
8th December 10
Posted in storytelling
Author: Jessica Berta (@jeccaberta), Writer, BBH NYC
Certain artists are typecast, sometimes by choice. They capture a style so well that it comes to define them. Author Jonathan Safran Foer falls outside of that camp with a chameleonic thud. He keeps us curious.
In his new book, Tree of Codes, Foer does with a physical book what we often neglect in digital—he turns reading into an experience. In showing how a story’s environment affects its meaning, he gives digital storytellers a slap in the face.
Tree of Codes, breaks from the standard book format in two ways:
- It creates a new story by tearing apart and piecing together an old one—Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles.
- Each page is die-cut to reveal just a handful of words and phrases.
I found the book annoying to read at first, despite its delicate beauty. I couldn’t decipher between the page I was reading and the ones beneath it. It was like a depth perception test following a mug of bourbon.
After sobering up and finding a better technique, I enjoyed the layout. Words hovered in a dream-ridden state. Thought went into each line, each phrase and how it was laid out. Such attention to the UX of reading is tough to find on the web. Foer’s analog approach would be easy enough to toy with in digital. So why aren’t we more playful with narratives online?
Brilliant writing isn’t enough to keep readers happy. Long blocks of copy, no matter how poetic, are begging for attention spans to scamper off elsewhere. In a design dominant field, it’s easy to neglect voice, tone, even punctuation. Or to forget about how each will figure into a broader environment.
Maybe that’s because we get swept up in technology. We use it to tell stories rather than to shape them. The following ideas and executions use technology to influence how stories are read. Bravo! The better ones put UX at the forefront. In doing so, they offer some lessons in communicating creatively.
- We Tell Stories: Bring physical location into the narrative.
- Telescopic Text: Let the reader decide what information to absorb.
- TextArc: Represent text visually.
- The Sweet Old Etcetera: Make static literature kinetic. There are lots more eLiterature examples here.
- Open Bookmarks: Consider the selfish benefits to social reading.
- Ben the Bodyguard: Communicate utility via a character.
- @RuthBourdain: Mix vinegar and oil. Hilarity ensues. (Perhaps a bit off the mark, but a good demo of re-imagining existing voices.)
These concepts and methods fool with language, narrative and technology to entertain. It’s humbling to think that a few pieces of paper and an X-Acto knife can do the same.
When we leave room for interpretation and delight, we can expand the playground for digital fiction. We can turn stories into experiences that are unique to each reader. So let’s stop neglecting the goddamn words. Pretty please?
29th October 10
Aside from the smart, engaged and talented colleagues here at BBH and likeminds the world over, at Labs we are lucky to be in close proximity (in the same office in fact) to the smart, engaged and forward-facing Power to the Pixel team. Their mission is to explore new ways of getting stories in front of increasingly fragmented audiences and support media producers wanting to make the sometimes difficult transition to digital and cross-media distribution.
Audiences no longer think in silos – the recent 2Screen evening demonstrated the power of creating compelling behaviour drivers and experiences across multiple platforms. Power to the Pixel’s recent centrepiece event, the Cross-Media Forum in London, brought together leading thinkers and pioneers from across the media industries who are instrumental in changing the way stories are conceived and are reaching audiences.
Below, PttP’s CEO Liz Rosenthal and COO Tishna Molla picks out some themes that are emerging from their work and, for anyone interested in new tools for storytellers, links to deeper thinking from the Pixel Report.
“The best storytelling devices are, and have always been, rooted in human behaviours and desires,” says Mike Monello, Founder of Campfire and Co-Creator of The Blair Witch Project. His keys to creating a successful story experience are;
- Communal experience
- Making it tangible
- Fostering discovery
- Making it personal
- Building a world larger than your characters
Story = brand
Whilst marketers have long been used to advertising products across multiple platforms, do they really understand how to keep audiences engaged? How do you begin to find your audience, let alone engage them? How do you decide which platforms to use to tell your story, let alone work out how to use them? Director Jon M Chu, is an expert in how to not only reach, but to sustain an audience. He conceived The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (The LXD) – “a living, breathing comic book” – first and foremost as a brand, enabling connections with different audiences across multiple platforms.
Power lies with the audience
With the impact of new technologies has come a shift in authorship and access. Audiences have moved from passive viewer to active collaborator, stakeholder, co-creator, marketer, distributor, even financier. There’s a new breed of storyteller emerging, one that understands the new technologies, tools and services that are changing the way that stories are told, how and where audiences can interact with them and, as a result, the whole business of storytelling.
Lance Weiler (@lanceweiler), US filmmaker and story architect, grew his audience for Head Trauma - a fusion of feature film, live performance, mobile interaction, online gaming and remix – by allowing the audience to discover and expand elements of the story, moving them from one platform to the next in the process. Audience numbers grew in direct correlation to the number of access points made available to them.
Finnish director, Timo Vuorensola is an expert at collaborating and engaging with his audience throughout the development, production and distribution of his films. Crowd Controls is one great example of a tool that he uses to harness the power of the audience.
With technology advancing so rapidly, the possibilities for storytelling and audience interaction seem limitless or intimidating, depending on your point of view. No-one has all the answers anymore (if they ever did) which makes it essential now, more than ever, to share information and foster new networks, collaborations and partnerships. Which is what we do @powertothepixel.
16th September 10
What do go-karts, used mannequins, indestructible soccer balls, flame-retardant garments, & a painted toilet stall have in common?
10th September 10
Author: Jeff Johnson, Creative, BBH New York (@fittedsweats)
Late in the spring, British Airways gave us a great brief for North America. Last year they held a contest where they gave out hundreds of free international flights (and shipping) to small business owners in the U.S. so that they could do business face-to-face rather than just via email, iChat, Skype and…fax. They hold the belief that face-to-face contact helps seal more deals rather than just staying put and hoping for the best—which in the current economy, we’re probably more likely to do. Stay the course. Take less risks. Tread water. Shutter the place. Etc.
We immediately told them we would use the entire budget to make a feature length-documentary about the death of the use of the fax machine in Sacramento-area small businesses between ’98-’08, while also weaving in our commentary on the dearth of new ideas in leather belt holsters for mobile devices.
They pushed back. Gently.
Actually, that last paragraph’s not true. BA were giving away more free flights this year, and thought last year’s winners—in telling their own unique success stories—would inspire other small business owners here to enter this year’s contest, and go see their clients and prospective clients face-to-face.
Meeting real people who’ve dreamt up their own business and are ambitious enough to make it a reality was the fun part. Working with a budget that didn’t allow us to send clients, directors, producers, account people and creatives back to far-flung locations to recreate face-to-face meetings was the challenge.
Tireless creatives Jessica Shriftman and Zac Sax teamed with director Chris Bren and Picture Farm out of Brooklyn, as well as photographer Todd Selby, and BBH editors Mark Block and Jonah Oskow to bring stories from a handful of the most compelling businesses to life. Throughout the summer, the group was fueled for the most part by Kombucha tea and it’s startling before-taste.
The films (and the chance to win) can be found at British Airways’ Face of Opportunity site, and, we hope, elsewhere.
7th September 10
Interesting short clip of Tom Peters talking about the importance of storytelling for brands. In fact, for Peters, storytelling isn’t just important, it can be more powerful than the brand itself.
16th July 10
Author: Ben Shaw, Strategist, BBH London
In the last of our blog posts with Dan Light we’ve saved the trickiest questions for last. What, if any, are the roles for brands in these transmedia extensions of the narrative? Can it ever get deeper than product placement and, if so, can brands ever make a legitimate contribution to the storytelling experience?
In the past decade we’ve seen that the music industry had to get screwed before it would change, the newspaper industry is struggling and the film industry is being forced to reinvent itself. Can entertainment industries transform themselves? Where do you see the film industry going?
I think the film industry is going to polarise. I think you’re going to have your Avatars – they will be big 3D events that will be 15-year projects and will command bigger and bigger sums of money.
At the other end will be the classic independent films, built around a good story but also written from the ground up, with a view to all the ways in which that story can be told, developed and audiences be found.
So brands need to find new ways to engage audiences and clearly sponsorship of this kind of content is a legitimate path, albeit it represents a fairly transactional relationship with the producer. Is this how you see the role of brands developing?