In advertising, the creative people are usually looking for trends and ways of telling stories outside the realm of advertising itself. For advertising field to stay alive, kicking and interesting, it has to constantly invigorate itself with new ideas, forms and content. Creatives tend to turn to other mediums for inspiration and this is why I have picked the short video format to answer a simple questions of what makes a story authentic.
Authenticity is something that both agencies and brands pursue and strive for.
Authenticity is something that both agencies and brands pursue and strive for. Some succeed and others don’t – but in both cases the answer to the question of what made the communication authentic eludes us. Having said that, I am not promising any revelations here – this is just a stab in the dark at the problem of authentic storytelling.
Let’s add a little background the what and how. One day I was shuffling through vimeo.com when I came upon a staff pick of the week – it was a simple, but nice video made by Douglas Gautraud. What hooked me wasn’t the fact that the video was good, but the realization that the same person has succeeded in creating a compelling story, even though he has obviously failed before (that part was evident from the rest of the videos on his profile). So I decided to try and answer the simple question of what made his last video story so great.
Trying to answer this question, I came upon three pretty standard narrative concepts: point of view, context and knowledge. For me the unexpected success of this story had something to do with these three notions that I briefly discuss below.
POINT OF VIEW
Point of view defines how the world is presented to us and what is our relation to the spectacle brought before us.
The video puts as very close to the objects that the narrator is describing. We can see the objects from up close, but at the same time those objects limit our view of the surrounding world. And when our world-view is limited in such a way, the voice starts functioning in an entirely different manner- as a guide that helps us piece all those objects into a coherent whole.
It is pretty clear that it is not only important not what you show, but how you show it. There’s a simple and yet beautiful shot at around 0:25 where we see stacked up patents measured up with a ruler and the voiceover saying – “about 9 inches of patents” . Now that’s a new way of putting – loads of patents.
This video also gets back to the most essential cultural tool that we have at our efficiently – literally pointing the finger.
Yes, that’s a personal story that we got acquainted with – but it doesn’t mean it can’t tie itself into a bigger cultural narrative. And it does exactly that – blends with the theme of authenticity pursuit.
Craft beer and coffee, moustache and ancient razor-blades all connect to a general strive to get in touch with authenticity. This tiny visual comment serves as a ironic joke on this video as well – a personal story trying to be authentic by showing us authentic things.
Here as well as elsewhere context is important in a few ways. It allows us to associate ourselves with the story being told, i.e. find the coordinates we are in relation to the story world. The other thing – it brings the universal dimension in the personal.
Context brings the universal dimension in the personal
Knowledge is a play with WHAT and HOW MUCH the viewer/reader/listener knows. At the beginning of the video we note the curious title “My Mom’s motorcycle” that prompts us to think of a strange, definitely un-stereotypical mother who would own and ride a motorcycle. Instead, we are greeted with the story of someone’s grandfather’s. Mom doesn’t show up until the second part of the story – all this time we are trying to figure out how does this all lead to “Mom’s motorcycle”. The initial context that is given to us (in this case the titles and the opening scene with the bike) frames our expectations of what is next to come. Only during the last shots of the video narrative we get to the point that explains how “mother came into possession of the bike”. The story has worked as a long answer to the question of “how” and “why”.
They interesting bit here is the interplay between the knowledge and expectations of the viewer and the knowledge of the narrator who choses to present information to us in a certain way. Every story starts with an asymmetrical balance of the viewer and the narrator’s knowledge and moves on to restore the balance to a certain degree.
Playing with this asymmetry of knowledge is usually at the heart of successful advertising storytelling.