digital storytelling

Stories have enthralled audiences across the world. As kids, we loved to listen to stories of kings and queens, of fairies and ghosts, of jungles, superheroes and monsters, in fact anything that could feed our little imagination. Then we grew up to watch bigger stories on celluloid and read about real life heroes in our school history books.

The biggest epic, Mahabharatha is also a story well told, timeless and adaptable even today. All the great epics of the world, be it Homer’s Odyssey or the animal fables of Aesop or Panchatantra, the thousand and one tales from the Arabian Nights or the endless plays on human emotions by Shakespeare, are timeless stories.

While we grew up to have our own favourite stories, the format of storytelling remains unchanged. So while a Hamlet by Shakespeare is recycled into Haider the movie, the plot is still the hero.

Brands have begun to realise this, and increasingly including this in their communication. Advertising, as we know of, is undergoing a massive transformation, especially in this digital age. The product is taking a backstage while the story forms the main protagonist.

Storytelling in the digital age

We witnessed this back in 2013 when Lifebuoy came up with Gondappa’s story to help promote their ‘Help a child reach 5’ campaign. Though, at the core of the digital story was a corporate social responsibility by Lifebuoy to raise awareness on handwashing and personal hygiene, with the larger goal being the eradication of diarrhoea in Indian villages, the film was not looked at as a CSR campaign by an FMCG giant.

Launched exclusively for its Facebook fans, it quickly spread onto other social networks based on its sheer power of storytelling. The 3-minute film by the soap brand raked in 1.5 million views in the first three weeks of being launched. It even found itself in second place at 16 million views in the list of ’10 most viewed ads on YouTube in 2013’. The ad has crossed over 19 million views till date.

Lifebuoy did not try hard to sell its soap, but it sure did make a strong emotional connect with the masses. The brand purpose was established.

In the same year, search giant Google also resorted to storytelling to tell us how its ‘search’ can not only be our daily go-to information service, but also bean enabler of happiness. It launched the ‘Reunion’ ad taking inspiration from the India-Pakistan partition in 1947.

‘Reunion’ was about two such childhood friends who grew up together in Lahore in undivided India, but separated during the partition, and how Google search helped reunite them. The three-and-a-half-minute video crossed over 4 million views in 6 days, and stood at tenth place with 10 million views in the 10 most viewed ads list on YouTube in 2013.

Jewellery brand, Tanishq created a social media stir by capturing the concept of remarriage in its wedding ad film last year. Breaking away from the traditional advertising approach for a jewellery brand, Tanishq celebrated the remarriage of a dusky woman with a daughter to promote its wedding collection. Although produt placement was all over the bride, the ad was highly lauded on social media for its bold theme.

In fact, the ad was the only Indian ad to be featured in the Adweek list of ‘7 most inspiring ad campaigns for women in 2013’.

Digital content creation is evolving by the day

The verdict is clear. Gone are the days when the focus of advertising was directly on the product benefits sung through an ad jingle. Now storytelling is being increasingly employed to convey the brand message, in a more impactful way.

The idea is to connect with consumers using stories about them, stories that related to them and stories that celebrated them.

This year, coffee brand Nescafe wanted to rejuvenate the brand and make it more contemporary. It launched a film about a stammering stand-up comedian that became an instant hit with the social savvy generation. The main protagonist in the two-minute film is rejected due to his constant stuttering but finally ends up as a successful stand up comedian when he makes stammering work in his favour.

At the heart of the film was a beautiful and inspiring story that people related to, though the coffee was forced-fit into the story. The struggle experienced by a stutterer and his triumph over his weakness enacted the hero’s journey from overcoming challenges to gaining victory.

The video fetched more than 4 million views within a fortnight and is now at 5 million+ views. It is also accompanied by a successful conversation-led campaign on social media.

This Diwali, PepsiCo also tugged at our heartstrings with a seven-minute film celebrating the joys of homecoming for the festival. It launched the #GharWaliDiwali short film directed by Vikramaditya Motwane of Udaan fame and featuring National Award winning actress Geetanjali Thapa where Thapa plays a young working mother who stays in a different city with her husband and a young daughter. Geetanjali is always seen reaching out to her parents for help, but drops her plans to visit them on Diwali as she felt attending a friend’s party was more important.

The film reflects our fast-paced lives in this digital age, where parents are sidelined to make way for our immediate lifestyle needs. The beverage brand put the focus back onto the simple joys of life this Diwali – visiting your parents.

A highly relatable concept that was picked up for its emotional quotient. In 2 days, the film gained over 200K views and now stands at a little over a million views in 3 weeks.

Kissan, HUL’s household name for ketchups, jams and squashes, had launched a film to revive the idea behind “Kissanpur” or the importance of experiencing real natural experiences. The four-minute film offered a shocking insight into our digitally driven lives today with the story of an urban boy named Rohan who misses playing with his parents, as they are too busy with their smartphones and laptops.

Despite having the Kissan tomato seeds triggering the family’s happiness, the film’s central focus was on storytelling and the power of emotions. It brought consumers back to experiencing real joy – the joy of togetherness in their lives.

The video gained over 1.2 million views within 15 days of launch and now stands at 2.4 million views.

Designed for the new age consumer

As India moves towards a more mobile-driven economy, there is a huge potential for video consumption over affordable data plans. The country has seen the highest growth of smartphones in the Asia-Pacific region in the first quarter and smartphone sales in India are expected to reach 80.57 million units by the end of 2014, as per a report by IDC. The country is also going to have the largest demographic of youngsters in the world by 2020.

These factors have led more brands to now focus on communication with the help of digital storytelling. A longer digital film for the social media consumer segment and a smaller curtailed version of 30 seconds for television audiences sums up what brands are delving into. Digital marketing is shifting its communication from traditional ads that said, “See what our brand can do” to stories that say, “See what you can do”. The product has taken a backstage while the brand purpose forms the plot, the hero.

It is heartening to see brands adopt storytelling in their main communication. Though we might have a long way to go in terms of storytelling, the digital India program to improve overall internet infrastructure might just boost more stories to the fore. And that is the future of digital marketing or digital storytelling.