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{sxsw sessions} On Getting People Really Into the Story

Posted Mar 16 2012 12:12pm

I went to two sessions at SXSW that were about letting users get really into a story: @BettyDraper’s Guide to Social Storytelling and Next Stage: Immersion 101: Inventing the Future of Entertainment.

These talks right up my alley; as I was sitting in the first of the two sessions, I realized that my post last week about the Hunger Games workout really hit on how much I love being immersed in certain stories. I love when brands create campaigns that allow users to get really into them; it just makes me love the brand more.

The @BettyDraper session was a solo presentation from a really smart and cool woman, Helen Klein Ross, who created the @ BettyDraper Twitter account after someone created the @DonDraper account and started following her. Several other fans created other accounts and soon, all the Mad Men characters were on Twitter. And yet AMC had nothing to do with it. (AMC didn’t condemn or ignore the accounts — which says a lot about AMC — but also chose to not work with them in any official capacity either.) She talked about all the fun events they’ve put on, including this “ twepisode ” which they produced to go along with the episode of Mad Men when Don takes Sally to see the Beatles.

The point of the presentation was to show how you could take any story and make it modern and social. She pointed to the story of Santa Claus as one that gets re-told and re-interpreted every year to fit in with the modern world; everyone collaborates and contributes but the story stays the same. “Any brand can tell a compelling story if they speak the right language,” she said.

She shared examples of brands that have done social storytelling well, including Red Bull, Old Spice, Stella Artois, and Verizon. She pointed out that aftershave isn’t inherently dramatic, but the Old Spice guy made it compelling through the story he told. And Stella created a compelling character to represent their brand across their social channels. It included a Wikipedia entry for their fictional character, a Flickr pool of photos of him, and a fake news broadcast about his disappearance.

Immersion 101 featured three speaker: Paul Woolmington (Naked Communications), Susan Bonds (CEO of 42 Entertainment), and Frank Rose (author of The Art of Immersion). This presentation really focused on examples of different brands using immersion to allow their super-users to get really into the product. They also discussed using social storytelling as a way to advertise and build buzz; they showed this ad from the Guardian that was created to promote “Open Journalism” (which is a form of social storytelling in itself). It shows how we can use multiple platforms to tell a story and it uses a story we all know to achieve that goal. It’s a great example of social storytelling and it’s just one of the most badass ads I’ve seen in a long time.

I love this campaign, and all of these kind of campaigns, but they aren’t cheap. Social storytelling takes time, talent, and money; Helen said that writing for social is entirely different from screenwriting, so you often need someone there to sort of advise the screenwriter if you’re working on an entertainment property. I run into this problem at work; creating all the “in-world” assets that make these campaigns great or even Tweeting as a character takes a lot of work from a lot of people. Helen said that if the brands don’t put their resources into social storytelling, our users and fans will just take it upon themselves to do it. So it’s just our job to encourage it and celebrate it when they do.

Do you get into this type of advertising? If your favorite movie or book offers an immersive experience, do you get into it? I think we all have those things we can really get into; I’d love to hear if you’ve had any experiences with this!

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