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‘Brands are dealing with active listeners to tell their stories’

NEW DELHI :

In an increasingly complex world of user-generated content across social media and other digital platforms, the consumer is the storyteller. And that is one of the biggest challenges for a marketer or advertiser who wants to tell the story of his/her brand. This is compounded by shorter attention spans as well as content overdose, which leads to content indigestion, said Prasoon Joshi, poet, lyricist and adman. He was delivering the keynote address at Mint’s Marketing Summit 2021. Chief executive officer of McCann Worldgroup India and chairman, APAC, for the company, Joshi spoke of the challenges and gave insights on why storytelling continues to remain the heart and soul of modern marketing.

Known for popular campaigns such as “Thanda Matlab Coca Cola” or the acclaimed Happydent chewing gum ad where people light up a palace with their shiny teeth, Joshi said brand narratives should be woven together carefully as they have a physical form (the product), and also one which is born out of imagination.

He said whenever he was invited to be part of a brand narrative, the first question he asks is “why”—why the brand exists or what its genesis was. “That’s because there is a huge amount of truth hidden, which needs to be examined and understood.”

It is important to understand the purpose and intent of the brand. In the case of the Coca Cola ad, the marketing intent was very clear: Coca Cola was trying to reach out to a larger, deeper India, right down to the grassroots. That gave birth to “Thanda Matlab Coca Cola”, where Joshi created the characters and suitable lexicon.

The “why” is followed by “what”—what’s the story, and that’s where the art of storytelling comes into play and imagination plays a very important role, he said. Subjectivity rules this stage as different people could see the same thing from different vantage points, he said. He referred to some of his campaigns emanating from local folklores or mythical stories. “So, stories are also born out of experiences, culture and milieu,” he said.

According to Joshi, advertising should understand the value of and focus on the craft of storytelling, which is being undermined today. “Craft is almost meditative. Craft is where the X factor enters… that’s where you say this work gives me goosebumps. It can give you that feeling in that moment… which is only achieved through great craftsmanship,” he added.

Highlighting the challenges for advertisers today, Joshi said earlier there was an active performer and a passive receiver who was easier to communicate with. “Now, we talk of participation, which has given birth to active receivers,” he said.

“Today, if you are telling a story to someone, that someone is more eager to tell his or her story to you. As a result, it’s many more storytellers today. With the democratization of platforms, everybody is a storyteller and you are dealing with this active listener. So, what you can do is make sure you stir up the imagination and steal the imagination in the direction where your brand narrative wants to go,” he explained.

The second challenge is the short attention span of consumers. Though short-format content is extremely popular, Joshi also sees people binge-watch long series. Clearly, long format is also being consumed.

“We can’t be obsessed with the short format, though it’s important to understand it. But it’s also important to know that what people are looking for is something which excites them, which engages them,” he said.

Since people are snacking on content the whole day and “almost have content indigestion”, you cannot offer them something regular. “It has to be exceptional to be able to enter your (consumer’s) space,” he said.

“It was easier to tell your stories to the content-deprived earlier generations. Today, your story is fighting with many stories in a chaotic world,” he added.

He also referred to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in every field, including in story writing. “We are hearing about AI scriptwriters these days. But where I feel probably AI will have a challenge is, that AI does not have the first-hand experience…,” he added.

Joshi also highlighted the importance of first-hand experience translating into a narrative written by an actual person. “If I went to attend a funeral and I experience the entire place, the narrative of that place, consumed lots of things sensorially, the heat, the faces, the sounds, and I came back and wrote a story about it. AI has that story. But AI does not have my first-hand experience,” he said.

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