What a Dame and a cluster of brands all agree: We must tell the stories that matter

From the Lumiere Theatre to the OMD Oasis, and across the halls of the Palais, the discussion that many were having at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival was the need for authentic, human, and important stories to be told.

Dame Helen Mirren, on a panel about redefining diversity put it best when she said ‘we live in a complex world in which people are exposed to heartache, pain, and suffering. We are blasted with images of immigrants falling from boats and extreme fighting…. this is a very visceral and emotional time so communicate with the world as much as you can. The young are seeking meaning and it is our responsibility to provide if wherever possible.’

 Doubling Down on Collaborative Content

A sobering comment indeed and one that poses an interesting challenges in terms of how brands can tell the stories that are truly authentic and important. The answer to this was, in part, found in the exchanges over at the Doubling Down on Collaborative Content panel. Claudia Cahill, President of OMD’s Content Collective, had assembled an impressive and diverse set of speakers that included Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Author and Entrepreneur, MuslimGirl, an online magazine for Muslim women, Lydia Polgreen, Editor-in-Chief at the HuffPost, and Marc DeBevoise, President and COO CBS Interactive. Together, they showed us that the desire for diversity of thought and collaborative action is increasingly being met by the platforms and tech that is being developed. But there is still a long way to go.

MuslimGirl is a space that was created for marginalized conversations post 9/11, and one that caters to Muslim millennials. But as Amani explained, ‘we’re in a moment where diversity is a commodity, where MuslimGirl is a trending topic and it’s important to avoid the brands that treat our demographic as a ‘petty profit’. Polgreen explained about how over at the HuffPost, they’re using data to help them create, connect, and incubate niche communities, to better understand their readers’ concerns, and to use feedback loops to pressure ideas. Most recently, they even set up a closed group post the election to create a safe environment for their readers to be able to speak openly about their beliefs, whilst allowing the Huffington Post to gain more audience insights. DeBevoise shared his perspective on the idea of collaboration explaining that at CBS Interactive, they’re constantly listening to their creators and using that feedback to reinvent and refresh their material every 90 days. But however much you learn about your audience, you still have to tell interesting stories, and not just to your demographic target, otherwise you won’t be able to elevate your story to one that captures the mood of the nation.

The Art of Storytelling in the Addressable Age

The idea of stories that scale was discussed at length in the OMD Oasis’s The Art of Storytelling in the Addressable Age. Joanna Lawrence, OMD EMEA’s Chief Content Officer moderated a thoughtful and intimate discussion with Beth Brady, CMO of Principal Financial Group and Lisa Gersh, Director of Hasbro and started by asking them whether the techniques of addressability had changed the way that their organisations tell stories. Brady explained that whilst addressability allows for evermore micro segments and the personalisation of an ad to the individual, their goal is to draw people out from their innate aversion to financial planning through engaging stories. Stories about life’s unplanned moments, when the best laid out plans don’t happen. It’s at those very moments that Principal Financial Group seeks to talk about financial health and well-being in a much more emotional and human tone.

Meanwhile, Gersh explained that at Hasbro, digital insights are used not only for targeting but also to inform and shape the way board games are being created, and this is fundamentally impacting the manufacturing process. The idea of completely personalising the ad experience was something that she was more hesitant about, explaining that her priority lay in delivering great content.  They both agreed that the drive to be more authentic in their messaging means that their creative teams have had to learn the rules of the newer platforms, and so they’re now editing their imagery and tone of voice to fall in line with a more personal, and less manicured look and feel. When asked what concerns her most about storytelling in the future, Brady said it was getting distracted from their brand purpose and just becoming a storyteller, and not being able to show that those stories drove business results. You need to insert into the right place, with the right stories.
It has been said that we’re living in an Age of Authenticity and Courage, where both brands and publishers are trying to respond to the public’s desire to know what’s real and to be around things that matter. Telling the Stories that Matter is ultimately what will separate the good from the great but treading carefully is important too in ensuring that you have the stamina to stay with those stories, even when times get tough.


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Chrissie Hanson

OMD Global Chief Strategy Officer

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