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Storytelling

Spikes: Todd Solondz, James Thompson and David Mayo

ogilvydo’s DO Debates series hosted one of the most popular seminars at this year’s Spikes Asia Festival of Creativity.

The animated conversation on inspirational storytelling covered the need for more controversial povs, content up media down – we are too often seduced by the media rather than the story, clarity vs popularity, why social media keeps you honest and the need for fear.

ogilvydo
‘Inspire or Else’ transcript

David Mayo
We’re here to discuss the evolution of storytelling together, it’s one of the most ancient things known to man and yet in today’s marketing world we seem to have come to a point where we freeze whenever the topic comes up.  We have an audience here of marketing and agency folk. It’s always been central to great advertising but only a great story that engages consumers can create a great brand and a story that spreads fast.
I’d like to start with you Todd.  Can you describe for us the stories that you tell and the place and the purpose you feel you have in the world.

Todd Solondz
My films are in some sense a response to much that is out there in the media but it’s approached in a very different way to what we see in popular culture

David Mayo
News is based on things perhaps we don’t want to talk about around the dinner table at night.  James, how does that affect how you put out the stories for your brands?

James Thompson
You started this off by saying Todd creates stories that people want to talk about.  And I think what we are finding is, put a controversial pov out there, put it out there with feeling and spirit and people will discuss it as well.

David Mayo
I agree in your world the media to an extent comes first whereas in Todd’s world.  Todd, how do you put a story together, you don’t have a media plan to consider like James does.  Where do your stories come from?

Todd Solondz
I really just sit at home with a pen and paper and I start from there.  The audience I have to please first and foremost is myself.  And in some sense I guess that has to apply to a successful advertising campaign.  You have to in some sense embrace and fall in love with the story you are telling, the pov you are trying to convey and if you don’t embrace it, if you don’t fully engage on that level it won’t be very motivating for others.

David Mayo
Certainly in marketing there has to be some sort of affinity surely?

James Thompson
That’s true. It’s interesting that one of the first questions we ask now when we see work presented to us, is ‘is it authentic?’.  And it’s a question we ask before we ask whether people will like it.  I’m more than prepared to run work that I know some people won’t like.

David Mayo
Do you see yourself as a crusader for the dark corners of society?  Is that your mission Todd?

Todd Solondz
I’ve never seen myself as a crusader……..

David Mayo
You’re not dressed like one I have to say!

Todd Solondz
I don’t like the word.  But you try to recognise certain truths that aren’t being addressed in the world and that you have something to say.  And you hope that there will be others that will be moved by the same things that move you.  But I’ve never had it as my ambition to make films that are massively appealing.  I’ve always been grateful that there is any audience.

James Thompson
People get confused by two things.  First of all they get confused about which stories to tell about their brands because most brands have got lots of stories and most brand managers try to tell so many stories at once there is no clarity and you lose it.  And the second is we are also getting confused by all the wonderful technologies and networks that will be on display at Spikes this week.  And I think we can get seduced by the media and not the story.  So I think the most important thing is to find the most interesting story you’ve got and then find the most interesting way of telling it and the media will fit.

David Mayo
So content up rather than media down?

James Thompson
Very much so.

Todd Solondz
So much does hinge on the power of the stories that are told and the stories that are forceful and have an impact that is tremendously political and cultural.  Now in the US we have an election campaign.  You have two competing storylines and ultimately the one with the most convincing storyline will be the one that will win.  It’s always the one with the better campaign that will win the election.

David Mayo
Better delivery.  Doesn’t the truth have a role to play in this?

Todd Solondz
No.  Even if as we talked about actual lies are forbidden and outlawed, it doesn’t mean that deception isn’t at play at every moment.  And it’s always about manipulating the audience and choosing what to disclose and what not to disclose.

James Thompson
If we are trying to deceive people as marketers you’ll get one shot at it.  In the US you’ll have to wait 4 years to get another shot at a president.
I think people buy our products week in week out, sometimes day in day out and you can’t fool people like that.

David Mayo
So there’s a much more honest relationship very similar to the relationship Todd has with his audience?

James Thompson
I’d be flattered if we got anything close to that.  But I do think social media keeps you honest.  We can all think of examples of brands that have made overclaims, sometimes ridiculous ones and they’ve found a film on YouTube the following day.  So I think that to some extent even if you don’t go into it wanting to tell the truth, you’re going to have to whether you like it or not.

David Mayo
For corporations, how do you measure the effect, the power, the ROI of a good story? How does that manifest itself?

James Thompson
We have all these techniques that allow you to see it in sales.  But what I like is when I see people spending time with our brand online, what I like is when I hear people sharing it and we’ve got ways of finding out whether people do pass these stories on.  What I like is when people retell our stories in different ways.

David Mayo
You have a point.  You could argue, Todd, that people used to tell stories around the camp fire because of the absence of any other type of media.  Is there a need to still tell stories?  Surely there’s enough out there already, can’t we just piece it together from what’s out there?

Todd Solondz
Stories have always been invented and reinvented and told and retold with different types of meaning.  But I think as a film maker and I imagine it applies to advertising as well.  On some level when you are thinking of the right kind of story yes a pov is imperative but also on some level there is an element of fear I think that has to come into play.  The fear to recognize that if you are in fact a little bit afraid, that something makes you a little bit nervous, that may be a good thing, a sign you are onto something.  It forces you to question why am I afraid of this subject matter.  Which also reflects that therefore it isn’t in fact something that is discussed or approached in this way.  Look, you can have no courage without fear.  And I think that’s what is also needed for a story to break through.  Just by pushing a little bit further it opens eyes and ears a little bit more.

David Mayo
I’d like to thank my guests, Todd Solondz and James Thompson.

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