In the last few months, Instagram released a new feature called “Stories” which allows users to share a stream of photos or short video, appearing in a narrative slideshow format that lasts for 24 hours before disappearing to be replaced by a new “story”. Instagram has allowed 30 brands to advertise within the Stories feature as well as offering an analytics tool called “Stories Insights”. The significance of this is not so much in the feature itself but the brand label that has been chosen for it. The idea of encouraging users to capture and share their personal “Stories” has already caused a buzz because the truth is, that is what all social media users are actually trying to do; entertain others with the stories of their lives.
Entertainment marketing can be a powerful tool for promoting content, in fact you could argue it is the essence of what content is supposed to be, even if the purpose tends to be informative or transactional. The nature marketing itself requires a creative element that intends to entertain potential customers enough to leave an impression or an incentive to buy. The oldest and most successful form of entertainment is the creative narrative and it is a formula that endures stronger than ever, even in today’s digital world. In fact, digital marketing is tapping into this “tried and true” method of entertainment now in many different and interesting forms.
Snapchat is now running a new ad package service designed to motivate brands to run longer video. It’s called “sequenced messaging” and involves allowing bundles of video ads to be displayed sequentially to create a narrative story. The basic idea, already being deployed by trailers for the new blockbuster movie “Split”, involves taking three ten second clips of the film’s content and displaying them sequentially to create a 30 second ad with a narrative effect. Given the controlled nature of Snapchat’s platform, marketers are looking to this bundled ad package a way to tell micro-narratives with their video clips. Allowing each third of the whole piece to be provided sequentially over time, the intent of which is to drive engagement with the user. Essentially, it is the structure of the narrative- the beginning, middle and end.
This trend towards longer video being utilized by digital marketers is likely due to the newfound creative freedom that social media is naturally affording them. Social media is allowing audiences to opt in to watch marketing content, so it is safer for marketers to be more experimental with the length of their ads. Burberry and BMW have both released short film advertisements starring major Hollywood actors that eventually played in theaters but initially debuted online.
Long form video is something that’s also being taken up by Facebook. Facebook Live has been a format for brands to publish live video for promotional purposes on the social platform. However, the financial returns from video streaming have proven to be disappointing. Facebook is still intending to utilize the Live feature but more for users to communicate with family and friends. Meanwhile they are pushing publishers to create long form video for advertising creative instead. Although the trend to favor long form video is growing in popularity, forms of narrative marketing have proven successful in live streaming video as well.
A notable example of successful live streaming that could also be considered narrative based is Twitch. Twitch is a video game streaming service that allows gamers to stream their gaming experience with large groups of other users who interact with the gamer. Anyone who has watched someone else play a video game is familiar with the effect- that is, the gamer’s experience serves as a sort of interactive narrative. Certainly, the player is interacting with the game directly but the bystander also can directly observe and comment. This is what Twitch adopted as a clever niche, where the gamer streams their experience to an audience and the audience creates a game show atmosphere.
Twitch has since expanded beyond gaming into allowing users to stream other activities with Twitch IRL. Twitch has been very popular on social media, rivaling Netflix, iTunes and Spotify for social media mentions. The reason for this is greatly attributed to the active and large community that uses Twitch, their capacity for hyper-sharing but most of all their ability to entertain.
In many ways, the use of narrative in video for digital marketing is just an extension of entertainment returning to its native roots. The origin of moving images is in storytelling and marketing has adopted this concept in many different forms, evolving over time as technology has allowed, to become in many ways, as it originally was at origin. It is easy for anyone who watches movies to be familiar with traditional story structure and therefore to be engaged by this form of advertising. Perhaps the full extent of the success of long form narrative marketing in digital remains to be seen until the end, but it has made a strong beginning.
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