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In a world that is both dying and being reborn in every corner of the multiverse, the role of storytelling has never been more important as a bridge-building tool and sense maker. Today's generation of consumers, particularly those under 30 years old (newsflash: now over half of the global population), are demanding quantum-levels more from the brands they engage with. They want to see themselves and their values reflected in the products, services and narratives they see, and they want those stories to be solutions-oriented.
According to a recent study by “More in Common”, in partnership with the American Press Institute, 88% of all Americans want solutions-oriented narratives in our media. This means that people are not simply looking for stories that entertain, they are looking for stories that inspire, educate, and motivate concrete and systemic action. And this is where brands can make a real impact.
Through the power of storytelling, brands have the opportunity to connect with their audiences on a deeper level and by speaking to the transformative times we’re living through. By sharing stories that highlight purpose and hope, brands can build trust and create meaningful relationships with their customers. And with the democratization of social media tools like TikTok or Podcasting juxtaposed by the out-of-touch broadcast model of “what bleeds leads”, perhaps brands can help usher in a new era that yields protopia rather than the opposite?
Many of the world's most successful brands have long recognized the power of storytelling; after all, it’s as old as the fireplace and equally integral to the formation of neurological connectivity. Companies like Nike or Apple have built their brands on the backs of powerful stories that resonated with their customers in the mythological realms of the psyche. They have used storytelling to differentiate themselves from their competitors and create a profound emotional connection with their audiences.
More recently, and in the realm of solutions-storytelling, brands have been championing electric vehicles (EVs) in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples of how brands are using storytelling to promote EVs:
Audi's "Electric Eye" Short Film - Audi's "Electric Eye" short film explores the natural intersection of local travel, inclusive road-tripping and sustainability. It’s a visually driven entertaining and educational showcase of the benefits of driving an EV. The film's message is clear: electric cars are the future, and Audi is leading the way.
Nissan's "My Life with a Nissan Leaf" Campaign - This global series from Nissan showcases real Nissan Leaf owners and their stories as part of the 'Nissan Stories' initiative. The campaign highlights the culturally-approved, environmental benefits of driving an EV, while also showcasing the car's performance capabilities.
Volkswagen's "Hello Light" Ad - Volkswagen's "Hello Light" ad directly addresses the difficulties Volkswagen faced in 2015 with its emissions scandal, featuring a designer feverishly scribbling to create something new. The ad led to the release of several popular VW EV models and teased the re-release of the classic VW Bus in EV form. The ad's message is simple: the dark days of emissions are over, and Volkswagen has seen the EV light.
General Motors' "Everybody In" Campaign - General Motors' "Everybody In" campaign is a call to action for people to join the company in its mission to create a world with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion. The campaign includes a variety of ads showcasing GM's electric and autonomous vehicles, and features celebrities like Will Ferrell and Awkwafina.
Though they are still working within the old model of advertising for broadcast, these brands are still creating engaging and inspiring stories that showcase the benefits of driving electric, helping to reflect the public’s perception of EVs having gone from niche to mainstream.
This generation is evolving to an entirely new level of sophistication and innovation to compete in a chaotic, crowded and noisy marketplace. Brands are digesting this sea change with remarkable efficacy, by creating their own entertainment divisions or empowering artist-creator partners to reimagine narratives both inside and outside the constraints of the company mission or product ecosystem. And though we have only seen a handful of successful brand-produced feature films and TV series that have taken off in the mainstream, there is a wave on the near horizon. And when it crashes, authenticity will win. Creativity will win. Solutionary narratives will win.
Going even further, it’s not just about creating great stories. Brands must also be much more thoughtful of the changing demographics of today's consumers. The under 30 demographic is more diverse than ever before, and brands must ensure that their creators and producers reflect this diversity, plurality and radical inclusivity. Ultimately, the role of storytelling for impact is about more than just creating great content. It's about using that content to create equity, transparency and repair in our fragile world.
Take this fictional parable about a private company that once faced a moral and ethical crossroads. This company had built its success on traditional marketing tactics and the “externalities” fiction of environmental pollution or questionable labor practices, but its leaders knew that they needed to adapt to the changing needs and values of their customers.
As they looked around at the world, they saw the mounting evidence of issues like environmental pollution, biodiversity collapse or climate emergencies. They realized that they had a unique opportunity to use their platform to promote solutions-oriented storytelling and inspire a new wave of leadership across their supply chain and messaging.
At first, the company was met with skepticism and angst. Many of their customers were used to seeing slick, polished ads that focused on product features and benefits. But the company was determined to change the narrative. They started by telling stories about the ways in which their products were environmentally friendly, with humble profiles of everyday heroes using them in ways none ever thought appropriate for the big screen.
As time went on, the company's storytelling evolved. They began to showcase the people behind their products, sharing stories about the farmers and artisans who made their products possible. They talked about the challenges these people faced, and how the company was working to support them and create positive change in their communities.
The company's commitment to solutions-oriented storytelling soon became a central part of their brand. They began to attract a new generation of customers, who were passionate about sustainability and social responsibility. And as their influence grew, they used their platform to advocate for policies and initiatives that would benefit the planet and its inhabitants.
In the end, the company became a moral and inspirational champion for solutions storytelling at a decisive moment for the biosphere. By using their platform to inspire others to take tremendous action at a time when it was needed most; they showed that it is possible for businesses to be both profitable and responsible stewards of the planet. Perhaps that brand is a fictional version of every brand in the future? Perhaps the purpose-revolution in business and branded storytelling is already the new standard?
About Aaron Ableman
Aaron Ableman (he/him & they/them) is an award-winning media producer, acclaimed songwriter/performing artist, and a best-selling author. A visionary in purpose-driven entertainment, some of Aaron’s groundbreaking achievements include writing & starring in a music video series that planted 1 million trees in 1 day; working with Michelle Obama’s Turnaround Arts White House/Kennedy Center model education initiative; and being featured on MTV, HBO & the United Nations global platforms. His/their work has been viewed by millions around the globe and continues to oer musical storytelling shows for conferences, festivals and TV/radio appearances. Aaron has studied with the 14th Dalai Lama and collaborated with the likes of U2, Sadghuru, Ra, Michael Franti, Mos Def, Joan Baez and more. Perhaps most importantly, Aaron is a beloved parent to a beautiful 5 year old daughter. Stay tuned for Aaron’s upcoming book “Rebels Of Kindness: How Loving-Care Can Transform Self, Others and Planet” and their mission to grow the global kindness movement @ kindhumansfoundation.org.