Guest post: How a Tweet can tell the story of a thousand people

Thursday, 16 April 2015

It’s tempting to dismiss ‘brand storytelling’ as just the latest industry buzzword, but for marketers that truly want to stay front of mind for their consumers there’s a lot to learn from classic tales. Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner has demonstrated that humans are in fact 22 times better at remembering stories than facts, and so it’s no surprise that for millennia humans have passed on their own history wrapped up in story form.

I remember working with creative teams four years ago on one of the very first UK Promoted Trends, and seeing their frustration as they struggled to reduce their messaging down into a 140 character Tweet. They had a powerful story to tell, but it wasn’t the simplest thing to explain in a short sentence: Paul Oakenfold had remixed Spandau Ballet’s classic song ‘Gold’ to help motivate @TeamGB, and now the whole nation could record their own vocals to add to the track in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympics. That 140 character limit sharpens the wits of amateur and professional copywriters alike every single day, but this wasn’t one of them. Thankfully the Trend gave us the opportunity to build the story over an entire day, which rather took the pressure off any one Tweet.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Twitter offers the richest creative canvas of any social platform. — Jerry Daykin

The changes and evolutions of Twitter’s platform since then have transformed it into the even richer creative canvas it is today. Words and hashtags are still incredibly powerful but they’re now joined by pictures, videos, vines, GIFs and through Twitter Cards interactive elements like real-time polls. Of course much of this was technically possible through links back in 2011, but today it appears natively in millions of users’ timelines, and gets spread even further as Tweets are embedded across the web. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Twitter offers the richest creative canvas of any social platform, and as Tweets are increasingly syndicated the humble Tweet starts to be the building block of one of the nimblest marketing opportunities anywhere on the web.

If a picture can tell a thousand words, then a Tweet can tell a thousand people’s story. When Paul Taylor wanted to pay a simple tribute to the late great Phillip Hughes he encouraged his 100 followers to #PutOutYourBats, and posted a simple but powerful image of his own. He didn’t need to say or do anything more to spark a movement which saw people from every corner of the world join in tribute.

More light-hearted stories can also be sparked with a single Tweet like that of Andrew Paterson, who marked his new part time job at Asda with an official signing photograph worthy of the Premier League’s finest, or Steph Kerr who captured a rather eccentric take on cheese and biscuits. That tens of thousands of people have chosen to Retweet and share the story in both instances highlights how perfectly that story has resonated.

Brands have had their moments of brilliance too, not least in the many tactical responses to key events that have seen the likes of Kit Kat comment on the iPhone’s #Bendgate. Just like with traditional marketing however, much of the greatest Twitter storytelling is planned well in advance. Whilst Adidas certainly knows how to do real time, its Twitter feed is dominated by powerful images and video which tell the story of everyday athletic endeavours, all of which has the same high production values as their traditional media work.

Oreo is famous for its reactive Super Bowl one-liners, but its most recent UK activation came around the solar eclipse, an event predictable hundreds of years in advance. They took advantage of the day’s Promoted Trend to be able to tell a story right throughout using a mixture of images, videos and Vines to react to the eclipse in real time. With much of the country clouded out from seeing the real deal, the #OreoEclipse was the closest many of us got.

If you think of Twitter as just somewhere for real-time marketing, or have been concerned that Tweet length might limit your creativity, then think again. Twitter isn’t just a powerful storytelling platform; it’s THE storytelling platform, on which modern stories are playing out. Even as I write this the world has turned to Twitter to follow as Hillary Clinton announced her intention to run for President. It’s a platform which elevates the power of words and makes every character count, but which gives everyday people and marketers alike the power to tell rich multimedia stories which can spread to every corner of the web.

Jerry Daykin is a global digital director at Carat, part of the Dentsu Aegis Network. You can follow his campaign for #DigitalSense in marketing at @jdaykin.