Storytelling without words
Storytelling for brands seems to be pretty buzzy these days. Consider the recent Marketing magazine cover story on how Nissan are using the Japanese art of ‘kotozukuri’ storytelling to bring their brand to life. Agencies like Aesop are being created to deliver integrated yarns for clients. There are other examples wherever one cares to look. Cynics might say it’s nothing new, or that if one takes care of the deeds the stories will take care of themselves. Or that having a decent PR machine to proclaim ones deeds need not be related to ancient Japanese arts. But nevertheless it’s occupying the time of plenty of smart minds. I guess one question for design is where does it fit in? Can it be part of the narrative in some manner?
For anyone interested in visual storytelling I would highly recommend the book of interviews French director Francois Truffaut conducted with Alfred Hitchcock. They go through each of the master craftsmen’s films where Hitchcock, with disarming straightforwardness explains how he made every camera angle, every cut add up to superb storytelling. Here they are on the set up of James Stewart’s character in Rear Window:
FT: You open with the perspiring face of James Stewart; you move on to his leg in a cast, and then on a nearby table, there is a broken camera, a stack of magazines, and, on the wall, there are pictures of racing cars as they topple on the track. Through that single opening camera movement we have learned where we are, who the principle character is, all about his work, and even how it caused his accident.
AH: That’s simply using cinematic means to relate a story. It’s a great deal more interesting than if we had someone asking Stewart ‘How did you happen to break your leg?” And Stewart answering “as I was taking a picture of a motorcar race, a wheel fell off one of the speeding cars and smashed into me.” That would be an average scene.
In another great book on storytelling screenwriter William Goldman marvels at how, in North by Northwest, with only 30 seconds of running time left Hichcock got his protagonists off the cliff where they hung by their fingernails, back to safe ground, into a romantic relationship that had been brewing all film and even let us know they were having it off (all without spoiling what was intended to be a family film). If you can’t remember, here’s how he did it:
Ok, so Hitchcock proves that storytelling can be visual, not verbal. But what of pure brand design? Isn’t it a blunter weapon? Consider the classic Dubo (nice), Dubon (good), Dubonnet poster by Cassandra – masterful storytelling with one word and three versions of a logo like image. Speaking of which here are three logos and that to my mind tell their own tales…
Which is all just to say even before one gets onto longer copywriting (which Hitchcock would doubtless dismiss as superfluous) pictures can be worth a thousand words in building a ‘brand narrative’. You just need to be clear on what the tale is you are telling.