The Demise (or Rebirth) of Brand Storytelling: Cannes Writes a New Narrative

June 22, 2018


Storytelling. As public relations professionals, it’s our craft. To create and share authentic stories that connect and move audiences to think, feel and act. But as the earned channel has purveyed and taken main stage — this year PR is celebrating its 10th year at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity — so has the overuse of “stories” as the marketing word du jour. And with that rise has come a tidal wave of digital content pieces flooding our inboxes, screens and lives. It begs the question – is there too much noise? How can storytelling adapt to survive?

The central flaw of storytelling is that, by definition, it is told. We know that consumers value experiences more than products and that shared experiences connect us more deeply to each other than shared consumption. And brand content should be additive to culture, not interruptive. So, how can we rewrite storytelling to enable personalized and shared experiences in a world that favors such?

This year, Cannes speakers ranging from tech companies like Apple and IBM to clients including AT&T and LDH took the stage to predict how the next generation of marketers will creatively appeal to the cultural zeitgeist. There was discussion of AI and its role in allowing us to personalize every consumer touchpoint. Of Augmented Reality and how it can adapt even the oldest, most static medium –billboards – to allow for tailored, 1-1, trackable engagement with passersby. Of social good and our collective role in telling stories that meet a higher moral standard … because we as communicators and brands are partly responsible for shaping societal values.

Storytelling was part of every single session. But reborn.

Consumers are no longer looking to be told a story. No, we are wiser (or more skeptical) than that. The brands that succeed will be those who use technology, creativity and innovation to interpret and reflect human truths through their content. And create a platform for consumers to be an active part of the journey. Because stories are meant to be felt not told.

Nearly every Cannes Lions PR gold winner this year, including our Anheuser-Busch InBev client who was recognized for their incredibly inspiring beer-to-water initiative for those in need, delivered emotional stories driven by social impact.

As this path continues, the story of the future will be personal, empathetic, contextual, intelligent and fluid. It will be data-informed and speak to you as an individual (like the ads that follow our habits). And I can’t wait to be part of what’s next. PR will be essential in helping our clients have greater impact by crafting not just words, but experiences worth talking about, allowing stories to go further, faster – cut through the news cycle – and more effectively reach the hearts of audiences.