This was the (rather fluffy) title of a talk I went to during Social Media Week last month. Hosted at the National Gallery by those a...

‘Stories without words…don’t just be seen, be remembered’ #SMWLDN

This was the (rather fluffy) title of a talk I went to during Social Media Week last month.

Hosted at the National Gallery by those advertising big boys based a touch further east down the Thames from us, Ogilvy & Mather, this was an hour long talk hosted by a rather eclectic assortment of individuals, each one a leader in their own respective fields. 

This resulted in a rather dishevelled looking panel headed up by O&M’s Group Head of Social, Leo Ryan; Martin Stabe, Head of Interactive News at the FT; Dr Susan Foister (Deputy Director at the National Gallery and Leo Bofkin, CEO at Global Street Art.

Together, they went on to tackle that irresistible/irritating/overused but quite frankly, unavoidable, marketing buzzword that is ‘content’, more specifically the most powerful and long-lasting types of content.

There, I said it.

In a nutshell, the talk was thoroughly insightful, testament to the fact O&M had gathered four well-respected professionals from such contrasting fields to thrash out a topic that gets a hell of a lot of airtime these days. Each was armed with an array of examples of work from the past that have become symbolic of a certain era, medium, meaning or culture.

For starters though, this wouldn’t be a proper #SMWLDN2014 blog post without banging out some punchy statistics to get the juices flowing, would it? 

Well, Ogilvy did a recent study that analysed over 16,000 pieces of content published by around 40 brands between 2011-14. 

Within this content, they revealed four stats:
  • Image engagement has risen by 14.5% 
  • Video engagement has rocketed by 117%
  • Text-only posts have decreased by 60%
  • Organic video reach is up a whopping 216%
No real surprises there you’re probably thinking but these figures perfectly teed up the rest of the talk, which reinforced the power of visual content in all shapes and sizes. 

Lee Bofkin began by speaking about the concept of ‘brand smashing’ – a form of deconstruction where we, as individuals, will automatically pick out key associations – perhaps a colour or a smell - with a recognisable brand, therefore ‘smashing it’ continually on every first glance. 

Unsurprisingly, Lee used an example of work by famous street artist, Stik, whose individual style makes sure his works are instantly recognisable, regardless of the actual messaging it’s trying to tell:

Across the table, Susan Foister turned to Holbein’s famous painting, ‘The Ambassadors’, (a work of
art that was drilled into my skull during my time as an A-level History of Art student) as an example, albeit an old one, of this concept.

This is a piece crammed with hidden symbolic meanings that convey a range of meanings and stories about the figures within the painting. Susan made the point that people have been turning to other mediums in order to tell a story for centuries and little has changed in that respect:

Another example that got plenty of airtime was Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, one that was seen by 25% of the total UK population.

The campaign worked (and is still working) so well because two dangly pieces of rainbow-coloured thread have successfully become synonymous with a cause – they say it all. There’s no need for words. Brands – Paddy Power, Smirnoff, Premier Inn, Metro - have jumped on it wholeheartedly.

Bofkin made reference to the fact that Rainbow Laces effectively transformed footballers into blank canvases, white ‘spaces’, where a brand could shout about its messaging from. It did wonders for the classic footballer image too.

As the FT’s Martin Stabe clear, subconscious messaging through use of a certain colour(s) isn’t exactly a new thing though.

However, visualising minuscule data is.

The Financial Times, who probably aren’t the sort of outfit you’d immediately associate with such creative bravado, have a hell of a job when it comes to presenting lorry loads of data in the best and most engaging ways possible. Afterall, the units are getting smaller and more granular, e.g. Scottish Independence Referendum analysis

Nowadays, we rely on interactive graphics that tell an immediate and crystal clear story. They revolve around information, not ornamentation, providing macro and micro levels of the same data cutting a fine balance between the explanatory and exploratory. Everyone loves an infographic, right?

The talk ended with some of Lego’s most famous adverts, beautifully simplistic examples that successfully take large narratives and reduce them down to simple cues that anyone in the Western world would understand

These examples only reinforced this argument that visual means are the most powerful way of story telling in so many different ways. In a world where brands are fighting for the opportunity to serve your eyeballs their content on the conveyor belt that is Facebook’s newsfeed, I got the impression that the most memorable brand stories are often told in the most simple ways.  

It’s finding the best way that’s the tricky part.

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