Ever since visual storytelling burst onto the scene, vision-keepers have dabbled with ways of putting an element of “openness” into their craft. The comedy-mystery Clue was originally released with multiple endings, for example, while the legendary French firebrand Jean-Luc Godard once made a film whose projection sequence was determined by the flip of a coin.
Today, however, as more and more people consume images and narratives from devices designed for input and output in equal parts, the line between viewer and creative is becoming increasingly blurred. It’s no surprise that advertisers are looking to harness this new reality to knit large tapestries of consumer-guided story. Here’s how:
Putting the audience in action
There’s an old saying that holds “what the hand does, the mind tends to remember”–and that’s certainly true when it comes to web usage. If viewers need to click before getting to the next round of a story, the more likely it is to mean something to them, the more likely they’ll remember the video’s message…and the more likely they’ll take action. Even if it’s only a nominal push of a button, such interaction draws upon the power of what media theorist Douglas Rushkoff once called “the Pong moment”: the giddiness one feels when their actions immediately change the game unfolding on the screen.
But interactive videos do even more than getting viewers to feel empowered and part of a brand’s story. When properly responsive, the interactive experience can also streamline the viewer’s intake of information to the choice nuggets most fitting to their profile. Marketers must never forget that their story exists in a virtually limitless sea of others, so it’s best to guide visitors to their own personal point of interest…lest they lose that interest. With a well-thought out branching video, marketers can help potential customers jump to the most relevant part of the video (or even a free trial or custom-fit point of sale opportunity). Consumers feel their desires have been catered to, and marketers can reach a number of demographics without concocting multiple campaigns: it’s a true win-win.
Cashing in on the cool
One of the best ways to stoke up brand interest and loyalty is to make people feel they are part of a cutting edge–and in the case of digital media, no one has to pretend. Take a look at the way comment functions to surround almost any shared content on the web. Discussion threads give videos a life that extends far beyond the running time of the video, folding fans into the story in what academics would call an “extra-textual” experience.
However, some purveyors of sound and image are bringing edgy, almost avant-garde principles of storytelling into videos themselves. Not surprisingly, a number of musicians have unsheathed videos that play with non-linear, almost stream-of-consciousness to their art, notably Boys Noize, Arcade Fire, and Pharrell. And given the non-linear, rhizomatic nature of the internet itself, the only question is why such bold yet immediately accessible experimentation hasn’t happened sooner.
Such left-field narrative (or non-narrative?) is by no means the sole domain of music, and their engaging energies are open to small business owners, not just blue chip Grammy winners. Any number of cheap to free tools out there exist to create flow-chart like video narratives, with HapYak one of the notables. And don’t forget YouTube already offers interactive authoring options.
Big Data as Big Author
On the flipside, as dazzling and innovative as the prospect of “choose your own adventure” style interactive narrative may be, clicking a button to decide a story’s fate strikes some as too gimmicky. People turn to creatives for their vision, after all, not merely to fill in the blanks for them. However, an increasing number of companies are using their data mines to create stories so responsive to audience desires that soon we’ll soon be seeing seemingly traditional programming that would warrant the handle “interactive.”
Using their massive reserves of client data, content providers such as Hulu and Netflix are rolling out shows based on crunched data–a sort of collective authorship by default. The cynical slacker crowd is showing a spiked interest in the supernatural? One Dead Beat, coming right up. Kevin Spacey fans say they like old school political thrillers. A House of Cards has been erected. As affordable analytics platforms for the masses become more commonplace, expect to see an increased number of stories of which fans can meaningfully say “we built this.” (On a much smaller scale, by-request clips from YouTubers are on the rise.) For branders, no sense of belonging could be sweeter.
If there’s any one secret to connect with potential consumers through interactive videocraft, it’s to cultivate things organically. If the goal is to make consumers feel in some way that you’ve magically made their stories come to life, it makes a lot more sense to meet the people halfway through careful R&D and a good old fashioned ear to the digital street.