The art of brand storytelling is more important than ever in today’s media rich world

StarWarsAt Disney we pride ourselves on producing content that entertains, is built to last and that people love. After all, we’ve been doing it for a long time.

What began in 1923 as the Disney Brothers Studio Company, which rolled out original cartoons starring a certain mouse, has evolved into the Disney we know today – still telling much-loved stories but now also developing these across digital, mobile, video and social channels.

Our book of stories grew in October 2012 with the acquisition of Lucasfilm.

The Star Wars universe of heroes and villains has now been added to the same trove of iconic characters as Iron Man and the Avengers, Buzz Lightyear and Woody, and Mickey and Friends.

This could only have happened if we’d been assured that George Lucas’ passion for his brand translated into the potential for more stories, adventures and battles between good versus evil, light versus dark.

As any serious Star Wars aficionado knows, there were always supposed to be nine episodes. The inside story goes that when Robert Iger, CEO of Walt Disney, saw that George Lucas had compiled a database listing 17,000 characters in the Star Wars universe, inhabiting several thousand planets over a span of more than 20,000 years, the deal was as good as done.

The ability of the Star Wars brand story to cross the age divide and drive advocacy among fans both new and old makes it a perfect Disney fit. Our brands enchant across generations, reflecting shared values and taking audiences on journeys that inspire and thrill.

With filming now underway on the final trilogy, we’re excited as anyone to discover the next installment.

Lucas created a rich universe of content, which is fitting for the rich media landscape we all inhabit today. There are now myriad ways for brands to develop their stories so that they transcend digital platforms as well as unfold on silver cinematic and TV screens.

In this richer, growing landscape, it’s much easier to get lost. Brands should never lose sight of how content (no matter how small) connects to the bigger picture, and make sure that this content tells the right stories in ways that fit these different platforms.

Any brand with a diverse range of products also needs to consider how they connect and ensure that the core brand values are at the forefront of strategic thinking. If not, you’re going to tie yourself up in knots and end up with an uninspiring and confused narrative, with products that don’t work together to take audiences on the journey.

Disney brand stories have always had consistent characteristics. They’re trusted and nostalgic, whilst providing something fresh and innovative to connect with new audiences and keep the story relevant to today’s modern world.

Take Frozen as a prime example. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s dark fairy tale The Snow Queen, Disney decided to make the Snow Queen Elsa and our protagonist Anna sisters in the film.

The new twist on a classic fable provided a way for audiences to relate to the characters and their complex relationship.
Frozen

Elsa still does villainous acts, but audiences can better understand her motives and her desire to defend herself, which means that they believe in the familial resolution – they buy into the happy ending.

The digital space is a key storytelling platform in the modern world, and especially important inspiring younger audiences whose time is now increasingly spent with the screen in their hand or in their bedroom.

Disney.com is organised around original content, but also expands our brand stories into areas such as our Buzzfeed-type blog ‘Oh My Disney’, which offers lists, shareable visuals, nostalgia, quotes and other insights into Disney fandom. By allowing a digital user to reconnect to classic brand characters through rich media formats, it drives advocacy and opens more marketing doors.

Lego obviously agree. The product remains nostalgic, well-loved and kept up-to-date and relevant, and the digital and gaming space has given the brand a new lease of life. For their marketers, the Lego Movie coming to the silver screen was a dream come true, as people flocked to see an entertaining example of branded content that generated millions in sales of plastic bricks.

The key to the film’s success is that it didn’t feel like a sales pitch, or a corporate brand video; the Lego Movie took the values at the heart of the brand – the creativity and freedom to world-build – and put these front and centre of the narrative.

This is something that we understand well, and we understand that what matters most is to treat audiences as they are and not as purely consumers. Entertain them, inspire them, resonate with their values and dreams, and this will translate into people buying into your brand.

As Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars characters have joined the Disney stable, we have been developing innovative ways to harness the power of those brands and open up creative discussions. For marketers without the power of branded characters, it’s about selling ideas over product, fiction over fact.

That’s why we buy apple pies from Mr Kipling and believe we can grow wings after drinking a certain energy drink. To make your brand story still relevant in 91 years’ time, find new ways to tell established tales that’ll seek out new audiences and inspire new ideas.

Bobi Carley is Disney’s UK & Ireland commercial director