A story of cultural brand myths

Photo © Roger HARTLEY, Bureau of Silly Ideas

Photo © Roger HARTLEY, Bureau of Silly Ideas

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The MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation, in the lead up to their Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making. Yi Chun “Nana” Ho explains how storytelling can frame and communicate relevant and stimulating connections between different ideas.

Storytelling has been used as a creative practice in marketing and advertising to lure consumers. Coming from a PR & branding background, I observed brands that were using storytelling with a fresh angle. Instead of one-way propaganda gimmicks, they were employing ways to involve consumers in brand storytelling to create greater impact via digital media. With this trend in mind I wondered: how should brands apply storytelling to face digital change, from a more holistic perspective, to catalyse innovation?


Examining trends and theories related to storytelling and branding in the search for innovative case studies, I came across an example of the essence of innovation in the field: the Future of Storytelling, which has invited artists and brands like Google and Burberry to share how they unleash the power of storytelling for innovation. Another dimension lies in the utilisation of classic story frameworks and character building in creating brand narratives. Mythologist Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is a popular practice used by branding experts in story structure and character archetypes. However, as a resulting shift in the postmodern era, Douglas Holt’s cultural branding theory has been widely used, while the ‘new black’ for branding, authenticity, has also been championed by branding experts.


These examples began to provide me clues into the essence and structure of storytelling, and its correlation with authenticity and the cultural values brands hold. Considering art as one of the most authentic human practices, I decided to conduct my field research in an art organisation with a focus on immersive experiences, or embedded narratives. Through this experience I found that communities can generate new myths, which spread like viruses, embedding intriguing hooks from collective memories, characteristics of localities and the artists’ creativity. These are elements that trigger the essence of a well-told story—empathy, emotional bonding and imagination.


Combining storytelling theories with the experience of immersive art and embedded narratives, I found that the key to audience involvement lays in regarding them as the protagonist, the Hero in the journey. To employ this opportunity, brands can set up a backstory, a story framework and key questions as dramatic conflict to let consumers play and interact.


My research in the arts also reflects a broader view upon authenticity in branding. Artists’ self-authentication and open or exploratory collaboration with partners can lead them to create authentic experiences for audiences which ignite more creativity. When integrating this principle with branding theory, a rule emerges:  brands are being authentic, inside and out, when applying storytelling.


While the internet has opened up pluralistic dialogues and interactions amongst consumers and companies, brands facing this change should not just view storytelling as a persuasive or emotional bonding tool but instead use it to embody the brand quest authentically, weaving through culture and transforming their value. The full collaboration of storytelling from the company and the consumer alike can produce innovation opportunities, turning the brand into a cultural myth.


To learn more about storytelling in branding, and Nana’s research, please join us at the MA Innovation Management upcoming Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making, from the 18-22 June.