Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2018

The age of storytellers

Traditionalists still stuck on the Big Idea are ignoring the Big Story in front of them.

One of the hallmarks of the golden age of advertising as captured in TV shows like Mad Men is the concept of the ‘Big Idea’ and how it and ‘it alone’ can transform a brand into a legend.

The traditionalists among us still display the Big Idea attitude when drumming up strategies for new campaigns. And frankly, in 2018, this can be a frustrating experience for the rest of us. Why, you ask?

Because it is 2018. Yes, the Big Idea is still a phenomenon, but only for the ‘one’ defining moment in the lifespan of a brand. Today, most agencies hire the people they are targeting i.e. Millennials. Before you start on young people and age being a factor here, let me remind you that Millennials comprise anyone born in and after 1984, which makes the oldest Millennial 34 years old; a 34-year-old who is in constant connectivity with his peers, friends and family on a variety of social networks and chat apps – simultaneously.

Marketing, in the hyper-digital reality we live in, is no longer a slave to the Big Idea. Rather, it is a slave to instant gratification. It is the reason why we hire 18-year-old social media wizards as interns to run our Insta Stories and Snaps. It is why we hire 25-year-olds to create our annual messaging strategies. It is why we no longer hire 40-year-old marketing MBAs who have worked on a global FMCG brand to run the marketing department, but only the product branding side of it.

Before I elaborate on the traditional versus digital debate, let me say I don’t like the term ‘traditional’ media. Digital media has been mainstream for close to 25 years; that is a quarter of a century. Even the media most marketers term as traditional has been digital for at least a decade. Digital TV (Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, Prime) are the Millennial’s choice of entertainment and static billboards are replaced every day by LED-driven video billboards with 24/7 campaigns. Digital IS traditional now. So let’s settle for ‘old’ media.

Old media folk, particularly in Pakistan, still believe placing the photograph of a beautiful woman holding a biscuit on a static billboard, will sell the said biscuit. Digital folk know that running a series of storylines about the biscuit across integrated channels with the woman narrating the same story in a variety of different ways will sell more biscuits than a single static billboard.

In conversations with the people in charge and people who think they are in charge, the differences are stark. They both talk about the importance of storytelling, but where they differ drastically is that the former believe the story develops organically over time and the latter believe the entire story can be condensed on the back cover of a book, like a young adult novel, so that you don’t need to read the book.

So how does one find a balance between multiple campaigns, multiple brands, multiple story ideas and so on and so forth and myriad content choices and billions of individuals to cater to? It is simpler than you think; stop trying too hard.


You can spend millions of rupees on creative minds who come up with what you believe will be the next viral video or campaign. Yet, the most viral videos are those shot on a shaky smartphone, unedited and with no background music.


Remember the Oreo Superbowl moment? That moment became a phenomenon because Oreo ‘went with the moment’. They probably already had a strategy and a campaign and a plan that had taken months to develop. And suddenly, through sheer luck, coincidence and an extremely smart on-the-ground social media team who were allowed to be themselves, they decided to tell a story right there, right then and without blinking. That’s the magic; the wand; the spell!

You can spend millions of rupees on creative minds who come up with what you believe will be the next viral video or campaign. Yet, the most viral videos are those shot on a shaky smartphone, unedited and with no background music. And then get close to 50 million views in a day.

But you ask, how do I convince my seniors to move out of this old mindset and accommodate young team members who want to throw money on boosting posts and paying influencers?

The secret is the bottom line. What really gets management and seniors going is how they will look in front of the CEO and what they show to the CEO? Results.

In the digital world, results are instantly viewable, easily aggregated and can be presented with more accuracy and conviction than old school media. Consider that the most viral video content on social media (those which garner over 100 million views) are those that are created, shared and consumed by Millennials – and they have one goal; to tell the story of their lives again and again. Multiple stories, multiple versions of the same story and multiple audiences carefully curated, segmented and managed based on the platform they select at that moment.

When people consume content digitally, whether through smartphones, desktops, OOH or wearables, they are not looking at the brand; they are looking into it. They are consuming the story and committing it to temporary memory by sharing it.

People used to consume content to enjoy. Today, they consume it to share. And brands which invest in this sort of consistent storytelling and make the brand a part of the psyche of the target audience are those that will win.

No Big Idea needed. Just storytellers.

Anthony J. Permal is a marketing specialist based in Dubai.