Brain Chatter: Pixar’s The Art of Storytelling

When I was young, I loved writing stories.

I entered every contest my school library held for storytelling or poetry writing. I even got in trouble for writing stories that were way too long for my assignments. Seriously, it got to the point that my teacher gave me a “special” assignment to write a one-page story and the length was solely what I was getting marked on.

I remember sweating and stress-gripping my pencil. It was cruel.

No matter what, a big source of my inspiration came from the Pixar movies that made up the majority of my childhood.

They’re the ones who brought our toy aspirations to life in Toy Story.

They made us cry about an old man and his flying balloon house in Up.

They also made us feel deeper than we knew we could with Inside Out.

Whether as kids with our feet dangling off of those cushy theatre seats or as adults who are feeling nostalgic, Pixar Animation Studios knows how to connect with us through amazing stories.

As marketers, our jobs are to tell stories. Ultimately, that’s the way to reach an audience. After all, it’s pretty much the oldest form of communication out there.

It existed in cave drawings before we could speak.

It came to life in sounds around a fire.

It was printed and distributed to millions around the world.

It was broadcast through a TV, radio and now a smartphone.

Storytelling is ubiquitous, pan-cultural, and timeless.

Yet no matter how much that’s a universally accepted fact, we (especially marketers), forget that we’re all innately storytellers.

If you look up the definition of “story” it is listed as “an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.”

A “storyteller” is aptly listed as “a person who tells stories.”

Whether working in-house for a brand or working for multiple clients in an agency, marketers have a duty to give people the stuff they want to see. People don’t have enough time in the day to be constantly pitch-slapped with aggressive advertising, nor are they limited by having to sit through it anymore.

Audiences are smart.

They no longer want products to be sold to them. They want to know that when they align themselves to a particular brand that the move is reflective of their values and beliefs as a person. They want to feel connected on an emotional level, not just a purely cognitive way.

Stories can do that. So if it’s something that’s so universal, both in applicability and understanding, then why don’t we do more of it?

Well, it’s tough to look at a blank page. Or screen. Or wall.

We get a new project and we’re excited to go forth and be awesome except we’re hit by the brainstorming phase of how to take a concept and give it life.

According to Pixar In a Box, the animation studio’s free series with Khan Academy, storytelling comes down to asking “what if?” and writing what you know (or drawing, designing, animating, etc.).

As reported by Variety, the Art of Storytelling is Pixar In a Box’s third season on Khan Academy, the free online education centre.

The great thing about this series other than that it tells you how to do the thing that every storyteller struggles with (get the darn story out!), is that it’s free.

We live in a day of gated content, pay walls and catches. That amazing headline that makes you want to know more? Yeah, it also wants more out of you than just a click.

And that’s fine. Marketer to marketer, making content exclusive and gating it to bump up subscriptions serves a purpose.

But there’s nothing wrong with sharing the wealth too.

Unlike the common connection that we human beings have to storytelling, we do not share the same in access to technology and resources. We can’t all sit in a room full of industry legends nor can we all attend industry conferences. Whether it’s a time, money or position thing, not everyone has the same privileges.

Marketers share common experiences. This means we share common needs.

While Khan Academy and even Pixar In a Box on Khan Academy aren’t new concepts, they’re still winning the Battle for Time.

Khan Academy, for consistently creating new content to learn from and reaching out to new partners to share that content with, and Pixar for releasing the keys to their success.

The status quo is to take invaluable resources like these and put a price on them. Both Khan Academy and Pixar have decided to go an opposite route, a simpler route.

The route of sharing the wealth.

No, we’ve not been paid to endorse this. We’re not even remotely connected to Khan Academy or Pixar (but that would be cool!).

We just thought we’d continue sharing the wealth. Marketer to marketer.

Our craft is to provide audiences with content they can connect to and have a memorable experience with.

It can be as simple as having a memory that resonates with you in a specific way, but just expanding it. Chances are, someone will be able to relate to it. Or, if not, perhaps it’s about diving in from the bigger picture and getting more specific as you go to create that relation.

It’s also ok to take inspiration. Something piques your interest? Well it did so for a reason, so chase that lead.

So, let’s find those stories and start telling them.

Got a pen?

About Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai

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