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The Visible Narrator

A Storytelling Technique that speaks directly to you, the viewer

Storytelling is how we make meaning out of the tribulations of our daily lives and the human complexities of our existance. Even our thought processes and conversations are predominantly in narrative form.

Whether fact or pure phantasy, we respond to a storyteller’s or narrator’s abilty to make us think, reflect, imagine, laugh or cry. Storytelling is what connects us to our humanity and at the heart of effective communication is a well-told story.

For Art Directors and Copywriters the conceptual opportunities of telling a true story, or creating a fictional tale that stirs the imagination and generates resonating brand kinship are many, and just waiting to be explored.

The Greatest Storyteller of All Time

William Shakespeare is undisputedly the world’s most successful storyteller. He used actors to give a voice, life and dramatic physicality to his communication medium of stage-performed plays.

Shakespeare’s plays are about holding up a mirror of life for his audience to peer into and they do, rewardingly so, with tearful empathy and sometimes with a belly laugh.

400 years later, his brilliant stagecraft, still enthralls theatregoers wherever his plays are performed.

The Craft of Audience Engagement

Structurally his plays open with a narrator who sets the scene for the audience and provides the context in which the ensuing story takes place.

From time to time the narrator may reappear to fill in any gaps for the audience between scene changes and the progression of the story’s time frame.

One of the ways Shakespeare keeps his audience engaged is to have an actor in conversation with another, stop midway to turn and deliver a commentary directly to the audience before turning back to the conversation.

He also uses costumes and stage-props to reveal to his audience what the imaginary demons look like that may be haunting the tortured mind of a character.

In various forms, many similar techniques of Shakespeare’s stagecraft for audience engagement have become part of the filmmaker’s craft.

Here are some inspiring examples of audio-visual storytelling for Art Directors and Copywriters to consider and explore for how best to achieve an effective and resonant ‘audience connect’.

1. Jose Cuervo, Have A Story To Tell

The Storyteller is Canadian actor, film producer, and film director Kiefer Sutherland.

Advertising Agency: McCann, New York

2. L’Oreal, French Lessons

Dame Helen Mirren gives the viewer some French lessons. In 2003 the multi-award winning actress was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for Services to the Performing Arts.

Advertising Agency: McCann, London

3. Carlsberg, The Happy Denmark Story

In this Carlsberg commercial Mads Mikkelsen is the man who philosophises to the viewer over his country’s happiness as he cycles round Copenhagen. He is one of Denmark’s most prominent and admired movie actors.

Advertising Agency: FOLD 7, London

4. Santam, The Realmacoy

Oscar winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley, shares his thought provoking insights with the viewer about the complexities of the ‘fine print’ that we so often have to confront. The Director of this commercial for the Santam Insurance Company, Dean Blumberg of Bouffant Films commented, “As a team we stuck to a precise translation of the idea, no extraneous bells and whistles. I wanted beauty, simplicity and a gravity led by our star.”

Advertising Agency: King James, Cape Town

5. Johnnie Walker, The Android

Sir John Hegarty, of Bartle Bogle Hegarty Advertising Agency has described the award winning ‘Android Storyteller’ as one of his agency’s most intelligent creations.

Academics and communication specialists have debated and analysed the commercial in numerous discussion papers. The general consensus is that the strength of ‘Keep Walking’ lies in the fact that it reflects the audiences’ feelings, values, opinions and perceptions of success. “The campaign is selling us something else besides consumer goods. It is selling us ourselves”.

Advertising Agency: BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty), London

6. Old Spice, Hallo Ladies

In this parody of ‘manliness’, the hugely popular ‘Old Spice Man’ who speaks so directly to female viewers is American actor and former National Football League player. Isaiah Amir Mustfa.

Advertising Agency: Weiden+Kennedy

7. Cisco, The Intuitive Network Story

The diminutive storyteller is Peter Dinklage of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame. As the American Film Producer and multi-award winning actor walks through London, he shares his contemplations with the viewer about what intuition is and means in our super connected world and daily lives in this 3 minutes long commercial for Cisco, the worldwide leader in IT and networking.

Advertising Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, U.S.A.