Play with your brand narratives

Ombrellificio Maglia

I’ve recently been at an interesting (and very well organized) event on Brand Storytelling, the Brand Storytelling Forum in Milan, where several ad agencies presented campaigns on brand storytelling.

The campaigns presented were from major corporate brands (Luxottica, Ing Direct and so on) ; I tried to read and gain more depth on the theme in the event aftermath and to structure my perplexity concerning the almost complete absence of gamification (in the diverse senses of the term) in the case studies presented. My reflections follow.

Brand Storytelling

As Andrea Fontana brilliantly noticed during the event, story-telling is not necessarily history-telling. Not all brands have an interesting story to tell, and interest is relative and easily overrated. But once attention is gained, storytelling can empower the brand with its narrative value, which may be considerable.

Brand storytelling’ major risk is its self refentiality, and in the cases presented this issue has not always been met. This links storytelling with the problem of engagement. My hypothesis is that the engagement problem can be met by blending storytelling with a particular notion of gamification.

Two notions of gamification

The term “gamification” has taken negative connotations because of the superficiality with which the issue is presented. Equating gamifying with “introducing badges and points” over an existing presentation can more easily introduce further problems rather than easing engagement. A symptom of being led to a false track is when the example considered is Four Square (which has mechanics which are valid only for its specificity, and also has retention problems).

Gamification that is just introducing “badges and scores” appeals to extrinsic motivations; I call it “black hat gamification”:

Black Hat Gamification
Definition. Adding points, badges, leaderboards & incentives to an existing application in order to increase addictiveness.

But an alternative definition is White Hat Gamification:

White Hat Gamification
Proposal. Gamifying means creating an application that defines a meaningful narrative through game design elements and… it is not a game (though it should be fun).

Narrative in games helps in building game depth and maintaining coherence in the (complex) game design and production process.

Good in depth analyses of gamification can be found here, by Sebastian Deterding. I’ve also already talked about the two notions of gamification here.

Storytelling for gamification

Jesse Schell AOGD
From  the definition above we see that storytelling is the core component of the gamification process: together with game mechanics it can lead to engaging ways to talk and interact with brand stories.

Gamification for storytelling

One note repeated in the course of last week’s meeting is the fact that  players – ups, sorry, users, demand more interaction, and spontaneously produce contents and stories.

Future of Storytelling

In this (PDF) interesting survey about future story experience, the four lenses selected for analyzing a campaign are immersion, interactivity, integration and impact; and on the first three points white-hat gamification can be immediately effective.

Future of Storytelling

So we go full circle: stories are at the core of gamification, and gamification can generate engagement in brand storytelling, which is one of the problems that the campaign presented probably have to deal with.

Moreover white-hat gamification can help easing access to complex stories, as experience and user interface.

To follow me on gamification and storytelling I’m on Twitter here.

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