Storytelling is hardwired into how we make sense of the world around us.
Whether it’s about a product, origin story or cause, every brand has a story to tell. They have the power to inspire supporters and build new audiences, by tapping into our desire to be moved and our insatiable appetite for discovering new perspectives.
But in order for this to work, it has to feel authentic, deeply relevant to the target audience and, above all, needs to have a purpose.
Discovering and capturing stories with purpose is at the heart of what we do at Nice and Serious. We immerse and draw our audience into the narratives we create, allowing the viewer to understand and relate to the core issues, rather than simply identify them.
As an editor, I spend my life deconstructing and reconstructing stories. Over the last 12 years at Nice and Serious, I've directed and edited hundreds of films for purpose driven brands, organisations and charities. I've hand-picked five of my favourites that we’ve produced as an agency, pairing each video with a lesson to create an impact for the story being told.
Decades after coining the famous slogan ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’, Dogs Trust continues to take in hundreds of dogs during the festive period. People buy puppies as presents, without taking into account the implications of owning a dog. We wanted to rekindle the message that a dog is for life and make it relevant to the present
When dogs are brought into rehoming centres Dogs Trust is given a reason as to why they are handed over. We made a film that showed just how ridiculous some of these reasons are by framing them as reasons why someone might break up with their partner. Using humour and a surprising twist, we made sure that the message ‘A Dog is for life, not just for Christmas’, was as memorable as ever.
Lesson 1: The reality is, people want to laugh. Sometimes the best way to cut through the noise and make a serious message memorable is to tap into the power of humour.
Voluntouring programmes often get criticised for their questionable motivations and lack of real, lasting impact. The ICS programme from VSO is a government initiative that encourages young people from all socio-economic backgrounds to take part. To raise awareness of the programme, we created a film that focused on the diversity of the volunteers and the overall impact of the programme, celebrating the value-exchange at the heart of it.
We hand-picked four volunteers and spent time with them to learn about their real life experience. From this, we created a short and succinct script which stayed true to each of their personal stories and conveyed the key message to the audience - that the shared experience of people from different backgrounds and perspectives coming together is invaluable.
Lesson 2: The most authentic stories are found in the lived experiences of your audience. Look to the people impacted by your brand or organisation, and allow them to tell their own story.
Cocoa farmers around the world work in terrible conditions. They get little money for their crops and struggle to support their families, whilst using farming techniques which are harmful to themselves, the land and the cocoa. Rainforest Alliance improves their wages and quality of life, and helps them take better care of their local community as well as the environment.
Rainforest Alliance commissioned us to tell the story of one of the cocoa farmers they support and show the difference it has made to their life. We were very lucky to meet Adrian, a wonderful, charismatic cocoa farmer from the Ivory Coast. Our film crew spent an entire week with him and his family on the edge of the rainforest.
Throughout the film, we all get to know the story of Adrian. Once the film then delves into the message of how he sustainably farms coco, the message resonates more as we are immersed in his life.
Lesson 3: As humans, we want to buy into other people’s stories and experiences, rather than a faceless organisation. Find a hero character who embodies your story, and your audience will feel more connected with the message being communicated.
Technology and artificial intelligence play an increasingly large part in our everyday lives. But should a machine ever be able to decide if someone lives or dies?
Stop Killer Robots approached us with a fascinating open brief - to spread awareness of the dangers of fully autonomous weapons, which are currently deployed by the wealthiest countries across the world. We took the challenge head on, and decided to create a documentary which objectively dissected the subject matter.
We centred the narrative around a social experiment where we presented a diverse selection of people with a series of moral dilemmas to demonstrate that decisions that concern life and death are far too complex for a machine to make. By using real people whose beliefs, backgrounds and lived experiences informed their answers, we wanted to prove that you can’t create an algorithm that always makes the right decision, you can’t code morality into a machine and, most importantly, you can’t program a computer to understand the value of human life.
Lesson 4: Allow your audience to make their own judgement on a complex issue. Keep them hooked till the end by immersing them in all sides of the argument and inspire them to spread the word.
In truth, there isn’t a set formula or format to great storytelling. You can use humour to convey a serious message, you can share real people’s lived experiences to inspire others, or create a script that highlights the absurdity of reality. But in order to create impact, a film needs to have authenticity at its core.
The true purpose of storytelling is to connect with people. Now more than ever, we need impactful stories that move people to take action.