Story Worldwide's Cheyfitz Channels The Spirit Bison

What was the first example of storytelling as marketing? That would be the famous spirit-guide bison cave painting in Lascaux, France. Kirk Cheyfitz, speaking at Talk NYC's Engage Digital Storytelling conference, used that image to launch his own narrative on why digital storytelling -- a very new word with a very old one -- must augment, or maybe replace advertising. 

The founder and president of content agency-turned ad agency Story Worldwide, offered a stern warning: digital media has forced a culture change for publishers and brands, those who don't realize that — and few do — will end up in much worse shape than your average cave drawing.

What about the spirit bison? "It's the first content marketing ploy in history. The cave drawings were created communally to bring meaning to a chaotic world; drawn by a shaman to telegraph his powers to the people so that he's elevated and in that act of elevation, the village and tribe members increase his power every time they retell it." 

His first point is that the "meta mission" of all stories is to create meaning, and the publisher had better figure out how to do that because it is losing its role as link between consumer and brand. "We are entering an era where intermediaries between audience and brand aren't that necessary or valuable any more. If an audience can have a direct relationship with brand, why do they need the indirect?" he said. "Brands want their own audience, they don't want to borrow an audience from other people."

And he points out that with the democratization of media (at least until it stops being democratic), both brands and publishers are easy to ignore. "Everyone, in fact, is easy to ignore." But brands also have real opportunities around content as the authority of organizations owning digital networks crumbling. He offered up Chipotle's parodic "Crow Foods" dystopia animation about factory farming as an example of how a brand can create content that one-ups traditional news generating media. "This is a fast-food restaurant preaching to us about factory farming, and it has garnered something like 12 million views. And it's probably a better story on the evils of factory farming than what someone like CBS could do."

It's also an example of how audiences can do the heavy lifting for a brand. "If you can get them to repeat your story, you have something going. And it's a lot cheaper than an ad agency. But if you are going to do this post-advertising you have to respect your audience and their needs." 

The short takeaway brief: For publishers, he said, selling eyeballs shouldn't matter, selling storytelling services should. For agencies: integrate everything around a story that people will listen to. "Brand agencies who don't think the audience is just a bit more important than the brand aren't doing the brand a service. Brands have to publish, publishers have to be agencies, agencies have to be integrated around stories, delivery has to be personalized on the fly, analytics have to be perfect and everything has to be always on." 

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