What Marketing Can Learn About Emotional Storytelling The Data-Based Pixar Way

Now here's a surprise for all digital marketers who had no clue how similar their work is to the storytellers at Pixar. Delegates at Dmexco yesterday got to hear from Pixar's 'Veteran Storyteller' (his real title), Matthew Luhn, how the animation powerhouse come up with amazing stories -- but then also how they make them believable. It's here where digital marketers -- particularly those who are working in the art of content and storytelling -- will recognise a kindred spirt.

The key with all storytelling is to truly make your audience feel something, and the way Pixar does this is not necessarily the way you would imagine. It turns out that the secret ingredient is data. Luhn points out that Leonardo da Vinci was an early proponent of using data to help him imitate life. The artist would cut open cadavers to understand how the human form was made so that he could sketch and paint it better. It's exactly the same for Pixar, and it should be too for digital marketers, Luhn contends.

So in the case of Pixar, they hit on something when they realised they could draw hair and clothes more accurately than anyone else, but they realised in one scene from "Toy Story" where Woody, the sheriff, moved his eyes that it instantly connected the audience with him. They could tell what he was thinking simply by recognising the eye movement. The result was that professors and psychologists were brought in to teach the animators everything they needed to know about eye movement and facial expression. This was extended to how the brain works for the film "Inside Out."

The data doesn't get in the way of emotion for Pixar -- it actually helps them tap into it better. By having done their homework, by collating all the data necessary and acting on it, Luhn is able to do either of the two things he sums up as his job -- making people laugh or making them cry.

The lesson for marketers, he believes, is to always remember the famous adage that people will forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel. For this data is key. It doesn't have to be a cold set of figures or learnings that get in the way, but rather a means of understanding audiences and how to connect with them better. If the data tells you a particular form of content that arouses a particular emotion is important to your audience, then go with it. 

Know your audience, rely on data and you can learn to tell stories the Pixar way. And by the way, if you want to do a Pixar for real, there's an unwritten rule. Check out the number plate Woody is holding onto for dear life in "Toy Story" and you'll see it says A113. In fact, check out any Pixar movie and somewhere A113 will appear. it was the building name at a California arts school where nearly all Pixar animators studied. Everywhere you look, then, you'll find a little data insight.

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