How Brands Benefit from Visual Storytelling – Tips from Pixar Alum Matthew Luhn

There can be no doubt that Matthew Luhn is a master of visual storytelling. At only 19, he became the youngest animator to join The Simpsons while in its third season. Luhn later joined Pixar Animation Studios and collaborated on the most commercially successful and well loved movies of our time: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Ratatouille, Up, Cars, Toy Story II and Toy Story III.

From Hollywood to the boardroom, Luhn now advises Fortune 500 companies on how to successfully narrate their brand and connect to an audience through visual storytelling. On September 13th, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia hosted a seminar on digital storytelling and invited Luhn to be the keynote speaker. Mixing popular examples with his own experience, Luhn outlined how today’s brands can craft their own powerful stories that resonate.

Visual Storytelling Makes a Brand
Memorable, Impactful and Personal.

Statistics show that when you wrap a story around something, people remember it. Given the age of short attention spans and media oversaturation, how do we make a story wrapper that sticks?

BE CONCISE

Use as few words as possible. If you can’t explain something simply, you have to go back to the drawing board.

HAVE A GREAT HOOK

What if a rat dreamed of being a French chef?

Sound familiar? Pixar writers knew that people don’t like rats and especially don’t like them around food. What’s more, they don’t like uppity Parisians dictating good taste. Add this up, and you get the unexpected hook of Ratatouille.

What if you could fit 1,000 songs in your pocket?

Steve Jobs knew the importance of storytelling. Before unveiling the first generation iPod, he described the disappointments and drawbacks of his competition’s current technology. With the stage set, he gave his hook to create anticipation for Apple’s revolutionary products.

BE AUTHENTIC

Don’t be clever or snarky. Be vulnerable and honest. Come from a place of truth and passion. Don’t be afraid to be bold because if you try to please everyone, the message will get weaker until no one is affected.

Never state the theme in your story. Make people feel it. This comes down to the old adage, “Show. Don’t tell.” The theme of Finding Nemo was: Being overprotective won’t lead your loved ones to a better life, letting them go will. However, no character beats us over the head by overstating it. Great storytelling has to be subtle. Dory the fish says, “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.”

USE UNIVERSAL THEMES ABOUT CHANGE

Once you’ve hooked an audience, take them on a journey of change, be it striving towards impossible dreams, facing fear of abandonment and learning about love and sacrifice. Your consumer/user needs to play the role of the hero; not your product or company founders.

The Always #LikeAGirl campaign used video interviews where young girls, both before and after puberty, were asked, “What does it mean to do something ‘like a girl?’ How would you run ‘like a girl’ and fight ‘like a girl?’” The videos demonstrate that somewhere in puberty, girls learn that “like a girl” translates to weakness and is meant as an insult. If this was something learned, then it could be unlearned. So campaign creators set out to transform “like a girl” and make it a call for confidence, as in “try, fail, learn & Keep Going #LikeAGirl.”

Stories that are memorable, impactful and personal are about the kind of transformation that inspires us to make decisions towards our own change.

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