In 1979, Ed Catmull, who was in the early thirties, was given the responsibility to establish and run the Lucasfilm’s new animation studio. Later, the studio was called Pixar.
In 1984, Ed Catmull and his team wanted to showcase and sell their new animation technology’s capabilities to the world. They planned to make a short movie(a two-minute video) and present it at the SIGGRAPH conference.
The initial concept for the short movie was -An android named Andre wakes up, yawns, and stretches as the sun rose, revealing a lush, computer-rendered world. Till that time, most of the animation capability movies were of flying logos or space objects. Character and scenery animation was still a mirage. Ed Catmull and his team hoped that Andre’s character and the proposed lush green environment of the movie would launch the company’s name in a big way.
Here’s the point: Good marketing is NOT about showing your capabilities. It is about how your product/service is different, valuable, and meaningful to customers. So, Ed Catmull team’s idea of showing a character, it’s movement, and rendering a natural scenery made sense.
Unfortunately, there’s a catch. People are too busy to pay attention to your content. In the SIGGRAPH conference, there would be many companies that would show off their animation capabilities. How would you make sure that people remember your product? The research shows that a consumer’s subconscious mind takes most of the decisions. So, it was essential to reach his/her emotional mind rather than the rational mind.
How can a product/service reach the emotional mind of a customer?
One of the ways is to tell a story rather than talking about your product’s benefits/capabilities. Because the benefits target a rational mind & that plays the least role in decision making.
In one of the studies, researchers asked a set of customers to choose one of two products. They found that most consumers preferred a product that had a compelling story tied to it.
So, storytelling is an effective medium to convert consumers into believers.
An essential part of telling a story is to try to hook the customer as early as possible. It means -arouse the curiosity in a consumer’s mind as early as possible and find a way to maintain it.
A good engaging story makes brain release hormones that helps in increasing a consumer’s attention.
Activating curiosity in a customer’s mind has the power to influence consumer evaluations of the product/service, preferences, and behavior. It simplifies a salesperson’s job in selling the product.
So, What did Pixar do?
Ed Catmull had recently hired a young animator by name John Lasseter to help his team in the animation.
The first thing John did was to observe the technical limitations. You either see the constraints as an opportunity or as a problem. John saw those limitations as an opportunity. He loved that challenge. It acted as an inspiration for him. John deliberated on ways to engage the audience through the movie. He glanced at the storyboards. Then, he looked at the character Andre. It prompted him to check out the earliest Mickey Mouse figure.
John observed that the earliest Mickey Mouse had simple geometric shapes. So, he began to re-draw the Andre character and made it as geometric as possible. A sphere for the head, a sphere for the nose, and a sphere for the body.
In the movie, in the character introduction scene, Andre quickly reaches a frightened state, creating curiosity in a viewer’s mind. John knew how to engage a spectator!. He had successfully opened an information gap in the viewer’s mind in that first scene. The frightened face would prompt a viewer to know more about the story. He or she would be ready to give undivided attention to the product.
In the next scene, John shows the reason behind Andre’s fear -A Bumblebee.
Ed Catmull says, “John’s brilliance was in adding a second character to the story -a bumblebee named Wally for Andre to interact with.” This character created the required tension in the story.
In the movie, Andre finds Wally hovering above his face. Frightened, he escapes as Wally gives chase.
John was successful in creating emotional tension, even in that shortest possible time.
Good stories require guided suspense. That’s what keeps a consumer engaged.
While making the movie, Ed Catmull’s team found it hard to render the forest scenes using the existing computing power. They also had a short timeline for presenting the video. The final video had unfinished portions, appearing as wireframe images.
Ed Catmull writes, “When we presented the movie in the conference, we were mortified as those wireframe images appeared on the screen. But something surprising happened. Despite our worries, the majority of the people I talked to after the screening said that they hadn’t even noticed that the movie had switched from full color to black and white wireframes! They were so caught in the emotion of the story that they hadn’t noticed its flaws.”
When you are talking about your product/service’s benefits or features, a consumer’s mind would automatically search for false statements or negative features that might help them to reject your proposal. The chances of people noting the mistakes are very high. On the other hand, the research shows listeners became less skeptical when they heard the product’s benefits through a story.
Ed Catmull adds, “That was my first encounter with a phenomenon I would notice again and again, throughout my career: For all the care you put into artistry(product), visual polish frequently doesn’t matter if you are getting the story right.”
So, Get the story right.
Don’t sell benefits. Tell a story -The story should be about the user, not about your product. It should be about the problems faced by a consumer -how he overcomes those challenges, and in the end, how he is in a better physical and mental state than before. Make the story as engaging as possible -Provoke curiosity and maintain the suspense.
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References: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull, The Pixar Story -Documentary by Leslie Iwerks.