The Audience Talks Back: The Power and Promise of Dynamic Storytelling

Posted by Sunni Thompson on August 6th, 2014 at 7:23 am

An overwhelming amount of research has been devoted to how much digital technology has changed our physical world, from the size of our computers to the power of our phones. But technology also changed our creative world in that audiences are no longer behind an invisible barrier to those doing the creating – technology has torn down that barrier and forced creators of culture and consumers of culture to mingle together.

All of a sudden, audiences had a public forum to respond to any and every creative product, from journalism and advertising to art and film. This has built a very dynamic relationship between creator (writer) and consumer (reader). The smart creators – the agencies, the media companies, the brands and the artists – have already started to figure out how to factor audience response into the creative output, ultimately resulting in a dialogue.

The dialogue between creative product and audiences has drastically changed our approach to storytelling. Brands, advertisers, journalists, Hollywood – we all must leave behind the old static storytelling style, and embrace this dynamic storytelling, where the story is open and available to adaptation over time due to audience input.

The best creative embraces the idea that the audience has a story to tell, and provides them with an opportunity and platform to collaborate on a bigger scale. Volkswagen won big at Cannes in 2013 with their "Building the People's Car" project, where the company solicited car designs and ideas from their consumers in China to crowdsource an automobile.

Over on the fine arts side of the creative map, 2010's Johnny Cash Project launched a thousand imitations. While groundbreaking through its use of crowd sourcing to tap into the artistic skills of thousands of music fans, future iterations of this concept will need to be more multi-dimensional in order to build on the emotional connection to music and art.

To me, an offline version of the dialogue is Tilda Swinton exhibit at the MoMA, "The Art of Napping." By creating voyeurs of the people who attended her performance art piece, she automatically made them part of the story and part of the art. It's an example of how the wall that technology has torn down between creators and audiences is being torn down in the real world as well.

The looming death knell of newsprint is prompting some incredibly innovative and collaborative story telling from those that chronicle our daily lives: MIT's Sandy Storyline, the NY Times' Your Biking Wisdom in 10 Words and Black Gold Boom are all fantastic examples of how to expand our definition of who tells a story to whom.

The collaboration between those that create culture and those that consume culture has the potential to advance storytelling in ways we have yet to explore. It's a risky proposition: opening the door to both the positive and negative in terms of audience reaction and input. But the benefits are enormous, if not only for the sense of ownership traditionally passive audiences will now feel for the art, journalism and advertising they've helped create.

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