Technology and the  Art of Storytelling


Technology and the  Art of Storytelling

Scott Donaton

I’ve never been a fan of technology for technology’s sake.

Back in the early days of the web, I ran the online edition of what was then one of the largest-circulation magazines in the country. At an editorial planning meeting, a senior reporter presented a plan for a cool graphics package. “Can we make the pictures spin?” a designer asked.

Why would we? “Because we can.”

With most new technologies, there’s a tendency to do things not because they make strategic sense or somehow move things forward but because we can. Brand marketers are particularly susceptible to this; they want to be the first to do something—anything—mostly so they can issue a press release saying they were the first to do it. What typically follows is a series of copycat moves by those in other categories until someone unexpectedly (even accidentally) does something with the technology that takes advantage of its ability to create a unique consumer experience.

This headlong rush to the new can make it difficult to separate substance from hype. Which can lead to some pretty poor investment decisions involving technologies whose promise fails to materialize.

Virtual reality is not one of those technologies.

With good reason: VR is poised to transform storytelling, and that’s a good thing.

At CES 2015, there was much talk about VR, but with that talk came a sense that its commercial adoption was still far down the road. Less than a year later, many of those forecasts already seem conservative. VR is in its infancy, but the moves being made by many of the world’s best creators, largest publishers, and most innovative technology players are optimistic indicators.

With good reason: VR is poised to transform storytelling, and that’s a good thing.

This is not technology for technology’s sake, although Brian Cooley, whip-smart editor at large for CNET, drew laughs by showing a video in which, after participating in a VR demonstration, London Mayor Boris Johnson blurted, “This is superb . . . what’s the point of it?”

The point is to immerse audiences in new worlds, to bring them into stories rather than have them be passive observers. As Mr. Cooley said, “VR will move us from engagement to empathy.” Which will move its uses beyond the obvious (video games) and into such areas as immersive journalism and travel marketing.

Augmented reality also holds tremendous potential for brands, thanks to its ability to overlay information and entertainment onto a real-world view.

Overall, few of the new technologies displayed at CES can fulfill their promise without content. The next billion mobile users matter because they represent an untapped audience. Connected cars will create new opportunities to entertain drivers freed from gripping the wheel, turning autos into media centers. And 4K TVs require 4K content.

What was most exciting at CES 2016 at the end of the day wasn’t the technology but the new ways it will allow us to create, tell, consume, and share stories.

Scott Donaton

Scott Donaton


Scott leads our content practice, partnering with clients to tell their stories in innovative ways. Donaton launched and leads Digitas Studios, which develops unique custom content initiatives, strategies, and business models for clients.


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