If you want to tell a narrative, you may need a narrator. It’s one of the oldest storytelling tools that exist.
As storytelling becomes enhanced through technology so too will our narrators. We’re increasingly comfortable engaging with fictional digital personas like Alexa and Siri to get us real world information, so it stands to figure our fictional characters should take a giant step into real world space.
Wired captured some of this in a recent article:
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“In the near future, Rivietz thinks, many companies may begin building their own digital influencers, simply because it’s a more efficient way of controlling the message that reaches their target audiences.”
It’s not clear what the rules are for these characters or what ‘best practices’ might be.
For example, while they can break the fourth wall they never need to acknowledge their own artifice. In other words, these CGI characters can take selfies, and know they are posing for the camera, but they appear to have just as much at stake in their self-image as real people.
This is not a new phenomena. The Muppets, for all their meta-humor and interactions with real people over the decades, have a rule that the characters never acknowledge they aren’t real. They are just a different class of person, like children or senior citizens. Just like the Muppets, these new characters will walk among us, or at least, our feeds.
Brands are taking tried and true characters and turning them into modern trans-media narrators. Not sure exactly what I mean. Check out Barbie’s YouTube page. Here’s her latest video, a vlog about how she wants to stop using the word “sorry” as a reflex.
This video is not about plot. This is an empowering message the brand wants to associate with Barbie. The delivery is authentic, even if the CGI is obvious. There’s enough willing suspension of disbelief in watching Barbie go through her vlogs that the message comes through loud and clear. The character in this instance is successful in transmitting her message, perhaps more successful than any real person could be.
We expect to see more brands play in this space. This isn’t your father’s Jolly Green Giant. These characters aren’t meant to sing a tune for a commercial and disappear. They are immersed in the same digital ocean we swim in. We can leave comments for them. They can “like” our content back. They will respond and react to the same real world conditions we are keeping up with.
How will Ronald McDonald react to the latest Marvel movie release? How might Mr. Clean comment on U.S. politics? Maybe The Quaker Oats man has a wicked sense of humor and will tell us a story about his college days. For all the praise the Wendy’s brand has gotten for its Twitter snark, the real jump will be in turning Wendy into a fully formed character we can see interact in the world….. holding a phone…. sending a “real” Tweet.
That’s not to say these new narrators will only have commerce as their goal. In fact, I think there’s potential in mystery, intrigue, drama and more. Students of the web may remember LonelyGirl15, an early YouTube vlogger who turned out to be a character played by an actress. What we are seeing now is the evolution of that moment. How might studios build characters that don’t live on comic pages, but instead are built out on Snapchat or Instagram?