CliffsNotes from Cannes: How to Create a Best-Selling Story

If I counted the number of times certain words were used by presenters at Cannes, “storytelling” and its variations would be at the very top of the list. Storytelling is the talk of the town – yet there is no consistent approach, process or even definition. Seems that you know a good story when you see it or hear it, but it’s not always clear how you get there.

However, after attending sessions full of great storytelling examples from comedians like Conan O’Brien and music artists like Sean “Diddy” Combs to major consumer brands like Chevrolet and social platforms like Wikipedia, I’ve made a few important connections. Here are five observations on what it takes to create not just a story, but a best-selling story in today’s hyper-connected world.

  1. Tell the story quickly. I mean really quickly. One of the most-awarded brands at Cannes, is now telling its story in 10 seconds of video. That’s about the time you’ve taken to read this tip.
  2. disney Be visual, as in one frame. Disney worked with photographer Annie Leibovitz to develop iconic imagery to help build global, Disney brands through its “Disney Dream Portrait Series” that transformed top celebrities like Johnny Depp and Beyonce into beloved Disney fairy-tale characters. What you didn’t know is that Leibovitz did extensive study of each story before choosing how to bring it to life, watching every movie adaptation, reading original, pre-Disney versions when available and condensing it all into single, rich images.
  3.  Crowd-sourced content AND crowd-sourced creative production are a new one-two punch to deliver stories that resonate with consumers. Chevrolet announced from the floor of Cannes that it will no longer focus on Super Bowl advertising and instead is tapping “the world” for video stories, with the winning story being featured during the ultimate expression of great storytelling, the Academy Awards.
  4.  Extreme examples of human good make great stories and win awards. Not just cause marketing, some of the most compelling stories, and award-winners, took human good to an elevated level: saving lives. The PR Lion Grand Prix winner, “Dumb Ways to Die,” speaks to kids and adults through a cartoon and song about keeping themselves safe. A large portion of the Cannes winners across the board told stories that take human good to the highest levels and brands who do it right are getting great recognition.
  5.  Real challenger brands use stories as a primary way to connect with people. In these challenging times, even older, established brands need to take a cue from the upstarts and “speak challenger.” Cannes winners like Oreo and Philips have been around for decades, but have learned to speak like challengers in their storytelling by using juxtaposition, emotion and earned media as primary tools.

Storytelling is hot. While it’s not simple, it’s something every brand can do. Now, let’s get to work on your best-selling story.

Photo credit: