Pixar’s Timeless Rules for Content and Storytelling

When Pixar released new marketing material for their upcoming 2013 film Monsters University, it made me ask myself: Has Pixar ever released a bad film? Sure, not all of them have experienced the same level of blockbuster success, but I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Pixar short or feature length and not been satisfied.

pixar with characters

Pixar’s storytelling ability is timeless and is able to target all demographics. While storytelling might seem like a different craft from marketing, the truth is that marketing is storytelling. Our brands have a story to tell, and both social media and online content provide platforms for that story. According to Forbes, the strongest brand marketing teams have the ability to tell stories effectively.

Fortunately, storytelling rules aren’t exclusive for the elite. Last summer, one of Pixar’s storyboard artists, Emma Coats, tweeted some of the company’s storytelling guidelines. Though a year has passed since the original tweet, these principles are just as relevant today as they were in 2012.

Storytelling Rules for Brands

In marketing, your brand becomes the main character, the problem your services and products are trying to solve is the antagonist, and your journey to solve that problem is the plot. When you soak in these tips from Pixar, simply translate them from storytelling into brand marketing and you’ll be amazed at how much more focused your marketing efforts will seem!

For the Birds - PIXARFirst, consumers admire brands for more than their success. In other words, audiences are more likely to support brands that put customers, social responsibility, and other initiatives over their bottom line. In fact, research has shown that consumers overwhelmingly back brands that support social causes and have a sense of corporate responsibility.

What are the stakes? Just as a character in the story must face incredible stakes for the audience to become engaged, there has to be a something at risk for your brand’s story to succeed. The only difference is that in brand marketing, the stakes are on the side of the consumer. You must effectively point out that they have a problem that only your brand can solve. Regardless of industry, define exactly why consumers need your brand to live a productive life.

What’s interesting for you isn’t what’s interesting for your audience. For many writers, it’s tempting to write something overly creative, engaging, and complicated, but what “artistic” people enjoy isn’t necessarily what mass audiences can identify with. The same principle applies to brand marketing. Take Apple for instance. They’re passionate about technology, specifications, and how they can improve their products. Intel HD graphics, turbo boost, dual-core and quad-core Intel processors, MHz memory specifics, and much more are what engage Apple engineers. Do you think these same things interest most consumers? Heck no! That’s why Apple’s marketing simplifies technical concepts into broad chunks of information that consumers can absorb. Likewise, simplify your message and remember that what interests you likely won’t interest your customers. Experts and consumers are two different audiences, and should be treated as such.

Aiming for a theme is important, but the story is more important – the theme can wait. While many writers begin focusing on the theme and specifics of their story, one problem remains: Their story isn’t actually complete. Brand marketers similarly struggle with prioritizing their efforts. Whether you’re blogging for business or preparing a campaign of television ads, determine the purpose and message of the campaign before trying to get creative with how you can get the message across. After all, planning a theme or ad concept could be time wasted if the story created isn’t conducive for those methods.

What’s the essence of your story? For brand marketers, the essence of the story is likely going to be the essence of the brand. Consumers connect with brands that have distinct personalities. According to iMedia Connection, there are 4 distinct personalities that a brand can fall into. Have you discovered yours?

To view Pixar’s entire list of 22 storytelling rules, check out their poster here. Simply remember to translate the tips for storytellers and apply them to your efforts as a brand marketer, where your brand is the main character.

Have you incorporated Pixar’s 22 rules into your campaign? If so, we’d love to hear about it below!


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Daniel Chioco is a writer living in Nashville, TN. He earned his Commercial Music degree at Belmont University, where he also studied creative writing and wrote for the student newspaper. When he isn't creating content, Daniel works as an actor and films YouTube videos. He is also a freelance musician and is authoring his first fantasy novel.

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