Creativity Without Narrative Structure

A couple of weeks ago, Team Trove went on an outing to watch Knight of Cups, a movie written and directed by Terrence Malick and starring Christian Bale. 

After over two hours of creepy voice overs and clip after clip of a brooding Christian Bale, the movie was finally over and it led to an interesting discussion on the use of narrative structure in film. We concluded that creativity without narrative structure-whether in movies, commercials, etc.- comes off as either pretentious, lazy, or just bad.

Here's why it's important to bind creativity to the limits of narrative structure:

Narrative Structure Gives Your Viewer a Sense of Knowledge

Many clients come to us thinking that the best way to give audiences a comprehensive look of their product or organization is through the use of what's called a highlight reel. Highlight reels are videos that are comprised of short video clips, music, and graphic text. It's like a really well produced slide show. While we love producing highlight reels, and we can make them look really good, viewers are left knowing only what they've been presented with. Once you add narrative structure such as interviews, a scripted voice-over, or a scripted visual, viewers get a larger sense of your message and brand. Watch the following two videos for the same organization we produced. While both looked visually engaging, the highlight reel serves as a quick introduction of the organization, while the vision video gives you true insight to what the organization is all about. 

Narrative Structure Gives Your Viewer a Sense of Direction

Knight of Cups was visually stunning. No complaints there. 15 minutes into visually stunning, however, and we started to wonder, "What's this movie about?" and "What are they getting at?". After a slew of short interactions among the characters and ominous voice overs, we gathered the message centered around greed, selfishness, and the transient nature of life. If your viewers are working so much to gather your message, chances are they've already stopped watching. When you harness creativity and add powerful narrative structure, audience members feel like they are on the same page. They become invested. They go where you go. 

Here's how Under Armour leverages beautiful, creative cinematography and adds narrative stucture right at the end to engage viewers.

With simple graphic text and matching footage, Under Armour ups the highlight reel with a compelling narrative: "It's what you do in the dark, that puts you in the light". They marketed hard work, practice, and strength to those who desire to be hard workers, experts, and strong individuals.

Narrative Structure Gives Your Viewer a Sense of Understanding

The film industry will be a timeless industry as long as the bulk of films resonate with viewers in a deep and personal way. What was frustrating about Knight of Cups is that the narrative structure was so absent that we didn't know what we should feel for the characters and why we should feel a certain way. They were distant. Cold. Unrelatable. When creating a promotional or commercial video, you want to appeal to emotional experiences. Have viewers understand that your purpose is to serve them with your product or services because of a mutual emotional experience. 

Spending advertising dollars on several platforms isn't enough anymore. As Principle Product Manager for Adobe, Asa Whilock, recently pointed out: "Devices don't buy products. People do". Digital marketing agencies are collaborating with advertisers to reach more of the right people. But, what good is that reach if you don't capture them?