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December 1, 2023   |   5 min read

How to Not Be an NPC 

Level Up Your Brand

As 2023 draws to a close, and we reflect on a year dominated by conversations about AI, our latest thought leadership piece brings focus back to storytelling. Now, more than ever, we find it imperative to distinguish between publishing content for appearances and brand-rooted storytelling. Like an NPC (non-player character) in a video game, void of depth and purpose, performative marketing often fails to forge genuine, enduring connections with the public. In contrast, brands that authentically uphold their core identity while intelligently aligning with brand-relevant trends remain true to themselves and their audience. 

In this article, we'll explore how adopting proactive content strategies and embracing authenticity can shake off the NPC loop of formulaic content publishing. We'll then introduce Storylining as your roadmap to navigating the digital landscape with purpose and authenticity.  
Are you operating like an NPC? Your social team posts on "National Donut Day" yet you're anything but Krispy Kreme.      Working in silos, woke-washing and copying are all ways to not only sever your brand messages, but your credibility and consumer trust.

NPC Activity Vs. Authenticity: Lessons from the Frontlines 

By building a relatable and human brand persona and standing tall for your brand values, your product transforms into a story and emotion people take to heart.  

The Danger of Performative Advocacy 

Bud Light's identity crisis cost a staggering loss of nearly $40 billion in market value following the Kid Rock-spurred boycott of the Dylan Mulvaney Pride Month collab. Nevertheless, the devaluation can't be attributed to the viral uproar alone. Rather, Anheuser-Busch InBev's swift suspension of three marketing executives responsible for the collaboration with the transgender TikTok star sparked a boisterous backlash from the LGBTQ+ community – whom the campaign initially targeted.

The Dylan Mulvaney Bud Light flop emphasizes the critical need for brands to foster genuine, all-in alliances. Authenticity and allyship in a social cause aren't seasonal accessories; it's the very essence of brand integrity and long-standing societal impact. 

Authenticity Is a Dish Best Served Cold 

McDonald's Grimace's Birthday-themed campaign didn't sell a purple milkshake; it sold a heartfelt story derived from its DNA. Going viral on TikTok, the June 2023 activation appealed to the chain's notorious broad customer base, resonating with Gen X and Gen Z in particular. 

The retro undertone of the campaign transported Gen X back to a time when Grimace was a beloved character in McDonaldland. Simultaneously, the design and images tapped into the Gen Z zeitgeist, known for its love for the "Future Nostalgia" aesthetic. Images of Grimace with a DeLorean look like a page right out of the Stranger Things set design cookbook. 

Even more profound, the buzz emerged that the internet hailed Grimace as a gay icon for being born in June, revealing the campaign's unexpected resonance with the LGBTQ+ community. Despite the chain never using the term "pride" in marketing, the chain gave the space for the consumer to make their connection, deepening the campaign's impact.  

Proactive Storytelling 

In true NPC fashion, Bud Light's Pride 2023 campaign collaboration blindly followed generic LGBTQ+ themes with little understanding of the community's aspirations and concerns. In contrast, McDonald's Grimace Birthday Shake campaign exemplifies the power of authentic brand storytelling. By skillfully intertwining nostalgia with a forward-thinking aesthetic, McDonald's has strengthened its connection with its core customers, unexpectedly allying with a new audience as a result. 

What is Storylining?  

So far, this article has communicated what marketers and digital project owners have known for nearly two decades – storytelling and deeper, softer selling messages build longer, deeper impressions on a target audience. However, our Storylining method is not storytelling; it's a solution through which we translate a brand's vision and values through our most fundamental human behaviors. The result generates a playbook to guide content creators and brand activations to intentionally drive impact around perception and sentiment shifts modern brands are after. 
From Pathos to Ethos to Logos

Storylining exercises Aristotle's three modes of persuading human behavior: Pathos, Ethos and Logos. The key to a proactive content strategy is to publish content that seamlessly intersects all three modes. Our Storylining method starts by filtering a brand's core identity and values through five plot points, moving from the emotional to the rational.  
From Enterprise-Level down to Platform-Specific      Whether your marketing objective is to increase your website's search engine rank with a blog series or shift your brand's perception within a key target audience across paid, owned, shared and earned channels, the outcomes of Storylining hold brands true to deliver on the audience expectations.


Ready, Player One? 

To summarize, Storylining has endless benefits. From fostering brand loyalists to preventing brands from falling on fault lines (hello, Bud Light), the method stands as the guiding light in the realm of proactive content creation, aligning brands with their audience and propelling every narrative to be an opportunity for meaningful engagement and mutual growth. We take this approach to extend beyond conversion-focused messaging and static content–and, above all, break free from the stigma of NPC mode. 

Storylining holds brands true to deliver on the audience expectations

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