Even Shorter Stories: Life in 140 characters or less


A few years ago, while waiting for the salesman in a shoe store, I noticed a guy picking up a pair of bright orange Nikes from the shelf. His eyes widened and his face lit up. He rushed his prize over to his girlfriend and exclaimed ‘I’m getting these!’ The girl looked at them, back at him and winced. Immediately, the guy shrugs: ‘Yeah. They’re not that cool’ and puts them back.

Pretty mundane scene. But this simple 5 second interaction between two people is a demonstration of what makes us buy (or in this case, not). Had his girlfriend not been there, the guy would be running out the door sporting bright orange on his feet, but in this case approval won over want.

Today, I wouldn’t have seen this interaction. Why? Because I would be looking down at my phone, updating my Twitter or Facebook status or checking out those of my friends’. This little exchange happened before the first iPhone or smartphone came out (Yes. Life existed before that).

As creatives in advertising, we are storytellers. We tell the stories of brands and of the people who brands would like to talk to. Storytelling is the result of what our industry calls ‘the human truth’ – the insightful, often unspoken emotion we share at a particular moment in time. Our job is to identify those insights and express them in a way that doesn’t sound like an after school special.

Only 5 years ago, the majority of those stories were told in 30 or 60 second intervals with a story arch, music, cinematography. Today, half of the junior creatives I work with don’t own TV. We’ve moved on to mediums where states of happy, sad or confusion are expressed in 140 characters or less and a Twitpic. We create apps, mobile web sites, and videos solely for online consumption – content that competes with the other millions of gigs of content out there that consumers seek out, content not served up with a major logo behind it.

So how do we tell stories now? The thought-leaders and techgeeks in our business have embraced the shift from one sided messaging to two way communication and developed apps upon apps and beautiful utility. We live with a phone permanently attached to our hands; everything we can think of doing, ‘there’s an app’ for it. Technology has built upon itself faster in the past 3 years than in any other time in our industry – and that’s an incredibly exciting precipice. But like little kids with a new toy, a lot of us (I’m 100% guilty of it) have become tunnel-visioned and enamoured by the shiny, forgetting that at the end of it all we must make a human connection.

While we lunge headfirst into embracing utility, we can’t forget that we are storytellers. Utility without a story is function without form. I’m not talking about a story in the traditional sense with a protagonist, antagonist and an arch; I’m talking about a human truth. The ‘why’ behind everything we create. Sometimes that answer is as simple as ‘it’s stupid-funny’. Perfectly legitimate for the right audience. (example: the fart app on the apple app store was the top selling app for a long time.) But sometimes, we have to go a little deeper to build a brand. The need to tell stories hasn’t changed. The medium has. Adapting to that change opens up infinite possibilities for creative expression.

So back to the sneaker incident then. These little observations of life are human truths that play out all around us, everyday. In order to create insightful utility, we have to look up from them once in a while. The lateral leaps we make from observing human behavior is the elusive ‘magic’ that is constantly being analyzed by people not in the creative business. Those seemingly random leaps are what we bring to the table. If we only read newsfeeds and retweets as observations on life, we are missing half of what makes our synapses fire. (As as aside, it’s why the idea of the Knot Collective is interesting to me: a place that facilitates lateral thinking.) So let’s look up the next time we’re waiting around with ‘nothing’ to do. Look into other people’s shopping carts on line at the grocery store instead of reading another link another ad ‘rockstar’ is retweeting. There’s plenty of time to do that when we’re at home. Instead, look at the unspoken, beautiful interactions between people – glances, touches, body language – things that cannot be neatly packaged as status updates and quippy one-liners. This is what will help us all make better virtual eye contact.

Article Info
Posted by: Caprice Yu
Thinking About: Advertising / Branding / Creativity / Culture / Design / Interactive / Strategy / Technology
Location: NY, NY
Website: http://todayimade.posterous.com/
Twitter: @capricey
  1. Steve Peck

    Thanks for the needed reminder to stop and smell the roses. It’s really easy to use every waiting minute to check a newsfeed or update a status instead of living in the real world. The little moments are what make life so great!

  2. Jay

    I think it’s more about opening your eyes to observe life happening around you to gain insights…than it is about just stopping and appreciating life.

    This post is more about stopping and smelling those roses (literally): http://alexbogusky.posterous.com/my-first-flower-1

    • Caprice

      It’s true in both respects – taking time out to appreciate the moments but also as a way to gain insight to make our work more human. That’s always been the most interesting part of advertising/marketing to me: it’s part sociology, part psychology and the best ads (in whatever form) hit the right emotion (in whatever way) without us even realizing why.

  3. henry

    Agree, agree, agree.
    I write a blog called ‘noticing’
    Noticing the world around is important – it’s this continual bombardment of stimulus that lights up our minds and triggers new insights and ideas.
    Problem is, when you can get so much bite sized stim in the palm of your hand through your impossibly connected smart phones you can get lazy, transfixed by ‘the screens’ in your life.
    In the last year or so I’m guilty of this – I’ve done less noticing – just have to look at my blog – it takes effort to stop and take a look around. But that’s where life really happens.

  4. Caprice Yu

    it’s very true that it takes effort to stop and take a look around. i find that i have to stop myself from reaching for my phone as soon as i’m standing still. it’s become second nature to do reach for it.

    because of the way we find our ‘connections’ now, it seems that our observations have become more vertical instead of horizontal. we know a lot of tiny bits of info about a group of people that we’ve *chosen to follow. likely, these people are found through friends or industry connections – so our observations are narrowed by interest. when we stop to look around, we don’t know what we’ll see. we may see something that disgusts us or spark something that pops our immediate bubble. it creates completely random thoughts.

    i wonder then, what our vertical observations will do to the way we develop communication – when you know so much about a specialized segment of people, does that segment evolve faster? does that widen the divide between the 10% and the 90%?

    would be interesting to check out your blog if you don’t mind sharing the address on here!

  5. Aaron


    Thanks for highlighting the most profound question regarding our very own connectedness beyond the screens. Now more then ever I find people look but don’t see and that we are in a way losing our human connection to things. And I think people need to be reminded of that feeling beyond the screen. After all what is all this connecting really all about if it doesn’t lead us to real people and their stories. So thanks for sharing this one with me or should I say with us.


  6. Caprice Yu

    Cool premise for a blog Henry. Thanks for sharing it and the shout out. It’s great to see what you’re noticing in a completely different city than where I am… like I’ve got eyeballs there now!

    Aaron, that’s the key isn’t it? All this connecting online is supposed to help us know people better. If we don’t look up, then the ‘circle’ gets smaller and our perspectives get smaller and we end up recycling the same info. Fresh thinking comes when we get new stimulus and the world beyond our screens is filled with them.

  7. Juegos

    Brilliant!, I ran across your web on Google and I just now subscribed

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