Susie Sell
Sep 17, 2012

Charles Dickens on Twitter? What the ad world can learn from the literary legend

ASIA-PACIFIC – Literary legend Charles Dickens would have almost certainly been a regular Twitter user, but even if he is not generating 140-character missives, the ad industry can still learn a great deal from his approach to storytelling.

Charles Dickens on Twitter? What the ad world can learn from the literary legend

In a pre-lunch session on day two of Spikes Asia 2012, Andrew Robertson, CEO and president of BBDO Worldwide, said that in a world where people are barraged with content and messaging, great stories can help organise, make connections and give meaning. 

“That’s why stories matter so much and that’s why they matter more now than they ever have,” he said.

Robertson said the key elements in great storytelling, as evidenced by Dickens, are the need for unforgettable characters and a compelling plot.

A good way to achieve a compelling storyline is to take the advice of Hollywood actor and producer Tom Hanks, who said, “Great storytelling is a process whereby you constantly give your audience surprises and every time you make a surprise it makes complete sense”, Robrtson quoted. An NAB Home Loans ad from Australia provides a perfect example of this kind of approach, he said. 

The third lesson from Dickens is the need to appeal to and entertain a broad population, not just a niche audience.

“In his day, Dickens appealed very broadly and he wrote his cliff-hanging episodes week by week for some of the most popular newspapers of the era,” Robertson noted.

Linked to this is the need to provide some form of social commentary and connect with what is going on in the here and now, he said, highlighting the W+K 'Find your greatness' campaign for Nike.

“It [the campaign] has an unforgettable character, compelling plot, populist entertainment and some form of social commentary; all of those elements in this great commercial from Wieden,” said Robertson.

Robertson concluded that given Dickens ability to use these elements to tell great stories, the literary giant would have almost certainly Tweeted. “He would have seen it as a great way to help with the storytelling,” he said.

Robertson added that many of Dicken’s lines would have been brilliant as tweets, like ‘An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself’.

But of course, perhaps most fitting would have been his line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Robertson concluded.  

Campaign Asia

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