David Shing (@Shingy), AOL’s “Digital Prophet” gave one of the most inspiring keynote speeches at Interactive Day San Diego (IDSD 2014) on May 16th of this year. As he walked onto the main stage with his zebra pants and blown up hair, we all knew we were in for something great.

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His talk about the need for brands to become humanized to be successful in the digital world was indeed enlightening. In today’s “attention economy”, the ability of a brand to capture consumers’ interests is essential.

Users are faced with an overwhelming number of choices and opportunities from countless social platforms to diverse forms of advertising to online search to wearable technologies. To avoid getting drowned and spark interest, brands need to be unique and have a powerful message and creative storytelling capabilities. But most importantly, they need to understand people and their emotions.

As David Shing reminded us, humans make decisions emotionally then justify them rationally, whether it’s buying a $50 shirt or a $50,000 car. And a recent article in the New York Times, Why That Video Went Viral by Natalie Kitroeff, just happens to confirm that. According to a study led by Rosanna Guadagno, a social psychologist at the University of Texas, participants were more likely to “share” something that triggered an intense emotional reaction.

One of the examples chosen by Shing was a 2012 campaign by the New Zealand SPCA teaching dogs how to drive Mini Cooper cars to clear up misconception about rescue dogs being “second-class animals” and showcasing their true potential.


So the question is, how can brands fully integrate the “human” element and take out the “advertising” in their marketing campaigns?


Creative Storytelling

One of the main points made by David Shing is that brands need to start thinking less about advertising and more about storytelling. Finding your brand’s purpose and voice is the starting point to creative storytelling.

I was also able to steal a couple minutes of his time later in the day to find out more about his own inspiration and thought process to develop powerful brand marketing strategies. During our conversation, I asked him where he himself looks for inspiration to foster his own creativity and come up with campaigns that have the potential to trigger emotions and appeal to people.

One of his answers was “zen writing” or stream of consciousness writing, which focuses on spontaneous, unedited writing. His way is to take only 2-3 minutes and focus your thoughts through a keyword-driven approach to jot down notes and concepts really quickly. Mind Mapping tools are great to use in conjunction with zen writing as they enable you to literally “map out” your ideas and visualize concepts and connections in a unique way.

He also mentioned purpose-driven brands as one of his main inspirations such as Nike, Chipotle or Coca-Cola, which we all know have put a lot of effort over the past few years into building campaigns that tell real stories people can identify with.

If you missed it, check out Chipotle’s “Scarecrow Campaign” from last year (including an animated film and game), which was indeed very inspiring due to its powerful “Food With Integrity” message against factory farming.


2014 is the year of “people marketing”, so it’s time for all of us to put the “human” back into the user.