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Data Empowers Emotional Storytelling At Pixar

In marketing, in the movies, and in life, the best story always wins, according to Matthew Luhn, story veteran at Pixar.

This quest to be the best storyteller, whether it is for a blockbuster movie such as Toy Story or a marketing campaign, revolves around a single skill, he told Dmexco delegates. It is summed up in the well-known saying that people will forget what you told them, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Hence Luhn revealed that he saw his job as storytelling at Pixar as alternating between either trying to make people laugh or cry. And to achieve that, people are often surprised to hear that data is the key.

“We reached a point at Pixar where we knew how to draw hair, faces, and clothes that were very lifelike, but we realised something during Toy Story,” he said.

“At one point, Woody moves his eyes, and you immediately connect with him because you know exactly what he’s thinking. So we got psychologists and gesture experts to come in and teach us about expressions and eye movements. Then we learnt about how the brain works, for Inside Out.”

The result is Pixar films have an edge in relaying emotion to audiences, which deepens engagement. For Luhn, this notion of using data garnered through deep research is a point digital marketers would do well to take on board.

“If you want to tell stories about life, you’ve got to live life,” he said. “We do this through a lot of research. Many of the characters in Cars are based on a research trip we took down Route 66, and we took a lot of time to explore Paris and learn to cook French food for Ratatouille. Everything we do is based on research, on the data. It’s what builds the emotional connection.”

This lesson is summed up, he believes, in Walt Disney’s mantra that to do fantastic things based on “the real,” you have to know “the real.” So while marketers, just like movie makers, need to be great storytellers, the way they tell those stories and how they form an emotional connection with audiences aren’t just about gut feel, Luhn insists, it’s about the data too.

For more of CMO.com’s coverage from Dmexco, click here.

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