Storytelling continues to grow in importance and prominence in marketing. But marketers are just now learning what writers and content creators like animators have known for a longtime: storytelling is an art, not a science.
Recently, I had the chance to talk with Allen Mezquida, the creator of Smigly (who, I have unabashedly admitted, is my latest crush). Smigly can be found on YouTube with regular installments coming as fast as Allen can create them. Smigly first came to my attention with this oh-so-true animation about social media which to date has been viewed over 68,000 times : Smigly-Noise
I asked Allen some questions about storytelling; his answers are honest and sans any of the usual marketing blather. Thanks to Allen for telling his stories and telling it straight!
What do you think is at the heart of great storytelling? I’m speaking as an audience member when I say a personal story or observation always works for me. A one note gag or a storyline based on another type of story doesn’t have the depth or resonance. I want to hear a personal point of view. If it’s funny and has heart than I’ll probably watch it more than once. This is tricky because it’s much harder to pitch an original story than it is to pitch something that is just like some other new thing or fad. Clients often want something that is like something else that they know so they can feel secure but the fact is it will never be as good if it’s a replica. There’s an art to pitching that I’m still working on but I have a body of work now that is fairly clear. That said…today a potential client wanted to know if SMIGLY could happily waltz off into the sunset to make people happy. I said— “You’re telling me you want Lucy to NOT pull the football away from Charlie Brown? Are you kidding me?”
They got the message. I’m not sure if I got the gig though. Ha.
What can marketers and social media professionals learn from Smigly? A lot of marketeers told me that I had to put out content everyday or at least a few times a week. Each episode of Smigly takes about five weeks yet the audience has grown steadily and is very loyal. I think the lesson here is how important quality is over quantity. The only thing that matters is that people are moved enough to keep spreading the word. This is the essence of new media. That said…I look forward to the day when a staff of animating elves can help me bang these out quicker.
You got a lot of coverage from the social media world on the Smigly cartoon poking fun at social media, how did you feel about the social media community’s response? Everybody related to it in some way. That’s what I hoped would happen. Nobody went into denial which is usually the case when you’re talking about addiction.Â To me that cartoon was more about the flaws of human nature than the evils of technology. I do have my problems with technology but that will be in other episodes. It’s the human flaws that are funny to me.
How did you create Smigly? What was the inspiration? As an animator you’re always executing other people’s ideas. It’s tedious especially when the ideas are trite or cliched. I wanted to tell my own stories. These stories had to do with how harsh the modern world can be. It’s a soul-crushing shit storm out there if you have any kind of sensitivity. I think we’re all much more sensitive than we want to admit. We’re all Smigly at some time or another.
What was your goal in putting the Smigly animations on YouTube? I wanted to distribute it to as many people as possible and slowly build an audience.
How long have you been a professional animator? I’ve been an animator for about seven years. Before that I lived in New York City and traveled the world as a jazz saxophonist. I still play because I love jazz and also use my music in the Smigly animations. Yes, Smigly plays saxophone. Poor Smigly.
Do you think the YouTube culture empowers or disenfranchises content producers? It’s still evolving but it revolutionized the distribution system. It gave the power back to the creators. There are Smigly fans in the Far East. That’s amazing to me.
How do you feel when companies approach you for viral work? It doesn’t suck. I’m skeptical by nature because a lot of companies think new media is a bulletin board for their commercials. You can’t just say it. You have to get the people to say it to each other.
What advice do you have for marketers who want to work with YouTube content creators on viral programs? If you like their content let the creator do what they do. You’re paying for the eyeballs that they have viewing their content. It’s not smart to mess with that. Check their stats though. What is the age group of viewers? What is the Male/Female ratio? Do the videos travel beyond Youtube and get embeds on Facebook and other content aggregates? All this information is available.