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Coca-Cola At Sundance: A Marketer Explores What's Next In Storytelling

There will be some new players at Sundance this year. Coca-Cola and McCann Erickson, partners in the New Frontier Story Lab, will delve into the evolution of storytelling at the film festival.

What is the future of storytelling? And how can advertisers and marketers use technology to make their brand stories more immersive and interactive? These are some of the questions The Coca-Cola Company and agency McCann Erickson are exploring as the inaugural underwriters of the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab.

The lab was created in October 2011 to support artists developing projects that combine film and new media technologies, and this year marked the first time that the art of storytelling was woven into the Sundance program as a key component. Coca-Cola’s involvement in the initiative and its presence at the film festival highlight the marketer’s own creative shift and the growing overlap between the brand and entertainment worlds.

The New Frontier Story Lab, held in October at the Sundance Institute in Park City, Utah, brought together eight teams of artists from varying disciplines to workshop their projects. Among those chosen to participate were Jigar Mehta and Yasmin Elayat, who were crafting an interactive documentary on the Egyptian uprising titled 18 Days in Egypt; Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, who were developing their comic book series Kill Shakespeare into feature film, game and theater experiences; director Chris Milk, who’s developing the transmedia project, Rome, and Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas, who were working on Question Bridge: Black Males, a transmedia art project aimed at representing and redefining black male identity in America. All of the artists will showcase their work in the New Frontier area at Sundance.

Jonathan Mildenhall, Vice President, Global Advertising Strategy and Content Excellence at Coca-Cola, says the company is placing a priority on learning about, and getting involved in emerging forms of storytelling. “The Coca-Cola Company has been telling compelling stories about our brands for 125 years," says Mildenhall. "We know story. However, it’s the ‘telling’ of stories that is becoming ever more complex and ever more exciting. This is because we have seen two massive shifts. One is the distribution of technology—the other is the distribution of creativity. Everyone is a storyteller, and with technology more and more people have access to tell theirs to other people all over the world. For The Coca-Cola Company to succeed we have to find ways of harnessing all of this creative goodness, inspire this creative goodness and curate this creative goodness.”

Coca-Cola also wants to demonstrate a commitment to learn from and work with all creative industries, Mildenhall says, noting that being a part of the Sundance Film Festival provides the company with the opportunity to establish direct relationships with production companies, directors, writers and producers.

Representatives from McCann and Coca-Cola--Scott Duchon, twofifteenmccann Chief Creative Officer; Michael Harris, twofifteenmccann Chief Strategy Officer; Brian DiLorenzo, McCann Chief Production Officer; and Nick Felder, Group Director, Film + Music Production, Coca-Cola--as well as executives from companies ranging from 42 Entertainment to Google were among the creative advisors on hand during the lab to offer the artists feedback on their works in progress.

Lance Weiler, an entrepreneurial filmmaker known for employing an inventive mix of storytelling and technology in films, including Pandemic, Head Trauma and The Last Broadcast, is also part of the New Frontier Story Lab. Weiler was brought in by McCann and Coca-Cola to take part as a creative advisor, and he continues to take part in a creative partnership with McCann and Coca-Cola--the marketer has announced an ongoing collaboration with Weiler for the next phase of the lab project.

Harris believes he and his colleagues had a wealth of knowledge to offer the lab participants, noting “We’re using technology to tell our brand stories to literally tens of millions of people every second of every day of the year.” While creative advisers from McCann and Coca-Cola shared the expertise they’ve gained over the years, they also used the New Frontier Story Lab as an opportunity to learn how to cultivate new ways of storytelling.

“There was a lot of kinship between people who were trying to figure out things either from the story angle or the technology angle,” DiLorenzo reflects, adding, “It was great to be there at the ground floor with people that inspire you.”

McCann and Coca-Cola will talk in-depth about how they see the future of storytelling and share their findings from the New Frontier Story Lab in a panel at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, January 22. Titled “Exploring the Future of Dynamic Storytelling: The Never-Ending Story,” it will feature McCann Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Linus Karlsson; Coca-Cola’s Mildenhall; Mirada Partner Mathew Cullen; and Weiler. Work created at the New Frontier Story Lab will be shown in an adjoining space.

The Sundance partnership will likely continue in some form, as part of a larger effort on Coca-Cola’s part to foster creativity in its marketing. “In our Company Vision 2020--our strategic plan for the current decade--we declare that in order to maximize shareholder value, we must be perceived as the world’s preeminent marketing organization,” Mildenhall says. “For us, that means constant innovation.”

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