The following is a guest post from Shachar Orren, chief storyteller at Playbuzz.
All the talk at this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) about the future of television couldn't come at a more appropriate time: Netflix recently took a big step in that future's direction. By now, the video streaming platform's interactive "Black Mirror" episode, "Bandersnatch," has likely been watched by millions of subscribers, all of whom had to make a choice between Frosties and Sugar Puffs for the main character's breakfast, and then determine his fate on a few slightly more crucial and life-changing narrative intersections.
Whether you think of interactivity as the future of storytelling or view it as nothing more than the gimmick du jour, one cannot deny the attention and curiosity surrounding this much-hyped choose-your-own-adventure-style production, with dozens of reviews dissecting every on-screen moment and possible ending.
At the same time, it's hard to ignore the format's limitations. The current technology Netflix deployed did not provide for a seamless experience. Viewers must wait several long seconds after picking their desired answer for the plot to move forward, and the multiple narrative options require a costly and lengthy production, which will likely make it difficult to scale, leading to its continued gimmicky reputation.
It may not be the right fit for every campaign, as much of interactive storytelling's power is in its ability to stand out among the majority of static or passive content. But the magic in making audiences active participants in a story is one brands must keep in their arsenal for when they really want their message to be remembered.
For brands to learn from the success of "Bandersnatch," it isn't simply a matter of incorporating any interactive technology into the next advertising campaign. Brands must consider which interactive formats — quiz, poll, ranking or more — and what content that genuinely engages audiences can help them achieve their marketing goals. The beauty of successful interactive ad campaigns isn't only within that one singular launch; they offer a unique tool to gather additional data about an audience and what motivates them.
Stay memorable — neuroscience says so
Circling back to the first choice viewers face on "Bandersnatch," that infamous cereal dilemma, a scenario of this sort is not just an opportunity for native product placement: It's one that users will actually remember. Neuroscientists have shown that when interactive storytelling requires the consumer to make choices along with motor movements (selecting the desired option, in this case), it strengthens connections between the neurons in their brain, making the content more memorable and impactful than content consumed passively.
A data goldmine
Now here's where things really get interesting. Netflix has always been known for its ability to glean insights into its users' viewing preferences and use that data to create better experiences through unique recommended categories. But now, with interactivity at their disposal, the amount of new data points Netflix can collect about viewers is endless.
Any question asked can teach the streaming platform about user interests — not just which holiday movies they like to watch and at what time, but what flavor of cereal they love, whether they enjoy taking risks, which plot lines they prefer or anything that can be of value. Brands can use online quizzes in a similar way. When you ask your audience questions in a setting that's interesting, meaningful and mentally rewarding to them, you don't need to offer a gift card to incentivize them to answer your questions.
Asking your audience what direction they want a story to go is not just a way to give them a sense of addictive control over the narrative. It's also an opportunity to actually ask an audience what they want and what they prefer, turning branded storytelling into a dialogue, rather than just a one-sided conversation loudly shouting a message. Most importantly, that two-way dialogue helps marketers to get to know an audience even more deeply.