Faculty Snapshot: Brand Storytelling

By Nicola Brown, MPC2014

Stuck in a storytelling rut? In need of a fresh approach?

Find out about some of the latest research and course development that is exploring storytelling and narrative, and how it could apply to you and your company.

New course uses augmented and virtual reality in storytelling

A new course is coming to ProCom that explores augmented and virtual reality technology in storytelling. Prof. Marty Fink will teach CMN450 Participatory Media next semester, a course in which students will design posters and digital exhibits using AR and VR technologies. Students will also explore other emerging forms of storytelling including 3D printing and wearable technologies.

In this course, and in Prof. Fink’s CMN324 Strategic Storytelling in Industry, students will consider how these platforms allow us to tell new kinds of stories about queer and trans experiences. For instance, students will use video game-design platforms like Twine, which a lot of trans women are using alongside social media to tell new kinds of stories about being trans and about the intersectional storytelling possibilities for reconceptualizing gender. Students will also consider how queer and trans representation is shaping the new kinds of storytelling platforms that are being developed via science and technology.

“I think that with new technologies like 3D printers, no one is quite sure yet what the range of possible applications might be. Our class is going to partner with community-based storytelling projects like AIDS Action Now’s Poster/Virus series to think about how we can tell new stories about HIV in 2017 that counter entrenched narratives of stigma.

I think these emerging technologies can allow people who are often unrepresented in mainstream media to tell their own stories about their own bodies. These stories are different from the kinds of stories told by say, the healthcare industry or the HIV/AIDS non-profit industrial complex. I am excited to use the classroom to expand the uses of these technologies that are still so full of storytelling potential,” Prof. Fink says.

How might your brand or company embrace new technologies to tell the kinds of stories you think are important?

How can the intersection of digital technology and natural urban environments influence our personal branding?

Prof. Matthew Tiessen’s current research project examines the ways urban Canadians – specifically in Toronto – are using mobile and digital communication technologies (such as smartphones, GPS devices, social media, wearable computers, augmented reality) and gamification platforms (such as Fitbit, Nike+, Strava.com, MapMyFitness.com, Trailforks.com) in their everyday lives to connect meaningfully and tell stories about natural urban environments, ecologies and green spaces that permeate Canada’s largest cities.

“These days using digital technologies to shape and communicate our experiences of nature is big business. For example, companies like Apple, Google and Nike are getting into the business of health data acquisition and promotion. This increasing emphasis on connecting our personal and collective health to data monitoring apps designed to generate useful and even entertaining information about outdoor environments while facilitating new forms of ecological immersion is developing alongside a growing body of research confirming the salutary benefits for city dwellers of connecting meaningfully with natural urban environments and green spaces within city limits.

So while there is no doubt that the future will be digitally driven, it will also become increasingly shaped by the relationships among digital technology, urban-nature and mental and physical health. In this near future, stressed out urban Canadians suffering from ‘nature deficit disorder’ will be encouraged by health practitioners, policy makers and employers to immerse themselves in natural environments and urban nature with the logistical support of the digital mapping, wayfinding, social media, visualization and gamification platforms and apps available to them.

In turn, I anticipate that these emerging health practices will increasingly compel individuals to incorporate media and experiences of nature into their own personal brands. This future will be one wherein current distinctions between ‘the urban,’ ‘the natural,’ and the digital are increasingly blurred, and one wherein cities, wildernesses, individuals and communities will become more connected and interdependent.

Digitally connecting with Canada’s natural urban environments has the potential to bring increased happiness and wellbeing to Canadians’ everyday urban lives and will contribute to the development of a more vibrant, healthy and prosperous society. Recent research indicates that the more citizens feel connected to nature and the more they overcome what has been described as ‘nature deficit disorder,’ the more compelled they are to nurture, conserve and take care of the natural features of their urban environments and local communities. For these reasons my expectation is that the future of personal branding and online identity creation will become increasingly ‘green’ as a way, not only of achieving greater health and well being, but also as a way to promote healthier and happier versions of ourselves,” says Prof. Tiessen.

Insights from comic books

Prof. Catherine Jenkins’ research explores the medicalization of comic book superheroes. This is a fascinating topic that reveals how pop culture communication is actually speaking to the evolution of medicine and technology in an accessible way for a popular audience

Last year, Ryerson students explored the connection between comic book superheroes and the history of medicine in a video created for a narrative storytelling course. They suggest that comic book superheroes may serve as a form of moral exploration and guidance through tumultuous medical and technological change.

Comic books are an unexpected genre from which brands could learn new ways to speak to relevant social changes through their own brand ambassadors.