Changing the narrative through global, diverse storytelling

August 20, 2021 | By: Dora Wang, Marketing Manager

Can storytelling change the world?

At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2021, Angelique Jackson, Film and Media Reporter, Variety, hosted a discussion on using diverse stories to help break barriers, connect audiences, and inspire new possibilities. Joining her were three people who are passionate about this idea: Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios; Ukonwa Ojo, Chief Marketing Officer, Amazon Prime Video & Amazon Studios; and Steve McQueen, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker who recently released the anthology film series Small Axe on Amazon Prime Video.

Diverse stories are vital for disproving assumptions that there are only certain types of stories—certain people, certain cultures—that can generate universal appeal. As Ojo described, this approach to storytelling is about "changing the narrative of 'These are the kinds of stories that everybody around the world wants to hear about.' We don't believe that's true. We want people to hear stories from around the world."

Follow their conversation to learn how Amazon Studios is supporting, developing, and amplifying innovative, diverse, and global storytelling.

Steve McQueen, Academy Award-winning filmmaker

Ukonwa Ojo, Chief Marketing Officer, Amazon Prime Video & Amazon Studios; Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios; Steve McQueen, Academy Award-winning filmmaker.

Making stories both global and local

The five films that make up Small Axe take place in a specific setting: London's West Indian community between the late 1960s and mid-1980s. However, audience reception has demonstrated that these films tell stories that can resonate with viewers around the world.

"We believe that story is so powerful and so relevant to people all around the world, not just to people in the UK," said Ojo.

It's a mistake to assume that stories must be either local or global, or that stories can't simultaneously be specific and tap into universal human truths. In reality, the creativity and authenticity of great stories can reach audiences far beyond their original environment. Small Axe’s collection of five films shines a light on a historic movement in Black British history, and are just as timely and relevant today as they were in their time.

McQueen adds, "The local is global. That's the huge thing. It's not a specific; it's actually a global universal." These stories of struggle, triumph, and community are both specific and universal, and will resonate with anyone who has fought against injustice around the globe.

Amazon Studios as a global storyteller

Storytelling is at the heart of Amazon Studios. "We're disruptors; we're innovators; we're lovers of stories," said Ojo. "And we want to introduce that to as many people around the world as possible. And for us to be able to do that, we have to tell stories that are relevant to different people around the world [...] We want people to hear stories from around the world."

That's why it's key for Amazon Studios to work with talented creators like Steve McQueen and support their creative vision. Global stories must be given the support to help them be heard.

"Whether we're creating global tentpoles that will speak to an audience globally, or we're creating more specific shows and movies that are coming out of individual territories," said Salke, "the goal is the same that those stories will grow outside their own territory and touch the hearts and minds of people all over the world."

Amplifying the reach of stories around the world

to maximizing that reach is understanding how to promote the story, how to spotlight the power of the story and connect with the audience.

"We believe that all art exists to move you in some way," said Ojo. "And so a lot of the work that we do is excavating that and trying to understand: What is the emotional hook that this has, and what do we want people to feel in that process?"

That understanding informs the marketing. "Marketing at its deepest point is very empathetic," Ojo pointed out. "We spend a lot of time really understanding our customers [...] just understanding who they are."

Marketers need to know their audience as deeply as they know their product in order to make the connection with the audience authentic and compelling. Ojo added, "The most powerful campaigns and communications are the intersection between brand and culture," and finding "the strongest intersection points are between what we're trying to say and what they genuinely really care about."

Activating a global audience

The impact of meaningful, story-centered, culturally relevant marketing can't be overstated. "What's really powerful about that is when you stay true to the community and you're able to bring them along for the journey. Not only do you get them as customers, but what is even more powerful is you get them as advocates," said Ojo.

And it's not only the viewers who feel this; storytellers do as well.

"For other people from the outside looking in," McQueen commented, the global success of stories like his can help them realize that they can do something similar, telling specific stories that reach across the world. They think, "'Oh my goodness. My story is important too.'"