LONDON: Many brands are failing to use social media and digital channels to tell stories effectively because they remain fearful of losing control to consumers, a leading industry figure has argued.

Writing in Marketing, Nigel Clifton, head of creative at Havas EHS, explained that the age-old art of storytelling had changed as new media enabled audiences to participate in the process.

He urged brands to let go and see where the audience itself would take the story. "It is how the unexpected comes to light," he said.

He cited Intel's social film project "The Beauty Inside" as an example. This featured a 20-something man who woke up every day with a new face and a new body, with viewers able to interact with the character via social networking and push the story in different directions.

Giving consumers this role made "for a richer tale and, ultimately, a richer brand", said Clifton. "Brave brands can embrace this approach and empower consumers to be part of the journey of making them better," he added.

But for any tale to work in the first place, "it must fit with, and expand on, what people already believe about the brand and about the human condition", argued Clifton.

He said that stories needed a beginning and a middle, "but then the brand must allow audience engagement to shape the end".

T-Mobile's famous "Dance" flash mob in Liverpool Street station was an instance, he remarked, of a brand story that "went further than T-Mobile could ever have expected" as it set the agenda of the brand's ongoing direction of storytelling using the public to help shape the ending.

Another side of brands' fear of losing control is examined in September's Admap by Dayna Dion, Ogilvy & Mather's cultural strategy director. She suggested that embracing bad news was a way for brands to make themselves "vulnerable enough to be relatable and forgiven for their sins".

It is a road that has been trodden by the likes of Dominos, McDonald's and Ford. "This level of openness tends to scare marketers, but should be embraced as a journalistic storytelling technique that humanises brands and adds to their credibility," said Dion.

Data sourced from Marketing, Admap; additional content by Warc staff