Antonio Nunez: Why Symbols will Define the Next Presidential Election

Flags in America by

Illustration by Christopher J. Ortiz @ChrisJOrtiz

On the TV screen, the passionate crowd sang submerged in a sea of crimson flags. “Look Grandma, look at how beautiful our red flag is”, I cried. I was literally jumping up and down from the joy of seeing the Spanish national soccer team appearing in the grass field.

My grandmother went mad. Grabbing me violently by the shoulders, she stared at me with terrified eyes. “For the rest of your life… don´t ever, ever repeat that word again!¨, she yelled. She realized then that I was trembling. “Son, you don´t say… that R word, you want to say colored”. I was confused: colored could be any color. “Obey. You will understand when you grow up”, she said pointing at me with her index finger.

As a Spaniard, I grew up in a culture that, fifty years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, was still violent, polarized and radicalized. Coexistence and respect were not easy, even among members of the same family. My grandfather was a policeman during the Franco dictatorship. My great uncle, on the other hand, was a Republican who had lost the war against Franco’s front. He was a political prisoner, forced to waste away most of his life in the Puerto de Santa María penitentiary. He was a so-called “rojo”, a red or, as my grandmother wanted me to say, a ¨colored¨.

These past few days, we have been immersed in an important debate around the use of words and symbols in America. President Obama’s use of the N-word in an interview, in which he talked about racism and discrimination, has been controversial. For some people, the context of the conversation legitimated the use of the word. For others, the term should never be used, under any circumstance, and the President committed a terrible mistake by doing so. Another controversial conversation around the topic of symbols is the Confederate flag, still waving in the State Capitol of South Carolina. For some, this flag stands for many noble Southern traditions. For others, it’s a symbol of white supremacy and segregation. Last, the LGBT community finally getting from the Supreme Court the equal right to the most symbolic ritual in modern society: marriage.

Millions of citizens felt the urge to join the debate, especially in social and traditional media were they were trending topics. But no matter how intense and passionate these debates have been, there are still many leaders who do not take them seriously. Too many politicians, CEO´s, journalists, celebrities and opinion leaders prefer to ignore symbols.

There is the “Fanatic of reality” type of leader: people who understand that the symbolic world is dissimilar from the real world, and not intimately intertwined. These “fanatics of reality” disregard debates around symbols as anecdotal “emotional issues” that should not distract society from dealing with “real, tangible problems”. They find debates around symbols a waste of time and social energy. Americans should not be debating around flags or words, but about the economy.

Then there is the “Conspiratorial theory” type of leader, those who consider symbols as distraction weapons, used by obscure groups of interest to manipulate the masses. They understand that participating in debates around symbols is a symptom of ignorance, gregarious behavior or lack of intellectual rigor. Serious people shouldn’t be trapped in conversations around flags.

There is also the third kind of anti-symbolic leader, an even more selfish type: the politician or leader who believes that by not taking sides in the debate, by not making their opinion public, will not loose any potential ally or vote.

I have worked with words and flags, symbols and rituals and archetypes and metaphors in different countries. I have learnt that these storytelling tools are key to all cultures. Symbols are not mere embellishments or sentimental memorabilia; they are cultural fuel that embody the past and help shape the future of societies. As storytelling animals, humans need symbols in order to dream, to be able to connect with others and to work and live together. Culture, a precious connective tissue, is ever-evolving; a corpus of stories and symbols that need to be continually reshaped by people.


One of the most popular memes about the Confederate flag topic in America

Therefore, these discussions around the evolution of symbols are healthy and necessary. As a society with many contrasts, America cannot afford to ignore these strategic conversations, no matter how harsh, radical or polemic they might become.

On the contrary, what I find unhealthy is the myopic or selfish reaction of some leaders, from Presidential candidates to prestigious journalist, avoiding to participate in the debates surrounding these symbols.

Given the number, frequency and high voltage of these types of debates, and how quickly they become trending topics in America, I believe that one of the overarching stories of this upcoming 2016 Presidential campaign will be the coexistence of differences in this nation and the need to update many symbols and rituals. Candidates will need to work on proposals and ideas on how to heal historical wrongs, how to foster tolerance, conviviality and inclusiveness among the varied races, religions and identities of this wonderfully multicultural nation. Those Presidential candidates with vague or elusive answers to the use of national symbols and those who try to manipulate them in their benefit are not only lacking solutions to the problems or being irresponsible; they are also making a big political mistake.

My Spanish grandmother never got to experience the freedom of speech enjoyed in this country. I learnt from her that words, flags and rituals can help to heal the wounds of a nation… or to reopen them. If the power of storytelling through symbols can accomplish so much, our political leaders should not ignore their moral duty to construct social cohesion through them. They better give symbols the importance and respect they deserve for the good of this nation.

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Antonio Nunez: How to find the narrative conflicts for your storytelling

Amy Hempel picture by Unknown Author

Amy Hempel picture by Unknown Author

In order to create effective storytelling strategies, brands must resist their habitual tendency to want the general consensus of the total population. They must instead be bold and put down roots in conflict. It is not about being conflictual for the sake of conflict itself, it is about illustrating a polarizing interpretation of a cultural truth.

This narrative conflict potential should be the new definition for “consumer insight,” not the old “simple universal recognizable truth.” If your consumer insight is universally considered a truth, then it lacks the potential for narrative conflict. The challenge is to find the conflict that a brand can be identified with and go to town with it.

If conflict is the new brand idea, then stories are the new creative campaigns. This is why marketing and advertising professionals tasked with finding stories should learn from research journalists, an occupation profile that needs to be incorporated into our line of work. Planners can learn from reporter’s abilities of observation and research to find scoops. Creative Directors can learn from Editor’s capacity to curate stories. The first should be “storyfinders”, the latter should work as storytellers.

The journalist and writer Amy Hempel illustrated these abilities of observation and curation during an interview for the 166th issue of The Paris Review:

“I don´t feel I have a particularly large imagination, but I do have some powers of observation. Part of it stems from training as a reporter, when you are trained to see the salient points of any situation and see them fast. I can select the one thing that will tell you the most about a character, but this is just from looking around, not from thinking it up. Recently I overheard someone say that she had given a friends of hers a ladder. The gift of a ladder. The reason was that the friend was a woman who’ d just been widowed, and her late husband had been very tall. I’m sure I made a note of that.”

The search for inspiring stories that synthesize a brand’s conflict is becoming the primary activity focus of communication agencies. Advertising agencies are becoming a hybrid between a mythology lab, able to understand conflicts; a newspaper editorial room, able to find the perfect story; and a content producer, capable of making the narration of each and every story spectacular.

You can read the full interview at The Paris Review website here.

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Antonio Nuñez: Storytelling campaigns made to make people talk

Renault UK created a life sized Scalextric race in London featuring the all-electric Renault ZOE.

Nike created a chalkbot to promote their LiveStrong campaign during the Tour de France 2009. While people, in real time, send texts to a web, a robot wrote their messages on the road.

Starting in 2011 the Colombian Ministry of Defense promotes demobilization amongst FARC guerrilla members during Christmas. For their campaigns they set up illuminated Christmas trees in the middle of the forest and invite guerrilla member´s families to send messages to their relatives in capsules distributed by letting them float down the rivers. In the capsules, the families put letters, pictures or small Christmas presents. Their letters usually ask their relatives to demobilize and come home.

It doesn´t matter if these campaign executions look poorly  made or even fake, if they are advertising or propaganda or if they are traditional advertising, guerrilla campaigns or Ideas Bigger than an Ad. They all work because they reach their goal: they make people talk about them. And people do it because the stories have conflict, they are full of emotions and sensations and they contain truth. Let your story spread the word.

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Antonio Núñez: El futuro del storytelling según Coca-Cola

Jonathan Mildenhall, Vice-presidente y Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence en The Coca-Cola Company es responsable de la estrategia creativa de la totalidad del portafolio de marcas de Coca-Cola. En estos dos vídeos, creados mediante dibujos por The Cognitive Media, se explica su visión sobre el futuro del Storytelling. La evolución del storytelling pasa por transformar el storytelling unidireccional en otro bidireccional, y de atreverse a usar la tensión y el conflicto.  Dos frases muy relevantes: “every contact point with a customer should tell an emotional story” (cada punto de contacto con el consumidor deber contar un relato) y “we alll need to use conflict constructively as conflict can be an enabler of outstanding creative thinking” (Todos necesitamos usar el conflicto de forma constructiva, porque el conflicto puede ser el catalizador de un pensamiento creativo sobresaliente).

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Antonio Nuñez: No conflict, no story


The complete publication of “Think Say Do” by Young & Rubicam

Find Antonio Nuñez´s article on brand storytelling “No conflict, no story”, on page 13  in this publication by Young &Rubicam, 2013.

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Antonio Núñez: “Sin conflicto no hay relato”

Storytelling Galeano

Créditos Ilustración: Magenta Power/Texto: Eduardo Galeano

¿Buscas el storytelling adecuado para tu marca?

Primero necesitas encontrar el relato correcto.

Un relato de marca, fácil de recordar y contar de nuevo con nuestras propias palabras, es el combustible más poderoso para poner en marcha una campaña de comunicación en cadena. Un relato capta la atención proyectiva de tu audiencia y alimenta el debate en las redes sociales porque entretiene y contiene emociones, detalles sensoriales y, lo más importante, verdades culturales. Los relatos son la manera más creíble de comunicar en el cínico mundo de hoy.

Pero encontrar el relato ideal para tu marca no es un trabajo para profesionales del marketing con aversión al riesgo.

Sin conflicto no hay relato. Ya sea ficción o no ficción, un relato contiene al menos una verdad universal de carácter moral o cultural, que se pone de manifiesto en su conflicto narrativo. El conflicto es el gancho neurocognitivo que cautiva nuestra atención consciente y pone a nuestro cerebro en modo de “atención proyectiva”. Pensamos: “¿Qué haría yo si fuese ese personaje? ¿Qué tengo que aprender si me enfrento a ese conflicto en la vida real? ¿Todavía impera esa norma social? ¿Cuáles son las recompensas o castigos sociales que recibiría si me atrevo a desafiar esa norma cultural?”

“Conflicto”. Qué palabra tan aterradora para las marcas. Los profesionales de la comunicación somos tan reacios a utilizar el conflicto en nuestras campañas que incluso evitamos el término cuando trabajamos en ellas. Sin embargo, las industrias creativas que mejor manejan el storytelling viven obsesionadas en la búsqueda del próximo gran conflicto. El conflicto es la lingua franca de los aliados naturales de las marcas, los creadores de contenidos y soportes, es lo que Globo, Konami o Bollywood buscan para crear sus exitosos relatos.

Si el conflicto es la profesión de nuestros principales aliados y, a veces, competidores, ¿por qué tanto miedo al conflicto entonces? Si estamos necesitados del boca a oreja, si nuestra meta  son las campañas virales, si necesitamos competir o ser aliados de Juego de Tronos, Metal Gear o Bodyguard para captar el tiempo de atención de los ciudadanos, entonces como storytellers profesionales necesitamos identificar el conflicto más adecuado para nuestra marca. Nuestros mensajes y campañas no pueden ser más predecibles, aburridos o políticamente correctos que las plataformas, canales o contenidos en los que nadamos y donde tratamos de mantenernos a flote.

Las agencias de comunicación deberían llegar a ser un híbrido entre un laboratorio de mitología, capaz de entender los conflictos;  una redacción de periódico, capaz de encontrar la historia perfecta y una productora de contenidos, capaz de convertir en espectáculo la narración de cada uno de nuestros relatos de marca.

Texto originariamente publicado en El Periódico de la Publicidad, España, nº Septiembre 2013

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Guest blogger: The art of Digital Storytelling

By MERCEDES BELL, guest blogger at*


“The medium is the message.”

— the great Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan

More than a century ago, German composer and operatist, Richard Wagner, strove to transform musical drama into a “gesamtkunstwerk,” or “total work of art.” His controversial ideal called for the subordination of music to theater, which he felt to be the superior artform. While Wagner’s radical ideas did much to irk many of his musical contemporaries, the flawed concept of the “total work of art” has had a tremendous impact on the practice of storytelling.

Today, digital storytelling tools could become this generation’s “gesamtkunstwerk.” We say this because today’s audiences have access to enormous amounts of highly specific, interactive content online. (We’re talking about the technology used to build the New York Times’ Snowfall project, not your Facebook timeline.) So if you’ve got a story to tell, you can afford to start dreaming–there’s never been a better time to find ways in which to enrich your work with multimedia storytelling tools.

What is Digital Storytelling?

Simply put, the art of digital storytelling is all about telling stories using digital media. For example, a student may want to create a digital story using a video camera and simple video editing software to discuss a major event in their life, or even their own family history. Digital tools empower us to bring a new and vibrant dimension to our stories and the ways in which audiences experience them.

Of course, with so many tools available, sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. In addition to effectively relaying your story to a wider audience, digital storytelling can convey a sense of innovation and mastery of several different creative tools on the part of the author/creator. Below are a few examples of how digital storytelling tools are making a difference today.

Digital Storytelling in Primary and Secondary Education

The University of Houston provides an excellent resource for using digital media in educational storytelling. The primary goal of the site is to show students and teachers how digital storytelling can be used to augment various educational activities. In addition to tools and other relevant pieces of information, Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling showcases several digital storytelling projects, such as The Reality of Television, which uses digital video to explore the effects television has on life and society.

The National Writing Project and the Pearson Foundation are currently collaborating to find out how digital storytelling can help students improve their literacy and writing skills. Together, the two organizations have been hosting workshops and professional development programs to help communicate the educational benefits of digital storytelling throughout the country. This great documentary produced by the Pearson Foundation provides a glimpse at how powerful digital storytelling can be as an educational resource.

Digital Storytelling for Higher Education

In addition to its many uses for educating primary and secondary school students, digital storytelling has also been shown to have tremendous benefits for college students. In fact, several major universities, such as the University of Maryland and the University of California, Berkeley, offer extensive programs and resources for digital storytelling.

While traditional reading and writing will continue to be a major component of higher learning, digital storytelling promises to offer students a richer palette for communicating their ideas. Moreover, the shareability of visual content is opening up new possibilities when it comes to teaching students through the use of video lessons and social media. The Center for New Design and Learning Scholarship at Georgetown University hosts the Digital Storytelling Multimedia Archive that offers great tools and examples to help students and educators understand the value of digital storytelling at the college level.

Digital Storytelling for Business and Creative Professionals

Business and creative professionals are also finding ways to incorporate data visualization and interactive media into their work. In response to an increased demand for user-friendly “storytelling tech” tools, sites like Prezi and Tableau Public have popped up to provide non-techies with tools they need to communicate complex or data-heavy ideas digitally. For anyone with a passing interest in finding out more about creating digital stories, sites such as these are great places to begin experimenting with the medium.

For quite some time now, authors have been turning to digital storytelling as a way to expose their writing to a more tech-savvy audience. Visual novels, which continue to be extremely popular in Japan, have proven to be a great way for writers to share their stories using digital mediums. In fact, visual novels accounted for nearly 70% of Japanese PC game sales in 2006, and the influence of the medium has been growing internationally ever since. Only the future will tell what kinds of new technologies this growing demand for digitally enhanced literature will bring about.

Storytelling for a New Generation

As the great Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan famously wrote: “the medium is the message.” Indeed, the medium is a crucial aspect of how we experience and interpret a story, and without it, a story would dissipate into nothingness. That said, the rapid evolution of multimedia and digital storytelling tools shouldn’t alarm us. Today’s stories still serve the same purpose that stories always have–to entertain, inform or arouse their audiences.

From woodblock printing to Wagner’s “gesamtkunstwerk,” it’s fascinating to trace the ways in which mankind’s storytelling tastes have evolved alongside technology. Even though digital storytelling could be the primary storytelling medium for generations to come, who is to say that a more effective storytelling medium won’t come along in the next 10 years or even the next 10 minutes?

This post was originally published in

*Occasionally we invite bloggers to enrich this blog with diverse point of views. MERCEDES BELL is a researcher currently finishing up her communications degree and spending her free time getting some real world experience by helping out and contributing to

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Antonio Núñez: El storytelling de Fuentes Quintana que salvó la crisis en 16 minutos

Este clásico discurso de la política española del vicepresidente Enrique Fuentes Quintana se está comentando mucho de nuevo en España. Las razones son la creencia generalizada de que el Gobierno del PP no ha sabido explicar la crisis económica a los ciudadanos mediante un relato coherente y un artículo sobre este discurso, publicado por el prestigioso periodista José Antonio Zarzalejos en el periódico español El Confidencial el 11.5.2013.

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