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Opinion and Insight

Sundance Shows Creative Bravery Is the New Price of Entry for Brands

As marketers, we only stay culturally relevant through creative bravery, writes Rob Lenois, Deputy CCO at Grey New York

Sundance Shows Creative Bravery Is the New Price of Entry for Brands

Even for someone like me who’s worked in creative fields for a long time, my first Sundance Film Festival experience was truly inspirational. It’s an industry Petri dish where the most incredible stories are told and where the most creative minds come together. New discoveries await.  

Buzz about stories like Lizzie, The Cleaners and The Tale are a few examples demonstrating how Sundance remains the testing ground for new ideas at the forefront of creative risk-taking. And it’s a reminder for us, as marketers, that we only stay culturally relevant through creative bravery.

Today, bravery isn’t optional. It’s the price of entry for brands as people’s expectations rise and attention becomes harder to capture.

Think about it: 

Bravery is the only path to attention. 

Big studios and Hollywood elites used to decide which stories are shared with the general public. But today, festivals like Sundance celebrate the brave evolution and democratisation of creative storytelling. It’s how a feature-length film starring George Clooney can stand next to indie films, new technologies, web series, and even six second ads, all within one festival. 

I was treated to an intimate portrait of a great artist in Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind and witnessed the next wave of riveting storytelling at the premier of the six second YouTube stories that reimagined classic fairy tales. I participated in numerous immersive experiences around AR, VR and AI, and was lucky to join an incredibly inspirational dinner hosted by Benjamin, the first AI Screenwriter. This is no ordinary arena for creativity, and that’s important.

Because today, with the entire internet just a click away, audiences care less about where content comes from, and more about whether it’s good and makes them feel something. 

From smartphones and computers to smart TVs and VR headsets, today’s audiences can experience stories anytime, anywhere, and with anyone they choose. This proliferation of content entry points and 24/7 access means the power to define what’s really worth watching has shifted completely to the audience. 

And with the audience in charge, bravery is the only path. 

This represents an incredible opportunity to explore themes that truly capture the human condition and connect with our audiences in new ways. 


Bravery thrives with fresh constraints.

The best storytelling is born of extremes – the human stories that come from the edges. Creative extremes can be anything: a shoestring budget, difficult talent, a harrowing story, or a seemingly impossible format limitation. 

Take the short documentary film Zion by Floyd Russ, a powerful portrait of young wrestler Zion Clark who was born without legs. While I can’t quote dollars I’m pretty sure it was told for less than the price of a typical 15 second commercial.

As creatives, we’re often jealous of what seems like the blank canvas of Oscar-winning films or best-selling authors. But at Sundance, I was reminded that constraints force a more brave kind of storytelling. It takes courage and creativity to make the impossible possible. Because with constraints comes the need to make choices. 


Take the constraint of time. 

Relevant example: How might we tell a universally beloved storybook tale (like Little Red Riding Hood) in six seconds? A seemingly daunting creative task. But letting go of the linear storytelling that follow beginning/middle/end we can open a new world of possibilities.

When we, as creatives, are brave enough to view these familiar themes through the lens of contemporary events and societal constructs, we can inspire modern stories to connect with contemporary audiences, just like the originals. So Little Red Riding Hood, for example, can be transformed with a feminist hero who turns the tables on the big bad wolf – in only six seconds.  



Bravery builds communities. 

Stories that draw inspiration from social and cultural context to find a common ground with a brand’s ethos have always been the most likely to succeed. 

Today, brands can draw on the global, vibrant creative community like never before, thanks to platforms like YouTube – the biggest reflecting pool of culture that’s ever existed. YouTube gives people literally millions of videos to choose to watch, so people can indulge more deeply in their real passions. And these communities doesn’t just sit back and watch; they participate.

There’s real bravery in turning over the keys and inviting your audience to be part of the story.

We saw the power of this type of collaboration with Canon’s Project Imagination - the first photo contest in history to inspire a Hollywood film; When You Find Me was directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, produced by Ron Howard productions, and went on to be shortlisted for an Academy Award. 

That's a very different approach to branding than striving for mass appeal. Rather than broadcasting, we can build – adding to existing conversations among engaged communities eager for what you're dishing out.

Bravery is the price of entry for those looking to make a real connection with audiences. 

Now that Sundance is over it’s our turn to be brave. What can you do starting right now, or next week, or tomorrow to capitalise on true creative opportunities? What will characterise the leaders and storytellers of tomorrow?

Smart money is on bravery.

Genre: Strategy/Insight