Narrative Psychology in Brand Storytelling

Let me tell you a story. It’s a bit about our past, a bit about our future but more importantly, it concerns what is happening right now. It is also a story that nears 2,500 words because our complex world cannot be dumbed downed, reduced to a vague tagline, summed in a tweet, or captured in an oversimplified how-to formula. True learning and understanding requires time and effort so heat the kettle or uncork a bottle and enjoy.

Marketing and advertising agencies claim to be professional storytellers. Agencies deliver a brand story as part of engagements while creative briefs bring the story to life. Agencies pump out papers on the subject and profile case studies where the story is key to client success. Within the industry, marketing conferences make room for storytelling as part of the agenda. Media and publications write on the topic with frequency. Storytelling permeates the profession. Here are three changes taking place in business storytelling:

They Don’t Tell: by its very definition, storytelling is broadcast in nature. We tell a tale. It is ‘one-to-many’ like the Mad Men era of advertising. We know that no longer works. Stories must now invite consumers in and let them be both character and storyteller. It is now about storyparticipation not passive absorption.

They Are Organic: the best brand stories take root organically and get consumers involved. Then they really evolve. This scares traditional marketers. They fear ceding control. Granted it is a bit of a wild ride when consumers help build the story but this is what is taking place with Uber and Airbnb and has taken place with Apple and Red Bull.

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How Coke Co-Opted Santa Claus

This is an excerpt from the bestselling book, Why Marketing Works. Jeff mined the history of marketing and history overall, to find stories that inform, warn, and inspire marketers today.

Coca-Cola has spent 130 years making its brand synonymous with happiness. And what’s a happier image than Santa Claus? According to the company’s website, Santa was first paired with Coke for an advertisement in the December, 1930 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The ad shows kids admiring a department store Santa Claus who is enjoying a glass of the cola. 

A year later the D’Arcy advertising agency developed a series of images envisioning the life of the “real” Santa Claus rather than a department store version. They mined Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” which begins with the famous line, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Over the years, Coca-Cola’s Santa reviews lists, delivers toys, eats treats, and visits children, always while enjoying a Coke. Santa became a seasonal celebrity for the brand, gracing store displays, billboards, posters, and calendars. 

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How to Evaluate a Company’s Culture

When I was a consultant at Price Waterhouse, I worked for a time in Mergers & Acquisitions. Not the deals, the actual coming together after the deal was signed, the integration. It was all about managing the human aspect. Could two cultures come together?

When I moved onto large strategy projects, much attention was made to the organizational chart. I learned there is the organizational chart on paper, the one that is promoted, and there is the one that shows how the organization actually worked (the one I had to figure out).

For the past 7 years, my brand strategy work has been mostly executive coaching (as much as I hate the term, “coaching”). I contend 25% of my work has involved the process of branding and 75% has been helping, directing, influencing, and bolstering the thinking and decisions of management.

This experience has produced a single insight…business is all about human psychology. I know, that is not earth-shattering but put it this way, every human is fallible. Every business is made up of humans. Businesses are, therefore, fallible, imperfect, flawed. And here is a branding secret, that is what makes them great.

Enough. I am rambling. What I want to get to, is the criteria for evaluating a company’s culture. This will help career seekers. It will direct and ease mergers and acquisitions. It will help clients pick providers and providers seeking clients. It is the way to calculate connection and fit.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Long-Form Ads

There was a time when people actually read, and read a great deal. Now brands, marketers and advertisers, have catered to and hastened ever-shortening attention spans. Videos run in seconds, online ads pop up over-and-over again in seizure inducing ways, radio screams irrelevant call-to-actions.

We have robbed consumers of their intellect by dumbing down both message and medium. Yet, people still read and watch in longer amounts. So many documentaries on Netflix are long ads for different sides of the same debate. Reality shows espouse different ways of life and people eat them up. So, why are brand ads increasingly short and, arguably, simpler (if not, dumb)?

It is great to come across long-form ads in print as they are both endangered species. Check out this beauts that take the time to compel and tell a story. Make sure to read the last one!

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My Tenuous Connection to Spy Magazine

It takes a certain vintage, I am speaking of human age, not a red wine or long-packaged Twinkie, to recall the magazine called, Spy. It was, to use an expression oft-used, fucking awesome. It ran from 1986 to 1998. Those were formative years for me. Actually, every year has been formative for me. I expect future ones to be equally or even more formative.

The publication was founded by Kurt Andersen and E. Graydon Carter, who served as its first editors. Their pedigrees are well-pedigreed. Andersen graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he edited the Harvard Lampoon. He has been a writer and columnist for New York, The New Yorker, and Time. What an under-achiever. Carter is Canadian (enough said) who served as the editor of Vanity Fair from 1992 until 2017. Such a light-weight.

Before their real accomplishments, they focused on Spy, which bathed in irreverence and was doused in satire. The content loved to skewer the American media and entertainment industries while mocking “high” society (which in America is vacuous celebrity). To say it was ‘ahead of its time’, is an evaluation they would skewer and mock if still in print.

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Excited to Introduce a New Service!

Who reads books anymore? 

Umm, people. Millions and millions of people. When it comes to business books, you know who reads them? Decision-makers. Most CEOs and executives read 4-5 books per month.

It is not inaccurate to refer to a business book as a thick brochure. One that demonstrates the depth and originality of your thinking, showcases your differentiation and, when done right, drives people to action. The kind of action that grows your awareness and business.

That is why we have introduced a new service that assists leaders and brands get their business book written, published and into the hands of desired readers. Check out more in our brochure.

#WMW 3rd Quarter Newsletter

Read a few excerpts from Why Marketing Works. Pabst Blue Ribbon refuses to market and Lacoste had to get fancy when it broke into America. Plus much more…WMW.

The Back of a Napkin

Marketers and ad professionals are attracted to shiny new toys. They look to technology as a panacea for reaching and influencing buyer behaviour. Newspapers, radio, tv, the Internet, big data, social media, AI, and whatever is next. There is one thing missing in this equation.

The fact is all great ads regardless of medium or platform start out on a whiteboard, a flip chart, a notebook, or the back of a napkin.

Print ads are therefore the gold standard. If an ad or campaign cannot compel from a single sheet of paper, no algorithm will save it. Technology will just irritate consumers with irrelevant and poorly timed ads. In other words, why make something flawed more efficient?

Recently, I came across two sets of print ads that share characteristics. They draw you in visually. They create allure and make a promise. They know their audience. Someone sweated over them and were proud in the end. In a time when more means more, these were designed to cut through the clutter that advertising and converging technologies have created.

Great ads start with a Bic pen not an algorithm. Look ahead and see if you agree.

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How Advertising Can Defeat Extremism

During the 1964 Presidential election, Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign approached the ad agency DDB for a particular type of television ad. The result was “Daisy”, sometimes known as “Daisy Girl” or “Peace, Little Girl”. It aired just once and is credited with tarnishing Barry Goldwater’s run for the oval office. It never mentioned him by name but got the message across that, if elected, Goldwater would push America into nuclear war.

Fast-forward a few decades and we now live in world of extremes, extremists, and extremism. An extremist, by definition, “is a person who holds extreme views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent, or other extreme action”. These are polarizing times full of overwhelming debate among ever-more tribes. These fractious groups are both new and long-standing.

The Proud Boys are an example of the new. A group labelled extreme by the FBI because of misogyny, glorification of violence, and ties to White Nationalism. The growing delta between America’s Republican Party and the Democratic party represent the long-standing but deepening extremism in mainstream politics.

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Bauhaus Ha

Spoiler alert…this may be for design nerds only. Imagine extremely recognizable and memorable logos. What comes to mind? An Apple. A Golden Arch. A Swoosh.

What comes to mind when you hear Bauhaus? No, it is not an Oktoberfest pop-up beer hall. The Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly known as the Bauhaus, was a German art school that ran from 1919 to 1933, It combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught.[

So, some talented folks smooshed, or swooshed, modern logos into the Bauhaus style. Here is the result and they would look awesome on a t-shirt (or a New Wave retrospective music collection).