Vor gut eineinhalb Jahren hatte ich Freude und Ehre, im Rahmen der Vortragsreihe “DACS Show and Share” der Münchner Architekten Dina Andersen und Christian Schmid zu sprechen.
Es war ein heißer Juliabend, der erste heiße Abend nach vielen Wochen ungewöhnlicher Kälte und Regen im Juli. Das war cool. Einerseits, denn die die Atmosphäre im Hinterhof der Türkenstraße 21 in Münchens Studentenviertel war an diesem Abend mediterran, einladend ausladend, ausgelassen gelassen, geschichtenträchtig. Andererseits hingegen, was macht man an so einem heißen Sommerabend in Minga, gerade nach einer gefühlten Eiszeit? Genau: Biergarten. Dem geschuldet (so nahmen wir selbstsicher an) kamen statt der angemeldeten 80 Gäste gerade mal 35…
Enttäuschung? Nur im ersten Moment. Denn die, die kamen, wollten’s wirklich. Setzten erfreuliche Prioritäten, nahmen kurze wie längere Wege auf sich, um beim Vortrag “Geschichten als Gestaltungsräume für moderne Marken” über das immerheiße, immergrüne Geschichtenerzählen (neudeutsch: Storytelling), Bedeutung und Chancen für Imagebildung, Imageschärfung, Dialogfähigkeit und Geschäftsunterstützung moderner Marken (erfolglos) der Hitze zu entfliehen. Verschmähten Hoibe und Brezn, tauschten sie gegen Flaschenbier und Hirnschmalz, eingerahmt von Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Mr. Jones und Guy Clark. Ein Traum von Sommer in der Stadt.
Warum denke ich gerade jetzt an diesen Abend zurück? Sicher, weil’s draußen grad mal wieder eklig regnerisch windet und in schwachen Minuten gar schneit. Aber auch, weil mir folgendes Video, das im Vorfeld dieses Vortrags entstanden ist, zwar nicht in die Hände, aber doch virtuell zufällig vor die Augen fiel, als es schüchtern aus seiner Verbannung hinter den Gittern von Vimeo heraus lugte.
Alles noch so wahr wie damals, so wahr wie gestern und vorgestern, so wahr wie heute und morgen, so wahr ich dort stand):
“You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times, they are a-changin’. — Bob Dylan, 1964
Alles im Wandel, immer zu, immer wieder. Evolution, das reicht uns schon lange nicht mehr. Talkin’ ’bout a revolution! Allerorten, politisch, wirtschaftlich, medial. Auch im Land der unbegrenzten Marketingmöglichkeiten des Internet. Hochkonjunktur der Hilf- und Orientierungslosen. Und tatsächlich: Angeblich revolutionäre Trends schießen wie kontaminierte Pilze aus medialen Böden, seit Jahren. Werden uns professionell Kommunikativen auf dem Altar der digitalen Eitelkeiten feilgeboten wie heilige Grale: Folgt dem Messias – oder gehet unter im Fegefeuer der Followerlosen! Und was tun wir? Folgen, natürlich. Wie Brians Jünger der liegengebliebenen Sandale.
Schluss damit, liebe Volksfront von Digitalien! Emanzipiert Euch!
Übt Euch in kritischer Distanz zur selbsternannten Content Revolution. Zu altem Wein in neuen Schläuchen. Übt Euch in demütiger Bescheidenheit, bevor Ihr das Wort ‚Revolution’ in Mund oder Feder nehmt! Demut vor der Geschichte, die retrospektiv gnadenlos so Manches ins rechte Licht rückt – oder in den Schatten stellt.
Mit dem Weitwinkelobjektiv der Geschichte empfiehlt der Literaturwissenschaftler – vulgo Ego – Besinnung auf alte Werte aus Zeiten, als Storytelling noch Geschichtenerzählen hieß, und Content Literatur oder Dichtung. Lest Aristoteles und Opitz, Shakespeare und Goethe und all ihre Erben. Und lernt so ein wenig mehr Gelassenheit im Umgang mit scheinbar neuen Medien und deren Bewohnern, der unheimlichen Spezies namens User. Entlarvt und demaskiert ist dieser gar nicht mehr so undurchsichtig, bedarf gar keiner großer Daten (für Dengländer: Big Data), um verstanden zu werden. Zwar hat die multidirektionale, grenzenlose Erreichbarkeit und Vernetzheit des Indivualmassenmediums Internet (ob 1.0, 2.0 oder x.0) zu einer medialen Gerissenheit und einem kognitiven Vorsprung des Empfängers vor dem Sender geführt. Doch das ist keine schlechte, sondern eine gute Nachricht, führt sie doch im Kant’schen Sinne zu einem Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbst verschuldeten Unmündigkeit. „Habe Mut, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!“, lautete 1784 der Wahlspruch der Aufklärung, und das Internet ist Aufklärung 2.0: Menschen, die Corporate Messages und Corporate Advertising keinen Glauben mehr schenken, Menschen, die, unterstützt durch Technologie, gleichberechtigte Gesprächspartner werden. Nicht mehr der Leitung anderer folgen, sondern selbst diese Leitung zu übernehmen. Über Marken, deren Wahrnehmung, deren Inhalte. Insofern gibt es keine Content Revolution, sondern nur eine Content Quality Revolution, in der das Wort Content nicht nur für Inhalt, sondern auch Gehalt und Zufriedenheit des Empfängers, nicht des Senders steht.
Menschen sind kein Big Data, keine Nullen und Einsen. Sie sind subjektiv und individuell, nicht objektiv und kollektiv. Ein unberechenbarer Teil jeweils unterschiedlich beschaffener, unterschiedlich großer Gemeinschaften (neudeutsch: Communitys). Diese Menschen sind im digitalen Zeitalter Projektionsflächen für Geschichten, für Geschichten, die sie selbst erleben, aber auch für diejenigen, die sie aufsaugen – oder auch wieder angewidert ausspucken. Sie sind eben nicht mehr nur Rezipienten, Konsument und Lemming, sondern Produzent, Prosument und spielregelverändernde Punks.
Schreck lass nach!
Ein Entschreckungsszenario in drei Thesen:
1. User sind Menschen. Menschen lieben Geschichten. Und Geschichtenerzählen kann gelernt werden!
„Der storycodeX“ nach @herrdennehy: Erwartunges schaffen und befriedigen. Überraschen. Verändern.
2. Punks wollen sich nicht bevormunden lassen. Sie wollen mitgestalten und mitbestimmen. Lassen wir sie!
Poe weitergesponnen: Konzentration auf das Individuum in der Crowd, Beobachten, Loslassen. Als Marke zur Crowd werden, und die Crowd zur Marke werden lassen.
3. Alles ist vernetzt und organisiert. Drum müssen auch wir es sein!
Der Siemens Corporate Newsroom in der Unternehmenszentrale in München: Pionierarbeit und erfolgreiches Experiment themenbasierter Zusammenarbeit über Abteilungsgrenzen hinweg.
Die „Corporate Story Architecture“ nach @herrdennehy: Von der großen Markengeschichte über all die kleinen Geschichten, die diese zum Leben erwecken und glaubhaft machen, bis hin zur strategisch geplanten Präsenz der Marke im medialen Mark. Ein stabiles Gebilde, das so manchem medialen Hurricane standhält.
Mehr zur Corporate Story Architecture, dem storycodeX und der Idee der Co-Creation aus dem Corporate Newsroom im Buch „Storytelling – Digital, Multimedia, Social: Formen und Praxis für PR, Marketing, TV, Game und Social Media“, das im Frühjahr 2016 im Hanser Verlag erscheinen wird, nach- und weiterlesen.
Ever since I made my first professional walking attempts in the digital world (20 years ago that must be #feelslikeyesterday), I heard this mantra everywhere in the pre-dotcom bubble euphoria of Cluetrain afficionados, would-be Internet prophets, and notorious panjandrums:
CONTENT IS KING! They all said.
I had been studying Storytelling for five years, long before I even knew it was Storytelling. Back then they called it literature. So it seemed a little odd to hear these Internet geeks regurgitating their royal mantra when I had just meticulously learnt about the history, structure and perennial powers of stories told by early-day classics like Homer, Cervantes, Dante or Boccaccio, classic classics like Goethe, Schiller or Lessing or modern classics like Grass, Mann or Böll. Admittedly, I was also getting carried away by this millennial the-end-of-business-as-usual atmosphere of imminent change. Felt somehow audacious to dust off the venerable Germanstik patina in favour of some fresh … ehem, content?
It was only many years later, after necessary detours through the fires of corporate Mordor, that I realized one ring, I mean thing: The business world was (sorry: IS!) overly attracted by the glare of technological possibilities and features, fanatically prone to wanna-be-first- and because-we-can-itis. And thereby narrowly and one-sidedly interpreting the word “content”, neglecting other, much more elementary facets – facets that become clearest in the three different German translations the word “content” offers.
Back in the late 90’s, corporate content creation had nothing to do with journalistic research or writing talent. Its creators literally were content “managers”, i.e. project managers for pieces of content that they 1:1 transferred from paper to HTML and pinned to the newly discovered digital blackboard called website. Period. Their job was simply about the most general interpretation of content: words and pictures on a screen, publishing material. The (most probable and wide-spread) German translation for this aspect of content would be:
Or: “Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts … something that is contained.” (dictionary.com)
But it this Inhalt automatically something meaningful? Something that goes deeper than letters strung together by punctuation marks? Something that links beyond the surface not to just another succession of trivialities and soulless pixels, but to true substance? Mostly not. This is where in recent years (in continental Europe) or maybe decades (in Anglo-American dominated countries) the bandwagon of storytelling has already been able to do a lot for the greater good of meaningful content. If understood well and deployed according to the storycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change. The (a lot less wide-spread and more rarely spotted) German translation for this aspect of content with substance would be:
But interesting: Gehalt also means “salary” in German. So maybe in the end all just about the dough, be the content meaningful or not. Surely, what did you think? Now let’s once and for all get past the naïve, childish, even insulting notion that any one corporation on this planet has a different purpose than making money. And the more they want you to believe that they’re sustainably trying to save the world, “do something good” on the side with CSR and foundations, a little like a Hollywood actress doing charity, the more they’re deceiving you.
The labyrinth of linguistics … Whatever. What I actually wanted to say was: Meaningful content with substance is a good thing. But is it enough? No. Not today anymore, that’s for sure. Inhalt and Gehalt were a great, successful and sufficient, but nevertheless rare combination in the pre social media age. When the third facet of “content” didn’t really matter. It was the age of broadcast after all, old-school Shannon-Weaver style.
Bad news: those days are over. Interactivity, ubiquitous commentaries, likes and forum discussions have changed the recipient side practically over night (in a historical sense of time).
People and the conglomerates they form called audiences (NOT users!) will no longer be satisfied with consuming content-turned-into-great-stories and commenting on it in a more or less intelligent and fruitful discussion with fellow audience members or members from other audience groups. They will first of all want to be able to dig deeper behind your story, deeper into the spider web, find proof for your story, get in contact with the heroes of your story, and maybe some day also with you. If they’re not disappointed on their journey.
But, even more substantial, they will want to become an active part of a company’s business story and stories, not as actors or heroes, but as co-authors. After all, they are the other half of the corporate truth, the devil on the corporate shoulder, internal versus external perception. Devils who might become angels when they turn into a renowned and emancipated member if a brand’s story creation team. Only then will they be what the third, most vital and rarest facet of German translation attempts hints at:
Or: “Satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else … Archaic: willing.” (dictionary.com)
Yep, content is also an adjective, not only a noun.
And the central question is: Who is it that you want to satisfy with your content? Yourself? Your bosses? Your bosses bosses? Or maybe, only very maybe … your customers? Your customers’ customers? Your audiences? Maybe even a targeted small portion of your audience? Certainly, your answer will be: Of course my customers! Of course my audiences! Plus the fact, now I have all these big and massive and powerful data, I now even know what my audience wants before it knows that it wants it! Ha! There you go, eat this!
I’m eating …
Only: Lies are hard to digest. And all the easier to unmask. As written in the world’s most successful example of purposeful storytelling: “Thou shalt not lie!”
Which brings me to the answer of above-asked headline question: As long as you betray yourself and thereby the people you are apparently creating your content for, there will be no sustainably successful content! Take all your pig data, winnow the refuse from the valuable gold nuggets, take an honest and disarraying look at them, shuffle your cards anew, do away with your organization’s and your management’s old shibboleths, dare, launch a pilot, let go, and see what happens.
There is an even older mantra from our economy’s service sector, way back from the days when storytelling was still literature, when relevant content didn’t need to be called king, when it in fact was a rarity due to its scarcity, not due to its abundance. Back then, the saying went:
Der Kunde ist König. The customer is the King.
Aha. So, so. Let’s try that for once, what do you say?
I can’t get no satisfaction, he says? All the better; let that be your stimulant.
“Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formatsusing current digital technologies.
From a production standpoint, it involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other.“
A lot of story stuff involved, so I tend to like it, naturally. But also a lot of (digital) technology, channels, platforms. So, really something new? Or just an evolution version of our oldest megatrend, a Storytelling x.0?
Let’s take a look at where the concept stems from:
Transmedia as an idea of collaborative, multi-platform creation and narration origins in the 70’s and 80’s of the last century, in the area of telematic art, where artists experimented with collaborative narration and defined the idea of transmedia.
It soon moved on to the gaming industry, creating so-called Alternate Reality Games (ARG). These are games that, based on the Internet as a main hub, use(d) multiple other technological platforms like telephones, email and real offline mail to tell and simultaneously create different parts of the game’s story in those medial habitats relevant to the players. So not just transmedia telling, but transmedia engagement that requires interaction from every gamer in order to bring the game’s plot to the next level. In other words: “Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and collaborate as a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities.” (Wikipedia) An early example being Ong’s Hat.
The next transmedia stop was cinema, bringing the whole idea of alternate realities not only to the screen itself (where we had long been used to getting immersed in alternate worlds), but also connecting these to our real, every day lives. The most prominent example certainly being 1999’s “Blair Witch Project”:
This was not only a mocumentary, i.e. a piece of fiction pretending to be documentary, but also accompanied by a variety of additional, supporting pieces of content such as faked diaries, police reports or interviews that in itself engaged the audience in a captivating manner, adding to the cinema story’s apparent verisimilitude.
That was 15 years ago, and just the beginning …
Since a couple of years, also the commercial world of business communications has started to smell the rat? As always, the more consumer-oriented businesses are on the fore-front here with pioneers like Nike or Lego, but it won’t be long before the so-called B2B world will catch up.
So what could all of this mean for business communications and marketing? What can we learn from arts and entertainment?
I recently read this article on transmedialab.org that instinctively made me want to caution a “because we can” attitude that often pairs with technological advancements. The article basically was about the next big thing in cinema and henceforth modern storytelling. Not an R&D future project, but already on the audiences’ threshold.
The article begins with a short analysis of the film “APP”. APP is the first-ever movie that was written and produced with a 2nd-screen experience in mind, regularly adding content to your phone app while the of the film’s content unfolds on the traditional 1st cinema screen, and thus interrupting the movie’s actual narration.
Hmm, I thought.
Do I like this? Not too sure.
I’ll have to find out…
The article moves on with a glimpse into the labs of Disney’s experiments. These are currently limited to 2nd-screen “content interruptions” to back-catalog films like “The Little Mermaid”, but plans are to integrate the transmedia storytelling idea into the initial screen writing of future film productions.
Hmm, I thought, again.
Ambiguity crawling in …
The angel (or is it the devil?) on my shoulder says something like Yalda Uhl who states that “it is very important to engage children in a narration, and that is very difficult to do nowadays with all the distractions and stimulations that surround them. Adding a distraction in cinemas will definitely not help studios to achieve their goal of creating value or attracting an audience that will return to the cinema in the future”. Yes, says the angel (or devil)! REDUCE the distractions! Foster concentration spans! Concentrate on true narration and storytelling to immerse audiences in your story! Don’t just do stuff, because you technically can, audiences will soon get tired and will want to go back to good old traditional storytelling! Transmedia will eat itself for lunch! I knew it!
Then there’s this devil (or angel?) on the other shoulder talking about “story engagement” instead of boring one-way “story telling”. Making it clear to me that the potential of transmedia entertainment and the disruption of handed-down reception models is not only exiting, but in fact the only way to go. For entertainment as much as for business communications, both of them dealing with humans in the end. That today’s young and thus tomorrow’s adult generation will continue to literally gag for regular interruptions in their lives’ routines … and that linear, beginning-to-end storytelling is over, that no one will listen anymore, if there’s not more interactive engagement, audience involvement and multi-channel disruption.
Listening to both of them I begin to see, as with many things, there will be developments that we can’t stop, that will simply happen (because we CAN and because we as humans will simply WANT it), whether I personally like them or not.
Maybe the following
THREE COMMANDMENTS OF TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING
can help steer technological developments into the right direction:
1. CONCENTRATE ON A GOOD STORY (ALONG THE PATH OF THE STORYCODEX).
Not matter which medium, no matter how many of them; not matter how fragmented and scattered: A well-told, convincing narration offering a high degree of the “Like Me” effect will always work. It doesn’t have to be chronological, but it needs Expectation, Surprise, Conflict and Change. What will change is the people who will create this expectation, add the surprise and conflict spice, foster the narration’s change – this will not be a classical narrator instance anymore, this will be multiple parties engaging in different parts of a story from different angles and perspectives, in different places. But a story it will still be.
2. DON’T LET TECHNOLOGY LEAD THE WAY OF A STORY.
No matter what technological developments the future holds, no matter what devices will surface: Technology is simply an enabler, an easer, a multiplier, distributer, a vehicle. The true power lies in the human nature of communication, conversation, and storytelling.
3. TURN STORY TELLING INTO STORY ENGAGEMENT.
Do listen to, observe your audiences, and maybe(?) realize: The age of (traditional) story TELLING could be over. Never the age of STORY itself, but maybe tomorrow’s audiences will really want fragmentation, want to be stimulated from multiple sources and in multiple places. Of course, THE CONCEPT OF STORY will and cannot change, it’s genuinely human, but: Maybe the future is indeed more about story ENGAGEMENT, involving audiences actively in plot creation or character development. This would radically influence scripting, e.g. by taking devices and reception environments into consideration when writing a story’s various chapters.
Again, all of this holds true not only in arts and entertainment, but also in business, along the infamous, much recited “customer journey”, a journey that is getting more and more complicated, but – if you listen and truly get involved – ever more rewarding for all story and hence conversation participants.
Of course, these words sound more far-reaching than they actually are, and Nike’s marketing activities since then imply that Pestridge was actually referring to classical “one-way” advertising only. Still: It’s a bold statement and I admire him simply for making it. And I second the way his quote from this interview with marketingmagazine.co.uk continues:
“Advertising is all about achieving awareness, and we no longer need awareness. We need to become part of people’s lives, and digital allows us to do that.”
It’s great, if a company can say that. Not too sure, if it is ever really true, that a brand doesn’t need awareness, but whatever: bold statement, deliberately and successfully provocative. But what is true (not rocket science, but a truth long evident, yet still hidden to blindfold marketers from the last century) is the fact that digital is becoming more and more important for leveraging a company’s brand awareness and reputation. One day, it may become the (main) place, but it’s not yet.
Digital in the 21st century, digital in the so-called 2.0 age of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and all the many platforms around today (and the unknown one’s that will pop up tomorrow) is not about broadcasting, about messaging, about patronizing uneducated audiences. It’s about interaction, about engagement, about openness, verifiable authenticity, and consequently about conversations. The end of the age of broadcasting and (classical one-way) advertising has long begun, as has the beginning of the age of shared content creation with audiences. Audiences meaning people, human beings with emotions and opinions, with maybe better ideas closer to your product’s true core than any single person in your marketing department could have.
This power of the crowd and its potential is still heavily unused and underrated, like diamonds laying out in the open and mistaken for plastic accessories, apparently worthless, of minor quality, maybe even dangerous. Oooh, scary!
Nike has made this move very consequently, as David Moth kindly summarized last year at econsultancy.com. The people who experience the brand (in marketing speech: target group) and wish to interact with the company and its people, are not only allowed to do just that, they are actually encouraged to do it. To become part of the brand and even help create its future perception by being an inventive part of what it does today. And not only in the digital world; Nike’s effort cross the borders of online and offline, as their audiences do, too.
Here is one of my favorites from Moth’s collection, mainly because it does exactly that: bridge the artificial gap between digital and analogue:
The true power of tomorrow’s communication with (and not marketing for!) people takes place everywhere where these people are, regardless of online or offline, above the stupid line or below it, internal or external, blue-collar or white-collar, or whatever artificial distinction we have made up for decades to pigeonhole he stuff we do and the people we do it for. [By the way, Nike does not limit its co-creating approach to marketing and communications, they also integrate customers in the creation process of their actual products, see here.]
Apart from having the right people with the right visions and insights around at the right time to create such a shift from glossy TV and print broadcasting to customer-engaging digitally crowd-sourced advertising, Nike has or at least claims to have one massive advantage compared to other companies, especially in the B2B area:
“We know who we are. We know what we want to achieve and we go for it 100 per cent of the time.”
Says Pestridge, again.
If only that were true for more brands. How much more courageous, engaging and entertaining would advertising and corporate communications be.
I truly believe that THIS is THE CORE and foremost homework any company needs to do: find out who they are, what their BIG STORY aka their identity is. That’s a massive undertaking that requires quite some investments, both time and budget-wise. Sometimes this undertaking is a tedious one, as it requires a lot of relentless self-reflection and open, honest introspection.
But also a great deal of listening. To people in touch with your company, it’s products, its people, its communications – everything. And once you’re through the results of these listening exercises into one data bucket, analyze them and put your cards on the table, you’ll see: It’s worth it.
Finding your BIG STORY is the prerequisite to purposeful storytelling about your brand, your people, your products – and to any truly and sustainably meaningful conversation, the best-case result from good storytelling. All corporate stories that don’t follow a company’s big story, its identity, its DNA, are just meaningless debris in the vast web space of content overload.
This story literally came flying into my inbox the other day, the subject merely indicating: “British Airways is also doing personal stories now”. The sender surely seemed to know how to catch my attention … and there was no comment as to whether BA’s attempt was successful, in the sense of good-story-successful, not youtube-clicks-successful. She left that to me to find out …
Overcoming an instinctive cerebral reflex of rejection by the notion that this is probably just another ad in sheep’s (or cheap) clothing – and henceforth the source of evil that continues to insult my intelligence by insinuating authenticity while actually shouting out “CLICK HERE AND BUY ME, STUPID!” –, I followed the link anyway. And I was rewarded; in one way, not in every.
OK, there’s a decent slice from the cheesy cake mixed into this film, but: a really good story it is. And if it’s a well-told story, I do admit to being susceptible to some nice, unpatronizing cheesiness every now and again, that lets me escape from our technocratic, data- and perfomance-driven world … hmmm, maybe I’ll start a list of the best-told and produced stories that made me cry and were not good despite, but because?.
I was glad that nobody was watching when my eyes premiered this film in the office … 😉
What’s so good about this story?
That it makes me experience the “like me” effect. Even though it’s plotted in a world completely foreign to my own. Even though the heroes’ sufferings are (on the outside) something I will (probably and hopefully) never be exposed to myself, but (on the inside) something that’s as close to my heart as Romeo and Juliet, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, or László de Almásy and Katherine Clifton.
That it manages to take the seemingly very specific story of an organized, yet later love-match-to-be marriage and its challenges in modern Indian life to the broader sphere of She and He. Of Love and Sacrifice. Of Desire and Deprivation. Of Longing and Letting Go. And so on. Universal themes of togetherness and separation and all the shades of grey in-between. It doesn’t matter, whether our two heroes are Indian, American, German, Chinese or African: These kinds of experiences are all the same, all over the world. We know them, and we feel them when we see them – and feel even more when we experience them as true (and I haven’t found any lead anywhere yet that this story is scripted or fake).
That it clearly follows the storycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change in a way that is not totally surprising, granted, but despite its predictability it is convincing and true to its own inner truth. Even though I had a pretty good feeling for how the story will end, I still didn’t want to miss the satisfaction of the closure living up to my expectations. And it did.
Still … Why is this story and especially the overall British Airways campaign behind that story so very far from perfect?
First of all: the music. It begins OK, adequately subtle as the story unfolds, and the hero introduces himself. But after a minute already, the unwelcome feeling creeps over me that a soundscape is about to invade my ear conch, and oh how I hate that. At minute 2:45 it almost becomes unbearable, this crescendo of paternalism, acoustically giving me the order what to feel in a couple of seconds. Again, how I hate that. Although I also hate it when it works, when my heart answers through my lacrimal glands while my brain is saying “No! Don’t! They’re just manipulating you!”.
The documentary start of the film (if you ignore the fast-motion sequences, which you definitely should, they’re so eighties and boring!) maybe does not have the intention of fooling me, but it does. Because in the end it turns out to be an attempt to imitate Hollywood. Especially after minute 3:30, this becomes all too evident: slow motion, seemingly staged or at least retook scenes, too much forced effort on an image-text match. At the end and with Sumeet’s fit-to-campaign-and-landing-page-title slogan “Sometimes we have to go really far to get close”, this becomes even blunter – and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I hate being fooled.
Speaking about the campaign (the above arguments are a little prone to taste, but the following is a fact): It’s a laudable one, with a nice and true core message, showing the authentic benefits of a brand and its actions for its recipients (or more abstractly: target audience). This campaign goal surely is reached (emotionally, that is, I have no knowledge of the quantitative results apart from 1.8m YouTube views to date). But, in the end, it turns out to be just another poor attempt of deviation, pretending to want one thing (in this case: make people happy and tell a good story), when in the end it’s ever so obviously about another thing (in this case: make people book flights with BA, and not just somewhere down the Brand and Sales Funnel, that would be OK, and expected, and accepted, but RIGHT NOW, STUPID! No subtleness, no intelligent weaving of one story into a greater theme or idea.). When I enter ba.com/getcloser, I don’t (as I would have hoped for) get more content of the kind I have just seen, that is other example stories of BA’s impact on human happiness, not even a “more to come” message in case this is the first episode of a planned series. Nope, nuthin. Instead, a simple, plain, in my eyes insultingly profane flight booking page as you actually would expect at BA.com, not on its apparently os so human “get closer” campaign landing page. And then I even find out, how our happy heroes are exploited for a whole bunch of other online marketing measures such as Facebook quiz asking me (as a story seeker!) how close I am to whomever. I can even win a flight to get even closer. Can it get more right in the face? Phew. And URGH.
A shame. An insult, And a wasted chance of a sustainably credible campaign that started off so promising – with a good story.
Sometimes, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. And sometimes, the world actually takes notice. Sometimes even a little too much. As in the case of Mister Robert Zimmermanns’ latest coup in a lifetime effort to alienate his lovers, re-assure his haters, and simply do everything possible to not fit into one of those boxes that our world so loves to create to get a grasp at the ungraspable: Life.
I’m talking about the new piece of advertising Dylan has allowed US car manufacturer Chrysler to produce using him as a mighty testimonial:
I’m neither going to chime into the (ridiculous and so 1965-Newport-Folk-Festival-like) fundamentalist fan mob’s “OMG! He’s selling out to commerce” outcries, nor will I (at least not yet, that is…) offer any half-baked analysis of why Bob is such a genius, why he’s never there, always the passenger of a slow train coming with no direction home, always already part of a new morning, heading for modern times, leaving blood on the tracks while his worshippers are still marching on desolation row towards the Gates of Folk Eden. No, others have done that before, probably better than I ever could.
Which is why it does indeed surprise me that he still actually manages to surprise, at least some, with his ambiguous “it ain’t me, babe” smile on his face. If it were up to me, he could advertise Pepsi refreshments or Victoria’s Secret ladies garments, I’d still not stop to admire the Zimmermann Phantom and his many ways of deliberate and couldn’t-care-less fanielation. Oh, he already did??? Ahh, whatever. 😉 Those two were at least entertaining, somewhat intelligently composed, and equipped with some more Dylan-esque “in-between-the-line-ness”.
No, what this here is about is my bewilderment by the fact that the Chrysler spot simply is a poor piece of pathetic advertising – and story-wise plainly sucks, because it isn’t a story, but pretends to be. And that a man, who has created himself a well-earned reputation as a musical storytellers of and about his time, agreed to be its centerpiece (I won’t call him hero in this respect, as it’s neither heroic what he’s doing or saying, nor in any way dramatic in the Aristotelian sense to make him deserve this title).
Why Chrysler is doing this, and exactly in this fashion, is clear: It’s an American company, more up-to-date American never than here, appearing desperate and back-to-the-wall-ish, seeing hopes dashing in many an economic sector; automotive, for example. They draw the marketing card of desperation (by the way: already Act II of the company’s Drame du Deséspoir after Act I where they threw Dirty Harry into the ring two years ago): Take a well-known, respected, but still a little controversial celebrity (you know they’ll love or hate him for this!), use clichemotional imagery of what makes America’s nerves shake (no way to err with cheerleaders and cowboys on horses in slow-mo, a little stars and stripes and historical analogies, babies and hard-working factory laborers!), polarize and tease your rivals a little (not too much, just a little to add spice to the saltless soup and give the regulars’ table something to talk about), and end with the all-too-expected “Wir sind wieder wer!” message stolen from se Germans in 1954. Oh, and not to forget: Pay millions to place this ad in front of the world’s eyes at the Super Bowl finale – where reach really still means conversion and conversation. About what, that’s another question.
Why Bob Dylan is doing this, Alias knows. Maybe to escape from the burden of being witty, erudite, convoluted, and the role model of more than one generation all the time, into the shallowness and immediacy of corporate advertising every now and again? Maybe just for the fun of acting while actually being an actor and not a singer-songwriter? Maybe for the dosh? Maybe, maybe, maybe … who cares? I don’t.
But what I do care about being insulted by bad ads and videos and films that pretend to be stories. Why do I think this one is so bad, may have become obvious above, below and in between these lines so far, but a friend of mine recommended I add a kind of management summary at the end of my posts to avoid the feeling of “Wow, that was interesting, but, err, what was it about again?”. So here it is, my dear Performance Passionist: 😉
Nothing’s happening. Nothing’s changing. It’s simply boring. I wouldn’t want to watch it to the end without all the media fuzz about and Bob Dylan in it. I would leave the latest after 30 seconds.
No surprise. No one manages to surprise me here, and seems like no one even wants to. The surprise of seeing Bob Dylan make-up-ed and hair-dyed after 18 seconds is the only surprise you get – and I’m left with the fear that the analogy of Dylan not holing any ball at the end might have a deeper meaning. A message triangle gone video.
No hero, no plot. There is no hero, only a narrator narrating through a non-existent plot. But actually narrator Dylan ain’t telling, he’s just talking, saying things that only scratch the surface of America’s story and the story of every American shown in these two minutes. Shallow and predictable. And don’t mistake the narrator for the hero, neither the story-immanent one nor the one you think you’re seeing. It’s only Bob (whoever that is) playing someone else.
No expectation. Neither within nor without this advertisement am I expecting anything, let alone more – and arousing no expectation is the worst mistake being made here. The fact that nothing is happening could, however, be countered by the tension and expectation of what might happen AFTER the short scene just shown. As it was actually quite successfully attempted in Dylan’s Victoria’s Secret spot in 2009, or in last year’s Louis Vuitton spot with David Bowie. Both not stories per se, but the beginning act of a potential plot continuation, a story teaser, making me expect more to come, wanting to know, if and how this scene continues. Not so with The Chrysler Boredom.
The only chance this spot has for a longer-term success and more sustainable, content-based conversations (beyond the “Have you seen the latest Super Bowl ad with Dylan?” reflex) about the big theme the ad is suggesting (“The people of America and their love to manufacture something with their own hands that provides a living for their families and a sense of pride to be giving the world something it wants, needs, and maybe even copies”), is a prolongation of this mere advertising pretension into the digital space.
A prolongation that includes every little story of every single potential hero in this two-minute film. The young lady wrapped in the Stars and Stripes at second 0:08. The grateful-looking old man at second 0:14. The waitress serving him. The mother with her(?) child at second 0:54. The factory worker at minute 1:04. Or any of the men standing behind the pool table like tin soldiers at the end. These stories, if indeed they exist, would prove that the above big-story suggestion is not just advertising bullshit, that the company able to pay so much money for production and airing of this ad actually is capable of lighting the spark of pride in these peoples’ hearts. That it maybe even manages to help improve their lives. Most importantly, this would prove that they’re not all just casted models for a seemingly authentic TV spot.
… And then there would be the story of this old man with the dyed hair who wants us to believe that he is who he seems to be, that he is actually someone we know, someone like you and me, and not just some Alias playing a role in innocent Billy the Kid’s endless fight against the unjust hands of some imported Pat Garret imitation …
That would be a story. A completely different one. One that many have tried to tell, but no one really knows.
Back in 1999, it predicted “the end of business as usual”, caused by “a powerful global conversation [that] has begun through the Internet.” Talking a lot about why “markets are conversations and getting smarter”, “markets that consist of human beings”, conversations that need to be “conducted in a human voice [which is] unmistakably genuine [and] can’t be faked.”
About the fact that these “markets [actually] want to talk to companies.” And about the genuinely human constituents of these markets who will only talk to any company or institution on one condition:
“If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.”
Tacitly accepting the risk of redundancy and repetitiveness here: I truly believe that this “something interesting” is the core of the Cluetrain Manifesto. A core without which the conversations that these markets are about, would be impossible.
Thesis 75 not simply states or claims something, or tells corporations what to change, which many of the other theses do in an at times slightly patronizing way; it actually hints into the direction of how to solve the corporate dilemma posed by the internet and social media paradigm shift.
This “something interesting” is, has always been, and will always be: STORY.
The right story told to the right people at the right time and in the right way will create open ears, open minds, loyalty and stickiness on the sides of the people you’re talking to. Even if it’s just one single person who is more open and susceptible to what you have to say than before you said it, and that’s the one single person you want to reach – isn’t that a beautiful thing?
I mean, let’s be honest: It’s not always about the mass of anonymous, meaningless Facebook friends or the 10 million views on your YouTube video that makes communications efforts successful – even though we all love to pretend otherwise in our “Oh my project was such a great success” power-point attacks on human intelligence. It’s what happens AFTERWARDS that proves if there’s any meaningful outcome to what we said, wrote or showed. [Side note: Do you know how long you need to watch a video on YouTube before the platform counts your action as a ‘view’? FIVE seconds. So much for that as a relevance KPI! Ha!]
So, what does it take to make your train of stories not only leave the station on the right platform and the right track, but also pick up passengers along the way who really like the direction you’re going and actually want to follow you?
A Storytrain that ideally never reaches its final destination, but gathers many a compelling story and fellow storytellers and passengers along the way?
A Storytrain that never returns home, but bit by bit is actually driven by its passengers to destination unknown, merely aiming at never-ending on a dead-end track?
I had the privilege to be a participating part of the acclaimed DLD (Digital Life Design) Conference in Munich this week. “A global network on innovation, digitization, science and culture which connects business, creative and social leaders, opinion-formers and influencers for crossover conversation and inspiration”, the website says. And that it is.
First time ever for me. Its legendary reputation had traveled eons and light-years to my doorstep as the IT place (as in IT girl, not I-Tee) to be, if you’re even only remotely connected to the Internet and interested in the way digital life continues to change our analogue lifestyles. Worth every minute.
In many ways …
One of these ways I would like to spend a couple of lines on here. Not the networking, not the illustrious guests, the see-and-be-seen aspect or the really inspiring insights I gathered from almost each and every panel or presentation, not even the red-carpet, see-and-be-seen-even-more late-night party, although I quite enjoyed that one, too.
No, it’s the way speeches were held at this conference (as at most I’ve ever been to) and the very rare examples of good storytelling applied in these speeches that I will ponder over a little. I’m not talking about the contents, I’m talking about their structures or non-structures that are mainly based on power point hooks, not narratives. I mean, it’s really amazing: You have so many bright minds, freaks and geeks, young talents and old stagers summoned in one place for three days. They speak about their latest apps, business models, technology, their visions of the future … and all too often you can hardly avoid noticing that most of them do indeed have a story to tell. BUT: They don’t! They don’t apply any storytelling techniques to making their visions, facts and insights less bullet-pointy, less complete, but more compelling, more memorable, more narrative. There was even a panel on “Digital Storytelling”, a very promising title, but in the end merely a discussion over video formats, technologies, platforms and, again, business models. OK, maybe the latter is a very understandable and legitimate topic in a world where traditional businesses are eroding and everyone is desperately looking for straws to clutch at, but it’s not always entertaining for the audience.
So what did many of those speakers do wrong? Easy: They were mainly speaking facts, figures and features. And data and dollars. All in the name of the user’s experience (will always hate that defamation of a word for humans!), but it was mostly the experience of an arbitrary abstract being using technology they were speaking about. Not about concrete human beings, heroes or anti-heroes, their emotions, their dramas that led to the creation of this app or that service (even though maybe the rhetoric of many speeches was dramatic and good and suggested a narrative, where, however, there was none). And I’m not saying that they were not interesting or inspiring regarding facts and ideas transported – after all, you had preachers preaching to Catholics anyway, so ears and brains wide open. I’m just stating the lack of story narrative in the way they were presenting.
Although there were some remarkable exceptions to this rule – or maybe in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king?
Mahbod Moghadam, Co-Founder of www.rapgenius.com, a website that only at first sight is something for rap fans, actually unveils the curtain to probably every art’s and even every brand’s future. It allows fans and enthusiasts to make their own annotations to any kind of rap lyric, enriching it with their own stories that connect them personally, to a song and its content. “Annotate My Brand” was the title of the panel Mahbod was on, and he not only used his 45 minutes on stage and his youngster charms well to exchange business cards with Hublot’s Jean-Claude Biver and Missioni’s Angela Missioni. He most of all ignited the audience with his enthusiasm and the great stories he had to tell of the platform’s early days and collaborations with notable rap performance such as Jay-Z or Kayne West. name-dropping was maybe a cheap trick that helped, but his stories stuck. Left me hoping for the extension of his ingenious annotation site to my musical preferences as well as with the notion that: Not only as an artist, you’re work becomes a public good, open to recipients’ annotations; the same holds true for brands. Control is over. Your story isn’t your story anymore, it’s everyone’s. And everyone can and will use this opportunity, and that’s not a threat, it’s a great opportunity to crowd-source your own brand and your company’s reputation. Intriguing thought.
Then there was Ankur Jain, Founder and CEO of HUMIN, “a technology company working to make technology more human”, as his website says. And he started his speech perfectly in this sense: With a human story. With a hero (himself) and a “do you remember when” introduction, pulling the audience (at least those over 25) into their own past, enabling identification with a situation everybody knows: Once upon a time, it took you ages to find out the telephone number of a girl you were interested in, once you had it, you had to take a walk to the nearest telephone box to try to call her with your last coins (as you’re parents were kind of anal on the phone bill issue in the pre-flat-rate era), then dialing the number you had researched, waiting for the ring, hoping her dad wouldn’t pick up the phone, then he did, you hung up, money gone, off back home. Just an anecdote, maybe, but a good, personal intro into explaining what his app was supposed to do: seamlessly connect you with all your contacts on all your various social platforms and address books. Left me entertained and willing to download his app and try it. Which I did.
Or Whatsapp’s Co-Founder and CEO Jan Koum. His visions for his very successful messaging service as well as the sympathy level for him as a person and his work stayed on a low-level for me, even though I love his app, UNTIL: He told the very touching and comprehensible story of this young man emigrating from Ukraine to the USA who missed his parents and family so much, but couldn’t afford regular calls, let alone trips home – so he invented Whatsapp to stay in touch with the people important to his life, instantly, whenever, and economically. I bought into the idea and rationale, and understood even better why I make such frequent use of this little green tile on my iPhone.
What I’m getting at, and what is my personal take-away from three days of insights into digital trends for life and business and business life, is best summed up with one of the many great quotes of one of the great lost storytellers and story-understanders, Steve Jobs: “No matter how good the technology, it will not turn a bad story into a good story.” [http://goo.gl/H1ZCuy] Or a bad speech into a good speech, I might add.
So I’d like to end this stream of thoughts with two videos that are better tutorials for a good speech than anything I could write here:
Steve Jobs’ legendary 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, which is any prime example of perfectly structured story-in-speech, not filmed, not written, but spoken aka told (even if not off by heart, but from the heart). Three little stories turning into one big story at the end, leaving a clear message without needing to name it. Please enjoy this one from beginning to end: