Written by: Guy Peires
The definition of the word story seems too broad to even consider.* Wikipedia seems to not even have a page with that name, evidently for the same reasons. Plus, there are many things either called or have story in the title.†
Unlike a definition, which feels monolithic and immutable (at least for the current year), the science of or behind something has that never-ending thing about it. The energy of always searching. Always thirsty for answers. Always debating.
At Kworq, we talk a lot about story. We wax lyrical on the power of empathy. How people buy into brand stories rather than products and that, as a brand, if you make it into a consumer’s consideration set, you’ve earned a stake in their lives. The holy grail 🙏
But why do we love a good ole yarn? A tall tale; an eye-opening adventure? It’s an endless debate… because it’s not really about the answers. It’s about the debate itself. The questions. Are we asking the right questions today? What is the sequence of regret-avoiding decisions that will get us to click buy today? I could go on about statistics and data and more statistics, because, yes, there is no question, it’s crucial. It gets us in the ring. But it’s that hard-to-hold part that we endeavor to grasp. The part that’s left after all the demographics, geography, spending power, look-a-like audiences and AI probabilities have done their job. The part that makes us remember something. And usually that comes after we’ve been stirred into some internal or external conflict or debate.
I mean, how often have you found yourself repeating the words of an opposing point of view you not so long ago railed against vehemently? What you believed yesterday doesn’t mean you will today. Perception is ever evolving, and it expands as we experience. Whether it’s stoked by something you hadn’t thought of, or by a challenge to your understanding of what you thought you knew. Any memorable story does this. It presents something that pits your ideals against another’s and reveals something new.
Getting it right, though, is another story (pun intended). Getting people to really engage on an emotional level versus tricking them (I hear Video, VR, 360 and AR really reels them in), can be elusive at best. Take the campaign we’re currently running. It’s for the perfumery, Etat Libre d’Orange, whose collection includes fragrances with names like I Am Trash, Fat Electrician, and Dangerous Complicity. It may be the most effective creative for a campaign we’ve ever launched. And it’s built on the premise of bad reviews. We took real bad reviews of the fragrances in question, juxtaposed each with a classical, sometimes hedonistic, painting, and the perfume bottle. Just a static, well composed layout with a dash of ambiguity as to whether the quoted bad review was alluding to the painting or the perfume. Together they magnify a fearless, unapologetic personality that begs you to find out more. You are immediately thrown into a debate with yourself. What does this mean? Is this a joke? Can it really smell that bad? The key of course is the bad review; the negatively slanted commentary that is so descriptive or exuding of attitude, or both, you can’t help but be confronted by the implicit conflict of interest there is in denigrating the very product you are being sold. We can all smell bullshit (another pun intended). It’s all around us. Broken promises and fake news. And we mostly endure it. So, when you’re confronted with the f%*k-you-so-what kind of honesty, it’s like getting off a 16-hour flight in Fiji for summer vacation. I believe one comment-by-gif summed it up best with the caption: Shut up and take my money. It hits you in the face and says this is our story; this is who we are. Love it or leave it.
To present something perceivably negative about your brand whilst promoting it would be anathema to most brands. But doing so is also nothing new. VW was a trailblazer in this respect in the ‘60s. Those simple, elegant, humorous ads captured a truth about the car and the brand that people immediately understood. The ads assumed an aptitude in their audience to appreciate that not everything is perfect and nor are we. They reframed shortcomings as virtues. And of course, it stirred debate. And where there is debate, there is story. A story you can’t help but remember.
Getting people to remember your brand is the ultimate goal, right? And what we remember is what we believe to be true. I don’t want to come off as flippant as it pertains to people’s lives, but would it be fair to say that in some contexts perceived truth is the truth? I can hear the castigations already… Could we at least say that whatever we think is true motivates us to act accordingly and therefore makes it true in the moment? Once we thought it was true that the Earth was flat. Now we don’t. (Most of us at least.) There was a time when some cigarettes were promoted by doctors and believed by people as having medicinal benefits. Now they don’t. What do we think of as inarguably true now that one day will no longer be? Does actual truth matter, if no one knows about it? If we’re trying to get down to the metal, is it not what is perceived to be true that matters most? Great marketing captures these questions, the zeitgeist of the moment, that challenge us to reach for a higher truth. And if a clever, funny, bad review can provide people with a reprieve from the endless torrent of positive spin, who are we to deny them that story?
There I go again with more questions…