Tag Archives: apple

This is not a well-written article

sarah-silverman-cc08In the latest episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Bill paid a rather interesting compliment to Sarah Silverman. He said, “you’re amazing because you’re willing to unsettle an audience. Anyone can come out and tell people what they want to hear, but you’re willing to scare them.”

This fact may be one of the secret ingredients to Silverman’s success and it also offers an insight into what motivates people to think and act. One of the theories of humor is that it’s essentially based in incongruity. What makes people laugh is a sudden twist of plot or perspective — something that surprises us. On a bustling street, where everyone is going about their business as usual, when someone slips suddenly, one of our instincts is to laugh (for some, this instinct is stronger than for others). When the punch line is in sharp contrast to the set up – when they are most incongruous – we laugh the hardest.

Beyond humor too, contrast seems to emotionally move humans. We live in a world of symmetry – almost all living organisms are symmetrical, so when we experience incongruity we are startled. It causes us to laugh at jokes, pay attention to art, avoid danger, and gasp when we’re frightened.

It’s not surprising that humor is such a mainstay in advertising. In order to emotionally move someone in 30 seconds or less it takes tremendous incongruity, and humor is the best way of getting at it.

Naturally, I began to wonder what the role of all of this is in social movements and branding.

When I thought of the strongest brands, the ones with the most loyal, passionate followings (the ones that most resemble social movements), it seemed they were all conceived from some form of incongruity or dissonance. Apple of course stands for creativity in a world that was once dominated by beige boxes. Google gave us easily organized information in the wild west that was the internet. Target represented the democratization of design in a mass production economy.

Similarly, social movements are all born from intense dissonance from prevailing social currents. Without the affluence and prosperity of the 1950’s would the Beatniks have been so down-trodden and anti-materialist? Without the growth of the Industrial Revolution, a period of horrible working conditions, would organized labor have become such a force? If college graduates weren’t entering such a bleak economy today would they insist they like the taste of PBR?

The whole point of social movements is that they originate as an opposition – an incongruous alternate to the way the world is. Without representing some sort of a contrast, a brand will just blend into everyday business. So what makes your brand worthy of a movement? What would you say that would unsettle an audience?

What’s the story with your mission?

081005171231-240-124You may have seen this photograph before…it’s one of the most famous of the 20th Century and certainly of the Vietnam War. Aside from sheer terror captured by the photographer (Nick Ut), it’s the story behind the photo that propelled this image to infamy.

The naked, screaming girl is Phan Thị Kim Phúc. American and South Vietnamese pilots had just finished bombing her town and had mistaken her and her fellow citizens fleeing the city for soldiers, and attacked. She ran crying down the street as napalm scorched the skin on her back. This story became a lynchpin of the anti war and anti napalm movements in America.

Stories have always been critical to the success of social movements. They’ve been used to incite action by exposing injustice the way Rodney King’s story was used to provoke riots in LA and eventually became a symbol of the bubbling tension between the distressed black community and white law enforcement. And they’ve been used like fables to articulate the moral framework of a movement, the best example of which is religion, which in my mind is the most successful social movement in history.

In fact, religion is essentially organized storytelling from which we draw moral and personal conclusions. The bible is an anthology of these stories. Sociologist Gary Alan Fine said “a movement is a bundle of stories…a group with a shared narrative is more likely to mobilize it’s members.” Religion’s, and especially Christianity’s, ability to mobilize its members has hinged on a very familiar schema for storytelling: “I once was lost and now I’m found.” This formula has been efficacious in its ability to draft follower’s because it promises transformation if you join its collective identity.

What’s your organization’s collective identity? What does it promise? What are the stories that define your cause? Do they just highlight the importance of your work or do they have a moral framework? Are they capable of mobilizing people?

Consumer brands have very sophisticated stories. Apple established a narrative condemning the drab and oppressive PC establishment while mobilizing their forces to fight for creativity starting with the 1984 spot and continuing today in the Mac vs PC spots. Stories of Harley Davidson’s popularity with the Hell’s Angels have given the brand an enduring culture of rebellion.

What’s interesting to me about the stories that consumer brands tell is that almost all of them are completely made up – fabricated by genius spin doctors at ad agencies. Whereas NPO’s and causes have real stories to tell, many basing their very existence on the founder’s personal quest. However, due to the inequities of the media market, we hear so few of them.

One of the ways NPO’s do attempt to tell their stories is by utilizing the ubiquitous and oft-insipid mission statement. These statements are too often stripped of the real storytelling elements and exist only as a regrettable corporate necessity. It’s too often an opportunity missed.

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to tell your story. Getting an audience on the Internet is not a monumental feat (the fact that you’re reading this is a testimonial to that.) We have a forum for accessing the population so it’s now about understanding how to use this medium for effective storytelling. So I pose the question: what are the best practices for storytelling via web 2.0?

In my next post I will dissect the traditional elements of storytelling and explore their applications in the web 2.0 world. In the meantime, check out BRANDEMiX.