What’s the story, anyway?
Everybody’s talking about brand stories. Looks like we’re not all talking about the same thing. An attempt at classification.
Is it just me or is everyone talking about brand stories like there was never any doubt brands have always had stories? Not that I mind, I love stories, in all shapes and sizes. And it’s totally ok for me if brands have them, too. (I’m generous that way). I just wasn’t aware. I can remember a time when the big thing brands had was an “image”. And I am not quite sure what “brand story” means. And what’s the difference between a brand story, a brand image, a campaign and an ad?
My gut feeling tells me that “brand story” is one of those terms that get thrown around without an accepted definition (and may just be the same as “brand image”). Who wouldn’t rather want a story for their brand? After all, the appeal is self-evident. We’re naturally drawn to stories. They entertain us. They bring order into this random world. They draw us in, make sense of events, and splice heroes, conflict, challenge and emotions into a meaningful narrative. They magically make us accept what we’re told as inevitable: ethics, values, and cultural norms. And the time dimension of an unravelling story seems so much more suited to the Youtube age than a static brand “image”.
But I am not exactly sure what a brand story is. I found a definition according to which the brand story is about emotion, vision and promise, and the basis of the brand image:
The story that wasn’t there
I did some more googling and learned that despite the boom of “story” that I feel happening, “brand image” still gets a lot more results (3,600,000) than “brand story” (1,290,000) . I also learned that Fujitsu apparently has a brand story, and it looks like this:
While they seem to have mastered the SEO for “brand story”, this looks suspiciously like a brand image, if you ask me. Or a brand infographic. It certainly doesn’t have the emotional impact I would expect from a “story”. Also, there’s not ONE story there, it’s lots of little pieces. And it’s making me do all the work. What part’s the brand story? (I hope it’s not the bit that says “Fujitsu is working with people and organizations around the world to shape the future of society”. That’s a story skeleton that’s about as appealing as “a man leaves home, endures much hardship, and returns as a hero”).
That documentary approach
Hannah Arendt said “storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it”. The nit-picky story lover in me just doesn’t want to let Fujitsu get away with calling their disparate little image bits “story”. I feel that the “story” label can’t just be claimed. It’s got to be earned by some sort of the real qualities that stories have (maybe I’m not so generous after all). Real-life stories work because they’re credible. I googled some more and, on brandstories.net came across these 30-second adverts, in which match.com is currently telling stories of people doing online dating:
Already much better. These videos have characters for identification (real people on real dates!). They are little story fragments with lots of detail. But for one of the most compelling themes out there – the promise of new love – I personally find them a little lacking (not least because I want to know what happened next). They are not about love, they are only about dating. And they seem to have an instructional agenda: let’s show the world that normal, good-looking people do online dating and what one of their dates could look like. Surely a brand story is more than a campaign?
The hero piece
Google are currently advertising with a similar series of videos that are all variations on the same master myth: how people have used Google to achieve something extraordinary. Where the match.com campaign scrimps on the why that’s driving its protagonists, these videos are full of people’s passions.
Where match.com was all about dating, this isn’t all about googling. The product isn’t the hero – the hero is. Their stories are bigger than the product. And that’s why their emotional impact is so much greater than that of the previous videos.
Here’s another example from Skype:
The other narrator
But even though the product is only tangential to the story, these examples are still recognisably part of a campaign, probably created on brief by story builders on agency payrolls. And the above definition, too, reads like consumers have no part in the creation of a brand story. I guess I’ve always assumed that having a brand story must be different from telling one. Doesn’t it have to develop naturally, over time? And what are examples of stories of which the brand doesn’t own the narrative? We all know that stories change considerably depending on whoever tells them. Which means real life can surprise the hell out of you, as in this example:
…and real life might as well bite a brand on the bum, as in these instances:
— ░▒▓█ (@HVSVN) September 2, 2013
Stories are booming. These are just a few examples from a growing body of brand stories. If you have any other examples of stories that do or do not fit into this taxonomy, do share them with us in the comments!