I was watching this advertisement for Adidas in the cinema the other day and reflected on how pervasive storytelling has become. Here’s an ad that says practically nothing about the product but is clearly aimed at re-personalising a brand. To do it, Adidas corporate needed to have recognised the power of narrative.
And then I thought a number of things (not sure they were what Adidas wanted me to think):
2. This is probably because the world is more complex and we (the audiences in the markets or the audiences in the companies) crave simpler frames for looking at this complexity – stories are extremely powerful ways of making complexity comprehensible while maintaining its richness
3. Over-enthusiasm for story can have bad effects – when it is allied with a distaste for thinking things through analytically and critically, story becomes less of a sensemaking device and more of a spin-device. Two weeks ago I visited the House of Terror in Budapest, the former secret police headquarters where thousands of Hungarians were tortured and killed by both Nazis and Soviet-advised Communists. The building is full of the stories of survivors reflected from every wall on video screens (it was one of the most depressing afternoons of my life). But behind all of those stories and of the half-century of social apparatus they reflected were the bigger spin stories of Fascism and Communism, stories that subverted reason, diversity and even the right to think.
4. We may not have such a proliferation of vicious, simplistic regimes to deal with now (though they are still around, and they are still capable of flourishing again), but we have the same intellectual laziness in our societies and our organisations, the same willingness to relax and switch off our minds for a good tale. In a newscast from the Republican convention the other week, I saw one delegate rave about Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin: “She spoke to us in simple words we could understand” in an obvious jab at the “intellectual” Barack Obama. Clarity of communication is wonderful, but wanting to be spoonfed easy messages that fit a cartoon-character story is dangerous.
And then the movie started.
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