The problem with brands as storytellers is that we've heard it all before
A view from Russell Davies

The problem with brands as storytellers is that we've heard it all before

The word "cliché" apparently goes back to the days of hot-metal type.

The cliché was originally a block of type used so frequently that the typesetters didn’t bother taking it apart again after use. (The word comes from the sound of the hot metal being thrust into cooling water.)

Advertising, which is always interested in shorthand and compression, is often in a perilous relationship with cliché. The commonplace is a useful starting point, but it often means that what we do are lazy stereotypes. Or at least boring ones. It starts as shorthand and ends as cliché.

The upside of this is that every cliché-ridden category is an opportunity. The only really useful strategic thought I offered in doing all that nice Honda work at Wieden & Kennedy was that we should do the opposite of car ads.

Then, of course, you can’t rest on your laurels – you create a new norm. I remember trying to show a group of twenty-somethings a reel of absolutely groundbreaking Nike ads. I suddenly saw it through their eyes. It had been so influential, had been copied in so many ways, that it just looked old and tired.

The commonplace is a useful starting point, but it often means that what we do are lazy stereotypes

All of which is preamble for a blog, by Nick Asbury, called The Strange Story Of Story. It neatly skewers the advertising world’s current obsession with the idea of "stories" with the notion that we’re storytellers, somehow bound up with ancient traditions and deep, folk wisdom. It points out how, outside the purely commercial context, most "brand stories" would utterly fail through a complete lack of all the things that make stories powerful: surprise, jeopardy, character and, most of all, conflict. Most brand stories are like that moment in a job interview when your biggest weakness turns out to be perfectionism.

The best bits, after some splendid ranting, are the bonus parodies of brand stories at the end. Like at Little Red Riding Hood, where we believe that grandmothers are special and should be visited as often as possible.

That’s why Little Red Riding Hood is all about visiting grandmothers who are real and not wolves. And it’s why our passion for grandmothers will always be at the core of our mission, no matter how big the eyes, ears and, especially, teeth of the wolf.

Little Red Riding Hood: we want to make it easier to visit grandmothers, not wolves.

Brands as storytellers, not as simple as you think.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
@undermanager

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