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Posts Tagged ‘Robert McKee’

A few weeks back I mentioned I was re-reading Robert McKee’s tome “Story” in hopes of finding some fresh insights to tap into as we wrap our minds around the notion of Brand Stories.  Happily, two smart guys–Doug and George–posted thoughtful comments that helped sharpen my thinking…

First, Doug cited how Brand Stories rarely have a beginning, middle and end.  In the one-way world of the old push advertising model, that was not a problem–we told stories as closed loops.  But today’s social storytelling has no set story entry point nor any guidelines to keep stories consistent.  Doug also mentioned ‘listening’ as critical to making the story human and authentic–our ultimate goal for Brand Stories.

George was a bit more pointed–he wondered if I ever actually did plow through McKee’s voluminous tome.  Truth be told?  Nope, not this time.  In the end, McKee focuses too heavily on screenwriting for my purposes.  Still, he makes some salient points, most regarding the critical aspects of motivation and character: issues our industry all too often ignores.

Something Tells Me There's More To This Story Conflict Too

Something Tells Me There's More To This Story Conflict Too

So I dug deeper into my closet, checking out old writing books and eventually turning up a copy of Linda Seger’s Making A Good Script Great.   Her book has two advantages: it’s shorter and it’s paperback. Plus, it focuses on conflict–the key element to any story.

Linda wants her students to find the conflict in their stories, and to do so, she helpfully breaks them down into five types: inner, relational, social, situational, and cosmic.

Practically speaking, I didn’t get a lot out of her list–aside from thinking that ‘Cosmic Conflict’ would make a pretty cool band name.  Still, I like her challenge to identify your story conflict, and so I started applying it to some of our clients.  Not surprisingly, the client brands that consistently inspire our best work have easily-identified conflicts.  For Harris Bank, the source of conflict would be impersonal, disengaged banks.  For Cricket Wireless, the conflict is a cellular version of “The Man”–uncaring, disdainful, gouging to our customers.  And for Amway–a company that had never really advertised and became an all-too-easy punchline–the conflict is misperception.  These conflicts underpin each brand’s respective tagline: “We’re Here to Help,” “Respekt for You,” and “Now You Know.”

You can have great variety among the brand stories you and your audience generate, as long as you have a well-defined conflict rooting them to a similar theme.  And if you know the conflict, it really doesn’t matter where people enter along your story path–if the conflict stays consistent, story beginnings, middles and ends don’t really matter.

The conflict for the advertising industry’s story right now is convergence.  Interestingly, that’s also the answer.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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So I’m plowing through McKee and Campbell and all sorts of other thinkers, delving into the principles of story narrative with a mind to reinvent the working notion of advertising campaigns for our agency.  By focusing on the basic foundations of story, perhaps we can more easily reorient both our work and ourselves away from a push-driven, objectives-based, communications-controlling POV toward a more two-way, push-pull, communications sharing perspective.  Anyway, I’m reading a lot lately…

A Pre-Victorian Lisa Simpson If You Will

A Pre-Victorian Lisa Simpson If You Will

At the same time, my wife has been reading two chapters of Charlotte Bronte’s classic gothic novel Jane Eyre every night to our (now five days away from) nine year old. Despite some digressions to explain the meaning of archaic terms like ‘ligature,’ ‘wretched,’ and my personal favorite–‘bilious’–it’s been one of the nicest surprises in months.  I look forward to hearing the next installment each night; somehow in the intervening thirty or so years since last I spent any time with young Jane, she grew to be funny and spunky and insightful in a way I never recognized as an eighth grader.

It’s funny how a great story might not speak to you–at least not right away–and yet it inevitably finds its audience.  Which gives me real hope that if we make great brand stories and get them out to people who appreciate them, those people will be inspired to do a lot of the storytelling for us, widening the circle, and finding an engaged, participatory audience.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Yep, for the moment I’m setting aside Groundswell and Buyology for all 480 pages of Story, a ten year old, way too heavy hardcover that focuses mainly on the craft of screenwriting.  Why?

Today's Marketing Must-Read

Today's Marketing Must-Read

Because I no longer believe that campaigns measure up in our web 2.0, socially networked world.  Today, we broadcast our messages into an environment where we can control them perhaps seventy percent of the time.  Consumers drive the other thirty percent: blogging, posting reviews, tagging Flickr photos, making YouTube videos and simple word of mouth recommendations.  When we must cede control of the message nearly a third of the time, we need to rethink every assumption we hold regarding pushing out campaigns.

And that takes me back, not immediately to McKee’s 1997 hardcover, but rather some 17,000 years to the Paleolithic age in the South of France.  Admittedly, I wasn’t there, yet those prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux still possess an eerie power all these eons later.  Because those strangely-dynamic images of bulls and horses vividly engender the notion of story; a story told once, then again, then tens of thousands of times, evolving, changing and growing with each new storyteller.

The Magdalenian Age's Must Read

The Magdalenian Age's Must Read

And that takes me back to McKee.  As marketers, we must get really smart about the principles of storytelling. If we can shape compelling brand stories that motivate and engage our consumers, and at the same time specifically identify and highlight foundational aspects of those brand stories, then we will make it easier for our consumers to add their own experiences to our brand story foundation, personalizing the brand to themselves and evangelizing it to all of their friends.  And that sounds like a way forward: not thinking about campaigns, but obsessing over story.

Besides, “campaign” is such a warlike word.  “Story” is so much more inviting, so much more one-to-one, so much more fundamentally human and authentic.  

You know, like the best brands.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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