Telling Tales: Brand Experience and the Thrill of the Overture

Once upon a time, not that long ago, there lived a great number of creative agencies that believed that the art of story telling could assist their clients...True story.

'By now you’ve surely gotten the memo: Storytelling is “it” in business and communication today' spun Tony LaPorte, Environmental Branding Director at Milwaukee based experience design firm Kahler Slater in an article last week in Forbes. Entitled Storytelling Is Overlooked in Workplace Design LaPorte extols the virtues of environmental branding programs that harvest the key stories from a companies history and incorporate them into the work space through re-designed décor. Interesting concept.

'Today, brands are competing with filmmakers, writers and entertainers, not other brands' announce Story Worldwide 'the world's first post-advertising agency' (that's not post in the letter delivery or billboard sense of the word, that's future talk). Partly true, but isn't that just brand sex boast for 'we're rollin with Tarantino here not Terry's Chocolate Orange'?

There's a nice slice of recent advertising history on the subject by Kirk Cheyfitz, CEO & Chief Editorial Officer in the New York City arm of Story Worldwide entitled Everyone's a Storyteller.Not. There is certainly a neurosis, as pointed out, more or less, by Cheyfitz, that this is perhaps because that no one really wants to admit to being a straight forward ad man these days, and of course, the world of advertising has changed beyond all recognition. After all, who can blame them, or indeed the pet store for wanting to befriend us on Facebook after a casual date to buy hamster food; we're living in an opt-in culture. We need to be entertained and wooed dammit.

Perhaps one of the most succinct pieces currently doing the rounds on the subject of story telling in brand experience comes from US /UK based Method with the latest in their series of 10x10 insights entitled 10x10 XII: Raiders of the Lost Overture by Paul Valerio. 

Now before anybody starts accusing me of shoddy journalistic bias, I want to tell you that I know Method, I worked for them this year. I know their story, because I'm in the process of (eventually) finishing it at this very moment in time. Yes they got me in to tell their story. I'm not quite in show business but Valerio is spot on when he says “to get it right we might as well borrow (i.e. steal) ideas from those who know best — our friends in show business. How do great plays and movies prepare their audience for their stories? How do they prime us all to be engaged regardless of what mood we are in? It’s simple: with an overture. Great brand experiences do exactly the same thing.” Valerio even gets in something that will please the story telling work space people by bringing up the recent re-design of terminal 2 at San Francisco airport as an excellent exercise in well-designed overture.

Method have summed up with the word overture what the others are already saying tangentially. An overture is the smell of freshly baked bread, slightly smudged lip stick, a sense of familiarity yet excitement for what may happen, a frisson.

One of Method's early admirers is Craig Mod, writer, (book) designer, publisher and developer, currently working with Flipboard. In his excellent Post– Artifact Books & Publishing essay of June this year asks us 'just where does the digital artifact begin and end? When is it ‘completed?’' Mod is talking about books but his observations on the change in publishing should ring true with those in branding. Perhaps creative agencies are heading towards creating overtures to a post artifact system of commerce — seamless and endless.The End.

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