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November 2008

Don't Sell Me The Brand - Sell Me The Story!

200px-Mykidpaintthatver2 Over the weekend we watched the 2007 documentary film "My Kid Could Paint That." The film tackles a variety of issues - from the abstract and superficial world of modern art - to how the media can create and demolish a rising star in its quest to sell the story.

The key issue in the film is the question of whether or not Marla Olmstead, a four year old from Binghamton New York, created works of art herself - or whether her father (an amateur painter) had a hand in creating these masterpieces as well. The journey is interesting, as young Marla manages to crack the relatively pretentious and self-absorbed art world and sell her paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Her art had been compared to Picasso, and Marla was labelled a child prodigy.

Regardless of the questions and issues raised by the film, what's interesting is its relevance to marketing and brand storytelling.In the Special Features section of the movie,someone can be overheard saying that 'it's not the paintings they're buying, it's the story behind the paintings.' Art collectors weren't buying the paintings so much for their artistic value (which can be hugely subjective), they were buying into the controversy raised by Marla's paintings.

The idea of 'buying into the story' is true for many world class brands. A great brand tells a story, and by buying a certain brand we're buying the right to participate in that brand story. If I buy an iPod, I'm not just buying a mobile music device, I'm buying the right to participate in the Apple community of users - a shared story that includes elements of rebelliousness not found in other brands. To buy an Apple product means I'm buying into the brand's iconoclastic identity.

If I choose to drink Grand Marnier (in addition to superior taste and quality), I'm buying into the longstanding history of the product and the dream of its producers to make it a luxurious and indulgent experience. In addition to the superior taste of the product, I'm also buying the "right" to experience the emotions and stories of my past through its ability to evoke a series of positive emotions in my mind. Many of my key life moments were celebrated with a shot of Grand Marnier, and every time I taste it I'm reliving those memories all over again.

Whether through art or iPods, great brands are able to entice us to buy through the use of compelling stories. What other brands can you think of that use story to sell the "cachet" of the product? Do you buy certain brands for the memories or stories they evoke?

Emotional Branding Key To Best Buy Holiday Campaign


Best Buy is starting a holiday ad campaign that features the stories of real people recounting emotional moments in their lives. Scott Bedbury, the brand guru who helped Nike and Starbucks rise to fame, once said that "A great brand taps into emotions...Emotions drive most, if not all of our decisions."

With the holiday season approaching, the airwaves will be full of advertisers touting their wares as THE gift that should be found under the holiday tree. Best Buy has opted for a different and more unique approach, by making the stories do the selling for them.

The campaign carries the tagline "You, Happier" and was created by BBDO New York. In one ad called "True Stories", a Best Buy employee recounts his story of working on a military base in Texas. By moving into the realm of people's lives, Best Buy is able to create an emotional component to an otherwise "cold" product. The ad focuses on families being together over the holidays, and on spouses being reunited after long absences.

By taking this approach, the brand is personalized by creating an emotional context that helps people compare the stories to situations in their own lives.

Best Buy's use of emotional branding should prove to be very effective over the holiday season. People remember stories and, if they're given a way to relate to a brand through storytelling, chances are they will connect that brand to something they want out of life. When it comes down to it, we all want the same things in life. Emotional branding is one way to ensure that those needs are translated into a purchase for a product or service.

Can you think of other examples where emotion was used to promote a brand? What brands consistently use this type of approach, and do you think it's an effective way of marketing/advertising?

What Happened To The Civilized Workplace?

We've all heard the news. Toxic workplaces, toxic bosses, rudeness to co-workers and outright disrespect towards other people. Are things getting worse in today's workplace or is everything still the same, only we hear about it more in the media?

When I was a kid, I was told to "play nice", "play fair", and always say "thank you." Cheating wasn't an acceptable form of behaviour, and we were taught to feel bad if we ever tried to cheat on something. As a teenager, I tried to live by these same rules, but started to notice that some kids who formed cliques seemed immune to the rules of civility. In "groupthink", everything was fair game and those who formed part of the school elite considered themselves exempt from the rules that made me so proud growing up.

What happens when this same type of behaviour is transferred to the workplace? Do kids who were bullies in their younger years transfer this behaviour to the workplace - or does the workplace breed this type of behaviour as a means of surviving an otherwise intolerable work environment?

In times of financial uncertainty and general instability, it seems that toxic behaviour would increase in proportion to the times. But does it? And what makes an otherwise civilized person behave poorly? What happens and what do you do when this person is your boss?


A recent Toronto Star article compares toxic behaviour in the work environment to a "deadly character assassination" that can escalate into a "team sport that divides workplaces along loyalty lines." When I graduated from business school in 1985, we were taught that success in business (especially as a woman) could be had by following the principles found in a football game. Everything was built around competition - and in finding a way to beat your opponent before he or she got to you. As women, we were taught to "be nice" and "play fair", and that doesn't always work when confronted by a whole new set of rules in the business world.

Now, I'm no idealist - but isn't it possible to succeed in the workplace and in business without a) having to be rude to everyone around you b) having to go to work every day feeling as if you're about to compete in an NFL playoff game?

Where did business get so off track - and why is it that books that deal with the topic of workplace toxicity are hitting the bestseller lists? What accounts for the rise in rudeness - and how can we ensure that our workplaces are more civil, and treat people the way they're supposed to be treated?

I don't have the answers, but if anyone out there does, I would be interested in hearing from you.