Narrative

Searching For Meaning at 102 - The Timeless Appeal of Stories

Mark Twain once said that “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Just as family artifacts are passed down from generation to generation, people too can be a vessel for all sorts of stories that are passed on to future generations. Older people (let’s call them “seasoned” due to their wealth of world experience) can be an infinite source of wisdom and guidance in a world often full of conflict and chaos. Even making it to your senior years in this day and age is a source of inspiration!

Listening to stories from members of the older generation can be a fascinating glimpse into the past – and offer hope for the future. A well told honest story coming from the heart can even convince us that, in spite of all the advances, perhaps nothing much has changed in the world over the years.

One of my most recent writing projects (outside of my usual corporate work) is to help a 102 year old lady write her memoirs through a series of short stories – perhaps even adding in a novel or play. At 102, she still has all her “faculties” and is sharp as a whip. So much so that (as many seniors do), she still manages to find a way to correct me at several points throughout the dictation process. Her life could have been plucked straight from a Hollywood movie. A strong and independent thinker, she ran her own adventure travel company for over 40 years offering tours throughout the world. During that time, she also acted as an agent of sorts and recruited speakers and celebrities from around the world to speak at various locations in Toronto. One of her most famous speakers was Sir Edmund Hillary. Yes, the Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame. At the height of her career, she also hosted dignitaries and made the rounds to numerous celebrity parties and events.

She was married to an engineer and moved many times as her husband was offered jobs in different cities. My point is this. Stories often help us find meaning in our sometimes confused and chaotic lives. They offer a temporary means of escape. A good story engages us, draws us in – and in the best case scenario can also teach us something.

And what better way to help us understand our place in the world, than to listen to someone who has experienced just about everything life has to offer?

In life, we’re often told to take “time out” to smell the roses. Yet it’s just as important to take time out of our busy schedules and really listen to the stories that encapsulate our world.

I hope my story sessions will continue and very much look forward to my visits. In a way, I feel as if I’m talking to a sage of sorts. A sort of human search engine plucked from the ages whose goal it is to ensure her experience, wisdom and adventures don’t go unnoticed.

So far, she has been able to weather just about every storm life could throw at her. Yet somehow, looking ahead, I get the feeling that the best part of her story is yet to be written.

 

 

 


Selling Emotion In Advertising: The Psychology of Effective Ads

The advent of non-traditional distribution channels brought on by advances in technology has raised a number of issues for advertisers. The consumer marketplace has become a dumping ground of sorts for a bevy of messages from companies telling us to buy more - and buy "better."

To reach us, ad agencies have tried numerous tactics including: cool graphics and effects, gorgeous models leading globetrotting lifestyles (who are not an accurate representation of "Joe and Jill" average), and promises that the product will deliver and meet our needs on numerous levels. Billions of dollars are spent delivering the message, but is the message really getting through?

When I think back to my days as a corporate sales representative, my business challenges were not unlike those faced by advertisers today. How do I come across as being "different" than my competitors - and succeed at having my product stand out amongst others that deliver similar experiences?

Looking back, the clincher to my biggest and most successful sales was based on an emotional element that I was able to add to the selling mix. Customers could have bought a similar product elsewhere, but they bought from me. If I was selling toys, then I would be able to use the "cute and fuzzy" factor as a lead-in to the sale. Key sales decisions were always a combination of both rational and emotional elements.

Emotion is important in selling because it leads to ownership and involvement. Remember the breakthrough success of the pet rock? Why else would anyone pay money for a rock in a box, other than the "cool" - and pride of ownership factors? The fact that the rock came with a handbook increased the emotional attachment of the rock to the owner. The success of the mood ring was based on similar principles. The product was even able to "predict" emotion through a display of colour on the owner's hand. We all knew it was a crock, yet we all bought it. In some strange way, we became attached to the idea that the ring could actually predict or reflect our mood. The experience became personal.

Just as in selling, the most effective ads reach us through their emotional appeal. By targeting our emotions, we are able to identify with the characters in the ad. Their story becomes our own.

When I think about great ads, I think of ads that struck a key emotional chord. There was something universal and "human" to the story. Examples of ads that catered to our emotions include:

The key to customer awareness and engagement can be found in this simple truism...people don't buy from companies - people buy from people.

What other ad campaigns can you think of that used emotion as a way to sell the product? Do you think this is an effective way of reaching consumers? Why isn't it used more often in advertising today?

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“Trumped”: Get Your Narrative Right and You Could Win the White House

Love him or hate him, few would disagree that Donald Trump is a master storyteller. Politics aside, Trump was the true underdog both within and outside of his own party.

Obama and many others skewered him in public. The media would often sway between sensationalism to downright skepticism in their reporting of all things Trump. Yet what the skeptics didn’t know or understand was that Trump was playing right into the hands of the American electorate.

People love the underdog story. Most can identify with what it’s like to be the outsider. It seemed that no matter what Trump said or did, he couldn’t lose. And people want to support a winner.

Perhaps even Trump himself was surprised that he was able to win over America to claim the highest office in the land. The fact is that Donald Trump is a genius at getting inside the zeitgeist of a population and in reading what it is exactly that people want. And it was time for change. Fed up with the status quo and their place in life, Trump gave his supporters what they wanted to hear. Like Superman rushing to save the screaming masses from a burning building, he was their hero and promised to fix things if they gave him a chance.

Many underestimated Trump. What his opponents and skeptics did was fail to see that through his storytelling and ability to read the current narrative playing out in America, he was able to tap into something so deep that no one else was able to reach it.

While there were many reasons that led to Trump’s victory, from a story perspective he hit all the right buttons.

Here’s what Trump did right:

  1. He tapped into people’s emotions and took them on an emotional journey. Great stories are built on great characters and he was able to create a persona for himself that instinctively drew people to his rallies by the tens of thousands
  2. He focused on what was really going on with the American people in a way that more seasoned politicians just failed to see. He read the narrative and followed the script. America was fed up and wanted to be great again. Trump offered a way out and his unconventional personality was able to draw people to his ideas
  3. His journey had many similarities to those experienced by heroes in the classic book by Christopher Vogler “The Writer’s Journey.” It’s almost as if Trump’s actions followed those in a dramatic movie script. There was a Call to Action, which led to the Hero’s Journey. Along the way, there were antagonists (or one key one – Hillary Clinton), tests, allies and enemies. After numerous challenges the hero crosses the threshold and returns with the ultimate prize – the White House

To quote Campbell, “Every storyteller bends the mythic pattern to his own purpose or the needs of her culture. That’s why the hero has a thousand faces.”

Great stories are mythic in nature and speak directly to the human spirit.They tap into a mythological core that teaches us something about ourselves.

From a storytelling perspective, Trump nailed it on all levels. Add to that his brand of authenticity yet unseen in the world of Washington politics and he proved to be a worthy opponent.

For Donald Trump, his final act is yet to be written. In the meantime, there will be more tests, allies and enemies along the way as he leaves the ordinary world and prepares to enter the brand new world of politics.

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Source: CTVnews.ca

 


All Is Not Lost In Love And War

The well-worn locket doesn’t look fancy or expensive, yet the contents echo the story of long lost family of a different place and time. Although the exterior is slightly battered and the interior starting to fade with the hands of time, it’s still in remarkably good shape.

The exterior bears a floral like pattern and there are three tiny “stones” on the front side.

The age and original owner of the locket are still in question, yet a good guess would be that the locket was passed down through generations in my mother’s family. From small town Czechoslovakia to numerous cities in Canada to metropolitan Toronto, the locket is now in my hands and I claim responsibility as “keeper” to pass on the story.

As its current owner, I cannot help but ask the questions – How many people wore the locket? Where was it originally bought? How did it end up in Canada? Is the story one of tragedy or hope? Or perhaps both?

Considering the interior contents, a good guess would be that the locket was owned (at least at one point) by my mother. It contains two crude cut outs in the shape of a heart that appear to be cut from an old photograph. One cut out is an old haunting black and white picture of my grandfather (my mother’s father) who unfortunately died in a car accident about 7 months before I was born. After the war, he was working as a District Attorney in Germany and I am told a woman hit him with her car. Having taken place on a rainy day, apparently the incident was an accident. I guess we will never really know the truth. His ‘presence’ today in a treasured family artifact resembles a kind of surreal ghost of the past urging us not to forget the sacrifices made during an extremely turbulent time in history.

I know little about my grandfather except that he was working as a lawyer in Czechoslovakia when he met my grandmother. Their story sounds straight out of Hollywood, as she was his secretary and well…one thing led to another. They got married and had one child – my mother.

Although I never knew him, I hear good things about my grandfather. He was a smart man – highly educated, introverted and a hard worker. Somehow during all the chaos synonymous to world wars and frequent invasions of Czechoslovakia and its then associated borders, he managed to study law at Charles University in Prague. Being wartime, everything my family owned was taken from them and they were left with little. He left Czechoslovakia in 1948 and ended up in Germany as a refugee. He (Opa) ended up in a German labour camp (was forced to glaze bathtubs) and lost a lot of weight. The exact details of what happened in between this and his position as a D.A. is not known to my mother, a fact that adds a lot of mystery to the story of the man in the locket.

To the outside observer the locket appears to have little value. Yet while its monetary value is most likely negligible, its intrinsic and emotional value are priceless. Think of where this locket has been. Of the kind of conditions it has lived through. What are the chances that this locket survived all these years and eventually made it to Toronto for me to hold on to and cherish?

As an admirer of history and photography, I asked my Mom if I could keep a few (very old) black and white photos of her family. The photos have the classic look of people in the 1900’s and up. One of these photos is a picture of my grandmother’s parents posing in a Czech studio. From the clothing and suspected timeline, I would say that the photo was taken sometime in the early 1900’s. A studio imprint on the front of the photo says it was taken in Vsetin – which is about 300 km from Prague.

What’s intriguing is that, in the photo, my great grandmother is wearing the same locket that I’m now holding in my hands almost a century later.

While exact details will remain a mystery, this treasured artifact succeeds in bringing history to life. I feel as if I am a family curator of sorts charged with the responsibility of ensuring that we never forget the story of key players in our family history. For this is what artifacts do. Transcend time and space to pass on stories to future generations.

What artifacts or heirlooms are treasured in your family? Do you know their stories or are they still surrounded by mystery?

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Lenzkirch: The "Not Quite" 100 Year Old Clock That Keeps On Ticking

Many objects offer a sense of reconnection with our past. It’s the experience we had with the object that invokes some sort of meaning. But what if an object has been passed down through generations with little information about the story behind it? Does it hold the same meaning even if it wasn’t originally your object?

The point is that even if an object wasn’t originally in your possession, it can still have some sort of “mystique” about it. Family artifacts can still be a part of your life even if they were passed down because at some point, it held meaning for someone in your family. It had a purpose, and in a way “carries” all the memories from this person’s former life. In fact, sometimes it’s the lack of story that creates a story.

Who saw it? Who owned it? Into whose hands did it pass? Why did they keep it? Why was it important to them?

As the keeper of the object, you can now give it a place of its own even if the story and/or meaning are undefined. By holding on to a family heirloom, you’re keeping a bit of history and are giving an object value that has somehow managed to transcend both time and space. It’s also a sign of respect that what mattered once to your family, also matters to you even in a totally different time.

My mother grew up in war torn Czechoslovakia and her family lost virtually everything they owned during the war. One of the items they owned (and managed to hold on to) was a wooden clock that they kept in their family home. It’s a Lenzkirch clock that, at the time, was the height of German design and craftsmanship. Lenzkirch, a small town in the German Black Forest region, housed a factory that produced the clocks from 1860 to 1932. While the clock’s ticking doesn’t last for days, it actually still works and has found a home on our dining room cabinet. When I wind it up, it seems quite haunting as the aging timepiece springs into action in what is I’m sure a shadow of its former self.

The scuffed back panel is no longer held together by four screws. Only one remains to hold the panel in place. Other than a small piece of wood missing from the front panel, everything else seems to be in order. Pretty extraordinary considering the estimated age of the clock. I wonder who was tampering with the clock, where the original screws went, why the clock was being tampered with and where it was when the panel was opened up?

Although my Mom is unsure as to the exact date of the clock, she remembers seeing it even as a child. She says it was her mother who kept the clock throughout her life in Czechoslovakia, then through her time in Germany – and eventually brought it with her to Canada where she kept it until her death in 1994. Looking at the timeline, my Mom figures it probably dates back to the 1920’s and, considering its importance to my grandmother, was most likely a wedding gift. Unfortunately with my grandmother no longer with us, we will most certainly never know the truth. All of which adds to the eternal story and mystique surrounding this unique and endearing family artifact.

 

Lenzkirch


Wagon Wheels (Reliving The Lunchbox Experience)

My parents were of European heritage so food was important to us. As a child attending public school in suburban Ottawa, my brothers and I rarely ate in the school cafeteria. Instead, my parents would make us lunches that we would schlep to school regardless of weather conditions (this included months of sub-zero temps as Ottawa was second coldest to Moscow).

In my early school days, I remember that plastic lunchboxes were all the rage. Not just any lunchbox, but the coloured “Thermos” ones that often came with pictures of your favourite superheroes or TV show characters. The lunchboxes would come with a good size Thermos container (attached with a clip) that would provide needed warmth with soup or hot chocolate on those endless bitterly cold winter days.

Included in my lunch would always be a sandwich – usually salami, cheese or peanut butter – to give us extra protein. Back then, our lunchboxes weren’t refrigerated at school so it’s amazing none of us came down with food poisoning. I still remember my parents buying those monster size salamis which sometimes looked like small baseball bats. Being a daughter of parents of European heritage, dessert was always a much anticipated treat to find in my lunchbox. If we were lucky, our lunches would also include a small size DelMonte pudding cup (usually chocolate). The cups came with sharp, pull off lids so you had to be careful they didn’t slice your fingers as you rushed to pull them off.

But the item that stands out the most as having the most impact on my day was when I saw a Wagon Wheel in my lunch. These tasty treats (resembling a Joe Louis by Vachon for those of you who grew up near Quebec) consisted of a generous portion of marshmallow sandwiched between two chocolate covered soft biscuits.

As a kid, I knew it would be a good afternoon if my lunch included a Wagon Wheel.

Today, the product hasn’t changed much except that with most consumer products, the size seems to have shrunken a bit. What’s funny is that I still occasionally buy it for a treat. The brand has the incredible ability to take me back to the carefree days of my childhood when a simple treat in my lunchbox was able to make my day.

Eating a Wagon Wheel makes me experience my childhood all over again as in spite of its seemingly smaller size, not much has changed with the product. The taste is still unique and I sense I am that same kid all over again.

What is it about some brands that make them so timeless?

I looked at the new packaging for Wagon Wheels and not much seems to have changed either except for the fact that I’m now looking at it from the eyes of an adult. The font looks the same (quite retro) and each piece is individually wrapped. In what is probably an attempt to bring us back to our Wagon Wheel roots, the company makes it a point of saying the product is “original.” Which is true, because that’s exactly how I remember them.

Yet what hit me the most on the package was the five word line printed directly below the product name “Ideal snack for the lunchbox.” The image right next to it features a yellow lunchbox with a Wagon Wheel and wrapper sitting directly outside of it.

What’s even more intriguing is that I wrote most of this post BEFORE I even took a look at the packaging. Dare Foods totally nailed it. As a consumer, you can’t get any closer to a brand experience than that.

In a world cluttered with competing messages, to me that’s brand genius. Timelessness, taste, experience and meaning make this one brand story that’s destined to be around for a long, long time.

Wagon Wheels

 

 

 

 

 


Why Objects Matter

Stories are all around us. They're part of our DNA. From our earliest childhood, most of us can remember the sound of Mom or Dad reading stories to us. Stories of superheroes, folktale legends or just simply stories about some pretty wild and wacky characters entertained us for hours on end. The best childhood stories were able to draw you into a plot and world quite different from your own. Worlds where the good guys often won and imaginations ran free.

As we grew up, stories took on a whole new meaning. The books we read and films we watched reflected our "coming of age." As we struggled to find our place in the world, we hoped that stories would help us find meaning in our somewhat confused and chaotic lives. Sometimes we relied on heroes to provide a path through darkness to light. At other times, stories were just a means of escape, a way to temporarily leave the present world to experience a new one in print, on stage or on screen.

While enlightened companies are waking up to the fact that stories can help their brands better connect to consumers, stories can also be of great personal significance when they're a reflection of the objects we own. These objects, artifacts or "Narrative Assets," tell the story of our lives and as a group, can even reflect the story of an entire culture or nation.

Every object, or artifact has a story. Not only does it have a particular meaning for the owner, but it can also have broader implications as well. People are naturally curious beings. Just look at the popularity of museums, art and photography exhibits, antique fairs, movies and social media. We all like to share stories about what's important to us in our lives. Artifacts are one way to help us understand our place in the world.

By relating a story to an object, we're able to connect with others on an emotional level who may or may not have gone through a similar experience. Humans are naturally curious beings and are drawn to objects. What does an object represent? Who owned it? What's it made of? How old is it? and "What's its story?"

Artifacts taken from the site of world changing events can be an important source of reflection. For example, artifacts gathered from Ground Zero were placed in a museum honouring the heroes of that dark day in our history. Artifacts can represent stories that invoke either good or bad memories, but their significance to an individual or to society in general is equally important in that they serve as connecting points to our own community - or to the world in general.

Perhaps more than anything, objects and artifacts have the amazing ability to transcend time and space. When an object is passed on to another generation, that generation bears the weight and responsibility of keeping its memories alive. It's as if the original owner passes his or her story down to future generations through a particular object of great personal importance.

This blog will attempt to find meaning in otherwise everyday objects. In some cases, they may have little significance to the reader - but by adding a story the purpose of the object and its emotional relevance will become clear and generate a life of its own. So whether you're a company looking for innovative ways to showcase your brand, or an individual curious to hear or share some really cool stories, I invite you to take and share in this journey through the fascinating world of "Narrative Assets." Feel free to post your own stories and pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy the adventure.

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(Image from http://www.slideshare.net/Timmilne/make-objects-tell-stories)



 

 


Has Technology Killed The Hollywood Story?

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Will the advent of technology and developments such as YouTube, reality shows and video games mean the end of business as usual for the Hollywood system as it exists?

In the March 2008 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, Michael Wolff describes what Hollywood would be like without its driving force of plot driven narratives. A world where legions of producers, directors, agents, executives and writers cease to operate as "business as usual", because the medium in which they were taught to write and operate no longer exists. When scores of writers are taught to write for a medium that no longer exists - and the Hollywood elite (fast approaching their 70's) have no idea how to adapt their business for radically different audiences and distribution systems - what happens to story as we know it?

The business of Hollywood is the business of story. Without a story, there is no film. Conventional storylines are plot driven with many replicating proven formulas that have a good chance of driving box office receipts.

But what happens when the formula changes? What happens when the new audience is radically different than the old one? What happens when the technology changes to include radically different new means of distribution? Will Hollywood as we know it, cease to exist?

Reading Wolff's article leaves me with mixed feelings of sorts. On the one hand, traditional storytelling faces potential extinction as video games continue to rival box office receipts. In 2007, video game receipts totalled $8.7 billion, while box office receipts came in at $9.7 billion. On the other hand, should the migration towards more interactive and mobile technology not trigger some sort of business opportunity for Hollywood's power elite?

If Hollywood players could find a way to incorporate story into the increasing demand for more interactive types of technology and network television, then perhaps story as we know it wouldn't be dead. Maybe the opportunity is just sitting there, waiting to be reborn.

It's time for Hollywood to take notice, and shift their way of thinking from being players in the entertainment business to being players in the technology business. Wake up Hollywood - a new world awaits!

How do you see Hollywood capitalizing on new technology? Is there some way to incorporate elements of moviemaking and storytelling into video games and reality shows? Is technology such as YouTube a threat or an opportunity to the traditional Hollywood establishment? What's the new form of story in the future?

   


A Christmas Narrative (Courtesy of Charles Dickens)

Since this blog is called "Narrative Assets", I thought I would close the year with a snippet from Charles Dickens Pickwick Papers.

Dickens words capture the true story and spirit of the holiday season - the story of families coming together, of laughter and shared companionship. He describes the ability of Christmas to transport us to the days of our youth, and to help the more "seasoned" regain a sense of their own. Christmas is all about storytelling, and its power to transport us to places that have real meaning in our lives.

To all of my loyal readers all over the world, I would like to wish you a fabulous holiday season and best of luck in 2008. May the New Year give you the opportunity to write the story of your life.

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And now, some words to capture the spirit of Christmas from Charles Dickens:

"And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families whose members have
been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then re-united, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual good-will, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight, and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilized nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future state of existence, provided for the blest and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which,
year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of
the hearts that throb so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the
looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we
grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in
the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling
faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstance
connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each
recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but
yesterday. Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions
of our childish days, that can recall to the old man the pleasures of
his youth, and transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of
miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!"