By Catherine Captain
It seems everyone these days wants us to find something. Corona wants us to find our beach. Nike wants us to find our greatness. Macy’s wants us to find our magic. Expedia wants us to find our story. And now Kohl’s wants us to find our yes (huh?). So what’s behind all this searching and seeking? Why are brands from such varied sectors compelling their audiences to get out there – or look within – and find, find, find? In the case of these brand nudges towards exploration, it all starts with story.
You see, the brands that transcend the cacophony these days are doing so by connecting with their consumers on an emotional level and the communication device that awakens hearts is story. The familiar pattern of a story instantly locks into ancient, well-worn story grooves in our brains. [The neuroscience is well documented and quite fascinating. Check out this Fast Company article summarizing a research study showing that when subjects love brands more than people (!!!), story was playing cupid.]
As humans, when we spot heroes and villains out in the world, our brains whir and our hearts leap. We’ve heard this one before, but we always want to see how it ends. There will be obstacles and mentors along the way. That hero will leave their ho-hum world for a greater, life-altering experience. Clever brands tell us these tales and in the process they win us over, sometimes completely.
Which brings me back to Corona, Nike, Macy’s, Expedia and Kohl’s. Why the “find your…” zeitgeist? Are we really so utterly lost these days? Are each one of us flailing aimlessly, leading a purposeless life without our beach, our greatness, our magic, our story and our yes? Actually, these brands are tapping the oldest plot around, the hero’s journey. (All hail the master, Joseph Campbell, who documented the monomyth from ancient mythology to modern day stories.) The journey is beautifully and succinctly explained in this great TED Ed video.
In this cycle, the hero is called to adventure and eventually crosses the threshold to a special world that will change them forever. In brand journeys, YOU, the consumer, are the hero. (Hint, marketers: the consumer – not your product – is almost ALWAYS the hero, natch.)
The villain is your horribly mundane life. Imagine: No beach! No greatness! No magic! No story! No yes (wait, what?)! And who is the mentor in these tales? Ahhh…the brands. These brands descend from on high to show you the way into the light, right to the special world. “Find your…” is our call to adventure, my friends! It’s an invitation to start our journey, the beginning of our story, our “once upon a time…”
Just one little problem: I have exploration overload. Find fatigue. Discovery discontent. How can so many brands within just a few years be sounding the exact same clarion call? Don’t tagline copywriters at ad agencies triple-check for this stuff? Or maybe even watch TV themselves?? This is, at best, copycat communication and, at worst, lazy marketing. Don’t get me wrong, these brand stories can be enormously powerful. This Nike ad is one of my favorites of all time. I weep openly in this Expedia spot. Corona claimed beaches, forgodssake! And I’m shouting the dramatic benefits of storytelling from the marketing mountaintops. But hey all you “find your…” marketers, we cry “uncle”!! Find your new tagline. Please!
Catherine Captain is a partner at Rumble Marketing and adjunct professor teaching “Story-Based Marketing: Using the Power of Story to Achieve Business Success” at the University of Washington’s Communication Leadership Master’s program.