Jul 31, 2007

Storytelling

I recently stumbled upon the Talentworks section of AdAge.com, whereupon I came across this story about R/GA’s newest Executive Creative Director. And I decided to share it with you because it’s significant for so many reasons.

First and foremost is that it makes use of my new favorite buzzword: Storytelling. Now a few weeks ago, I noticed that an acquaintance had taken a new job as “Director of Storytelling” for a company I’d never heard of. Foolishly, I assumed he was working for some kiddie web site, where his job would be to somehow get Johnny Tremaine, Misty of Chincoteague, The Phantom Tollbooth and other childhood classics onto the internet.

But no, it turns out “storytelling” is something completely different. It’s what “media agnostic” agencies do for their clients: they tell the brand’s “story” over a variety of media.

Really.

It’s such a perfect buzzword too, because it sounds so warm and fuzzy, not to mention sort of classy. Storytelling. I mean who could be against something so positively “engaging”?

It’s also a great term because you can apply it to just about anything. The “storytelling” experience in the article, for instance, was “a JetBlue campaign that integrated traditional storytelling with interactive media in the form of a traveling "story booth," where travelers could videotape their stories about experiences with the airline. The videos became the basis for the campaign's work online and on TV.” (emphasis added)

Now call me crazy, but “traditional storytelling” to me is a children’s librarian sitting in a chair surrounded by a couple dozen kids as she acts out some fable about a Lithuanian ox. It’s certainly not about a clever way to gather customer testimonials.

You can be sure to see “storytelling” cropping up all the time now as a way of describing pretty much anything having to do with advertising or marketing, especially anything untraditional. Clients all think their brands have an interesting story to tell, and agencies will only be too happy to tell it for them.

What’s baffling, however, is that where I come from, advertising is supposed to be about news. You know, tell me something I didn’t know about the product, something I might actually care about, because that’s the only reason I’m going to take the time to listen to you. Now “storytelling” sounds dangerously like “tell the consumer what I, the brand, want to say” rather than “tell the consumer what s/he wants to hear.” It makes that deadly assumption that I actually want to sit down and hear some long drawn out story from your brand, and as we all know Your Brand Is Not My Friend. So I don’t really care to hear its story. Unless, of course, there’s some news in there for me.

Now there are two other things of note in this TalentWorks story. The first of which is yet another example of lazy, reprint-the-press-release journalism. The ECD in question, Robert Rasmussen, is going to be running the Nike account at R/GA. And the article plays up his whole JetBlue “storytelling” experience, while failing to even once mention that he spent 10 years (1994 – 2004) working on Nike at Wieden and Kennedy, doing all sorts of award-winning work and no doubt greatly endearing himself to the Nike client. A fact that I, no brilliant journo myself, was able to quickly glean from his public LinkedIn Profile.

Finally, there’s this gem: the article, as so many do in this 2.0 world of ours, allows for unedited commentary. And the one comment (as of today) is this vituperative screed from a “Jennifer A. of Norwalk, CT”
Can we be honest here? Anyone who has worked with Robert knows he is arrogant, rude and a hack who lucked out with this job. This is one reader who will happily watch his demise. JWT Forever! –NORWALK, CT
Wow. That is nasty, public, raw, inappropriate and leaves you wondering WTF? Is Jennifer his ex-wife? A friend with a PoMo sense of humor? A jealous rival for the JetBlue account? A young assistant whose advances he spurned? I mean I assume Rasmussen and his friends won’t have too much trouble figuring out who “Jennifer A. of Norwalk, CT” is.

The whole thing is rather fascinating in a People magazine sort of way. And if we were to somehow find out the actual history behind this post, that, my friends, would be storytelling.

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