Winning the Story Wars


Winning the Story Wars

Do you remember the video “Grocery Store Wars?” I do. It was a short video by the author of “Winning the Story Wars,” Jonah Sachs, years before he wrote the book. The video used the story line and characters from the “Star Wars” film with characters named Cuke Skywalker, Darth Tator, Chew Broccoli, etc. The film was made to help make people aware of the choices they make at the grocery store’s produce section. It was funny and delivered its message effectively. Jonah Sachs went on to become co-founder of Free Range Studios to help social brands develop campaigns around storytelling strategies.

His book “Winning the Story Wars” addresses the issue of how to get your message heard in this digital age of radical connectivity where the internet has helped to lower the point of entry to the playing field of broadcast media so that many more can participate. The internet has turned the tables on the traditional broadcast model where the communication was one way, to a new paradigm where the audience can respond quickly, effectively and in aggregate through their social media accounts. People have been empowered by these new tools. Now everyone with an idea can share it relatively easily with little or no out-of-pocket expense. With so many players on the field it is harder to stand out and be heard. He suggests that it is not the biggest mouth that gets heard but rather the most interesting and compelling true story that resonates with the audience that has impact and staying power.

It is true that stories have been used in marketing to sell products for years, but few of the tales being told were meant to empower the listener, instead insecurities of the listeners become the focus with the products playing the role of magic solutions. I found his discussion of the two different types of marketing practices, inadequacy marketing and empowerment marketing, very interesting. Inadequacy marketing has its roots in the research of Sigmund Freud. His research got a boost at the time of World War II.  The war exposed the view that humans were immature, dark and dangerous and needed to be controlled. One way of controlling the uncontrollable was to emphasize feelings of inadequacy. Good citizens could be taught to channel their dangerous behavior through the consumption of products that temporarily fix the problem, making the consumer feel whole until a new problem is brought to their attention by the marketer. With America at its production peek after WWII, the momentum at the factories had to be continued. Products for the better life would be made there and sold to the consumers with the promise that the attainment of these items would make one happy, safe and secure. It is interesting that the archetype theory of Carl Jung was being developed around the time of Sigmund Freud’s theories about the Id and Ego, but it was the Freudian theories that were embraced.

As the memories of the horrors of the last World War became more of a distant memory there was room for new views of the consumer. While Freud’s theories focused primarily on the base needs of the human being, theories that acknowledged the developing human being as moving through stages of growth and a hierarchy of needs were being researched. The work of Abraham Maslow is an example. People began to be seen beyond the scope of consumerism. The masses themselves were beginning to see themselves differently too. In the 60’s people were involved in issues that challenged the previous decades values. There was the call for civil rights for black people, equality for women, questioning the legitimacy of the Vietnam War and the legitimacy of the establishment. There was exploration through drugs and alternative life styles.

Mr. Sachs compares the Volkswagen Bug and Cadillac advertising campaigns from 1959. The Cadillac ad is shown as an example of Inadequacy marketing. The car is a symbol of luxury that embellishes the status of the driver. The vehicle is the hero. The consumer plays a supporting role. The Volkswagen Bug ad tells the story of the vehicle being solid and it’s ability to get you where you were going, but it wasn’t a luxury, performance vehicle. The vehicle is in service to the driver by playing a supporting role. The driver is the hero. Some marketers are beginning to recognize the value of empowerment marketing where the purchaser is seen as the hero in the story and the product or brand is the tool that helps the purchaser accomplish their goal.  Mr. Sachs gives several examples of major brands such as Coke and Unilever (Dove) using this approach successfully.

The book provides exercises and tools to help with discovering the story of your brand and how it serves as a mentor and what the gift of the brand is for the customer. It is well worth reading.


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