Storytelling and the importance of harnessing an emotional connection: As told through the lens of Julius Caesar and Game of Thrones

October 5, 2015Uncategorized
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By Andrew Storrier, in-house writer.

Roman senators stabbed Julius Caesar to death in the eastern portico of the Theatre of Pompey – that’s the same Pompey who Caesar defeated in his Civil War. Oh, the delicious incongruity! I love this story; it’s the perfect climax to Caesar’s overly ambitious career and you’ve also got to love the fact he fell in front of a statue of his greatest rival.

Roman history is rife with powerful characters, scintillating politics and glorious battle, but it’s the incredible stories that draw us in. Have you ever heard of Cato the Younger? Caesar’s staunchest rival? His stoicism is legend, literally. One story tells of him as a boy, right before the Social War, aka the Italian city states vs Rome. Quintus Poppaedius Silo, the leader of the Marsi (one of the tribes of Italy), visited Cato and a group of children. Silo, on the verge of rebelling, playfully asked the children for their support, and they all joyously agreed.

Except for Cato. Nah, you see, Cato don’t play like that, son. He’s a Roman – and Silo, you best take that Marsi BS somewhere else. Cato, silently mad-eyeing Silo, defied the man about to defy Rome. What about the grapes on this kid?

Silo, taking Cato’s silence as a personal offence, swooped the insolent boy up by the feet and dangled him from a second-storey window, demanding his support and threatening to drop him. Cato still said nothing, because Cato was Cato, and he’d rather die than betray his beliefs. In the end, it was his stubbornness that killed him, but wow, what kind of kid tells a man with an army to shove it? We can all connect with the guts, even more so when it’s a child with nary a hair upon his chin.

What’s Rome got to do with it?

What I’m getting at is the importance of emotions in storytelling, how they create personal relevance and how you can use those emotions to develop meaningful and engaging connections with your audience.

Just look at the wild success of Game of Thrones. You think people are tuning into that show because of the magical wizards, daring swordplay and the scary dragons? Nope, they’re tuning in because the show tells human stories of love, betrayal and tragedy in a fantasy setting. And also because Tyrion Lannister is a bad-ass.

According to consumer psychology research, information is absorbed, filed and recalled more effectively when deployed in a narrative. In fact, consumer storytelling theory tells us the brain is so hardwired toward narratives that it automatically associates brands like they were personal relationships. So for example, Apple is either a lover or a bitter enemy, depending on which side of the fence you stand. Ben and Jerry’s is everyone’s secret love affair.

But our brand is telling a story?

The problem with stories is we like them to be fresh and exciting. As with Game of Thrones, the old ‘goodly knight saves princess’ trope bores the hell out of us, but how about a mother-flipping she-queen, who controls dragons, knocking about a strange, new world as she prepares to reclaim her birthright? Where do I sign up?

Brands often run into the ‘old-trope’ narrative issue: the protagonist, or the consumer, has a problem, and the problem fixer is the brand. They meet and live happily ever after.

That story isn’t bold, exciting or original. A good story creates tension between the hero and their goals; someone or something constantly blocks the hero from achieving their goal. We want to feel – with our guts – the trials and tribulations of our protagonist.

Okay, one more Game of Thrones reference. Why is the Stark’s story arc so compelling? Because we see their narrative end a mile away; they’re the goodies and the goodies always win. But (and without spoilers), they keep getting thrown under the bus. Our expectations are defied, weddings turn red and it all makes for one heck of a story.

So which brands are doing it right?

Maybe it’s because I’m partial to a few, or perhaps it’s because their marketing has ‘incepted’ me, but Guinness do a fine job telling emotional stories. Yeah, all about a beer. Go figure.

One example is the Empty Chair ad. That ad makes me complain about allergies in the middle of winter. I’m not crying. Sure, it’s is a little heavy on the emotional blackmail, but we can all relate to social drinking culture and the importance of remembering someone we love.

Guinness isn’t a bunch of one-hit wonders either, its more recent Sapeurs ad does an excellent job of piggy-backing on the incredible story of La Sape culture in the Congo. Guinness was able to identify a story that they wanted to relate to their brand – choosing who you are – and told it in a compelling way. We can all connect with being an individual and defying conformity. Powerful stuff.

Guinness’s examples show that the emotional connection is a bridge between brand and consumer. I doubt you’ll be forgetting that Empty Chair anytime soon, nor the brand responsible. Take a look at the narrative of your brand and ask yourself, why would anyone really care about our story?

Seen any other ripping good brand stories? Share them in the comments.

Have any questions? Ask our strategists here.