It’s important to remember that stories are much more than a retelling of events. They are acts of imagination, real life edited to help us make sense of the world around us. We align ourselves with those that most effectively explain our circumstances, that stitch together apparently unconnected episodes in compelling ways, present us with context and help guide us through the morass of conflicting information.
We use imagination to provide insights into our experience of the world. Without these imaginative cues, parts of our lives would be more difficult to piece together, appear less significant or memorable.
Harnessing the unknown in a story is central to its imaginative life. Unknown elements are important touch-points for the audience, where they are subconsciously pulled into the plot and asked to form their own interpretations.
Pixar filmmaker Andrew Stanton believes that it is a ‘well organised absence of information’ that draws us in to a story, and that giving an audience the tools to answer their questions rather than handing them the solution is key to its success: ‘don’t give them 4, give them 2 + 2’.
Film director JJ Abrams uses an unopened mystery box he once bought from a magic shop to illustrate how the unknown can create anticipation and drive the narrative forward. The power of the box lies in the limitless possibility it promises and the imaginative speculation it generates as long as its contents remain mysterious. Once the box is opened, another mystery box may be revealed, leading the story forward in a different direction.
The storyteller uses imagination to mould the story to the needs of his audience. In The Thousand and One Nights, the king, having discovered his wife is unfaithful, is an angry and broken man. To ensure he cannot be deceived again, each day he picks a new wife and each following morning has her executed.
One day, Scheherazade, the story’s narrator, is introduced to the king and agrees to spend one night with him. That evening, she begins to tell a story, and as evening turns into night, he continues to listen. Before long, the sun is beginning to rise and Scheherazade announces that she must leave the story unfinished. The king, eager to hear the ending, spares her life for one day so that she might complete the story that evening. But that night, she begins a second story. Once again, dawn breaks before the ending has been reached, and the king grants her a stay of execution. Night after night, she continues to create narratives of increasing beauty and complexity until, after the 1,001st, the king realises that he has fallen in love, not with the story, but with the mind of the storyteller.
KFC’s most recent campaigns have focused on letting their imaginations run riot by throwing a seemingly endless list of ideas into the marketing pot to challenge the ubiquity of their offering and encourage their audience to engage with and create new expressions of the brand
This resulted in a series of increasingly bizarre scenarios where Colonel Sanders penned a romance novel, appeared as a pro wrestler in a WWE video game, starred in a Green Lantern comic book, launched an online clothing and soft furnishings line, sent a Chicken Sandwich into space, opened the world’s smallest fast food restaurant and created a pot pie-based meditation system. This free association of ideas only has the brand in common. Nonetheless, when put together they tell a story of playfulness and diversity that is central to keeping the interest in a brand alive.
Old Spice was the overpowering aftershave choice of the 1970s working man. By the turn of the millennium it was all but consigned to the past by more sophisticated competition. So, if you’re struggling with an outdated image why not embrace it?
A new marketing campaign introduced strap-lines like ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’, ‘Smell Mantastic’ and product names like ‘Swagger’. New adverts embraced a tongue-in-cheek over-the-top masculinity using surrealistic comedy. It was the antithesis of beauty campaigns at the time and established Old Spice as an iconic product amongst men and a fun, unpretentious expression of manhood.