Review of Storyscaping: Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds


As part of my professional development as a Creative Director, despite my title of “Creative Strategist”, I decided to read a book by the Chief Creative and Brand Strategy Officers of Sapient Nitro, a very large brand and content marketing agency. Storyscaping: Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds, written by Gaston Legoburu and Darren McColl could easily have been one of those shamelessly self-promotional type of works, which seeks to show in book form a number of client successes and merely hint at the type of research and creative work that goes into the marketing projects they manage. While they certainly do include a number of their success stories, this is done primarily to illustrate the developmental and publishing process related to “storyscaping”.

To put this new form of marketing action the books begins with a delineation of the power of human narrative going back to the time of man when we sat around fires and told each other stories to distract us from the fear of animals and tribes surrounding them. In reviewing the elements of short narratives I found myself recalling much of college elective course in Storytelling. This is actually a knowledge set that I’ve found myself consistently drawing on in my ideation for Fractl, which I find amusing as after I’d decided to take it a number of people said that this was something that’d I’d never use. Following this the authors provide an overview of the various ways that the internet has changed the development of effective business to consumer marketing communications. They point to a digital/traditional divide that exists in marketing and are even handed about it saying that while the latter still has its place, it’s due to the dominance of virtual worlds for mediating decision-making processes and the more number of contact points with customers that it’s something that companies neglect at huge potential risk to their bottom line.

The application of Joseph Campbell’s ethnographic and literary/mythic concepts related to the hero’s journey was, for me, surprising but also sensible as it’s appropriate for relate the product of a brand to the hero’s quest. It frames desire as, well, heroic self-development rather than personal satiation.

The recent Pepsi television ad that has been receiving much, deserved, flak for its social insensitivity is a great example of this. In the video while a heroic goal is met, the cessation of social strife stemming from systemic economic and racial marginalization and oppression, the cause for it – mutual enjoyment of Pepsi – is, well, stupid.

A more appropriate example of such heroic help is provided in the analysis of campaigns that SapientNitro did for a UK gambling company and a ski resort. For the gambling company they were able to apply UX principals to their app – there’s always a co-constitutive relationship between marketers and producers – such that they were able to provide an improved “excitement” level for bettors. For the ski resort they were able to consultancy that would lead to investment in digital photography equipment and smart chip technology so that guests were able to share their experience and thus encourage the most convincing form of marketing – word of mouth.

By “building worlds” the opportunity is created for people to connect with brands in immersive and cooperative ways. With the emotional responses to these “Experience Spaces” that lead to sharing as the goal, consumer research helps improve the response and helps to build brand identification and loyalty. At this point Legoburu and McColl outline relationship between the steps leading from brand strategy and product positioning to an organizing idea and experience space that leads to the “storyscape”. They’re clear to point out that this is not a linear path but a conceptual totality that adjust to the many variables which exist within consumer insights and their purchasing journey.

Part two of the book switches tracks to focusing on how it is that an organization’s purpose can be clarified, uncovered and applied in the office and in marketing to increase brand value. The purpose is something that Legoburu and McColl say is not found from talking with the president of the company but an internal assessment of their operation due to the fact that their can be an excessive focus on profits on the part of management such that they lose sight of what they are actually delivering. Lest this seem esoteric, let me provide an example given in the book. Whereas Hanna-Barbera’s leadership defined themselves as purveyors of cartoons, Walt Disney conceived of themselves as providing family entertainment. Because of this wider scope of their operations, Disney was able to rapidly diversify their productions into other profitable areas while Hanna-Barbera slowly stagnated.

The chapters Walk the Walk, Insight to Desire and In Their Shoes, all provide an outline for how a creative, marketing department can transform various forms of research and data points in order to better understand the typical consumer narrative. For someone like myself, who is familiar with Marxist and Freudian interpretations of social and commercial activity, the book reads like a bowdlerized Marcuse with aphoristic rather than baroque formulations. Lest there be some confusion on my evaluation of the book here, this is a compliment to the authors. The author’s discussions on marketing mix modeling, adaptive worlds, and their relationship to the epistemology of customers is, I dare say, incredibly insightful for determining how to influence behavior and maximize on opportunities. This is a great book that I marked up significantly and I definitely fore see myself revisiting in the near future.

Review of A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory

A permutation of the research project I’d designed for myself in hopes of getting a year-long grant to study at the University of Havana, A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory by Steve Cushion focuses on the factions within the trade union movements and their relationship to the Batista regime. Its publication came at a perfect time, as I learned of its existence shortly after the new criteria for the IB History Period and Theme focuses were released.

Cushion’s primary research documents were the union, official and underground newspapers, student and radical journals and letters of participants that could lead to arrest, assault and increasingly in murder by beating. Given the need to keep documentation of participation in these subterannean movements against the current government, there are gaps in ability to give full accounts in all regions of Cuba from this alone. In order to make up for this dearth of material he also includes the recorded speeches and published positions of the union leadership as well as government documents stemming from police documentation of the lives of those ran for office and were kept out by corruption, but no matter as they later found de facto rather than official leadership positions in factions of other ideologically oriented groups. It is the groups within these unions would come to create make connections with MR-26 and facilitate the martial overthrow of the Batista Regime through concerted community support.

Cuba’s political and economic turmoil stemmed from advances in processes of transportation, production and financial pressures wrought by secular, cyclical capitalist crisis. During this period of an employer offensive against wages, workers rights and and the work done there was a general rebellion against the conditions proffered as the new status quo. The Batista regime became an adjudicator of industrial struggles and so consistently sided with the “non-Cuban” international investors that the came to be correctly seen as the enforcer for the needs of American capital. That such a belief was held by workers, students, radicals, farmers and revolutionaries alike should be seen as no surprise given that Cuba was the primary producer of sugar on the global market by weight by far and by 1958 U.S. capital owned 42% of the production capacity of the sugar industry. As large as that sounds this says nothing else of their other investments in railroads, docks, public transportation busses manufactured from Detroit, banks, clothes, medicine, etc.

Cushion’s analysis of regional leadership pockets of the M-R- 26 showed how they were at times at odds with the political aspirations of their erstwhile supporters. A number of the subterranean leaders of organizing activity in the coastal shipping regions were Trotskyists and Communists. The fighting force of MR-26 was a distinctively nationalistic based organization. Cushion documents the change in their published positions from making populist style appeals for land redistribution and other programs to generalities that merely state that devastating effects that advances in capitalist production and transportation of raw materials had on the population must be addressed and that the current government had no legitimacy and should be ousted.

While other nationalist groups published broadsides against the government that similarly documented abuses, they differed in that they also combined jeremiad’s with political platforms to raise awareness of what members in the organization were seeking to accomplish by overthrowing the government. It’s in this, and not in the military fighting, that working class socialists played a large role – helping to get enough people to resist the brutality of a government that would force strikers to work at gunpoint and would beat to death students and organizers for their activity.

It’s because of all their work, documented here by industry, region and organizations with operational strength, that the great strike which paralyzed the entire island of Cuba came into fruition. It’s as a result of their alliance building, political development, organizational structures that the barbudos were so easily able to come in a conquer a much larger, better equipped army. It’s because of them that the romantic ideal of the revolutionaries have been so fawned upon in revolutionary circles – for if they’d have to spend multiple months fighting over key city control points than they’d seem dirtier on a moral level rather than just a jungle living level.

Review of “I Am That I Am: Uncovering the Truth of the Mind, Body and Spirit”

To be honest I would not have purchased I Am That I Am: Uncovering the Truth of the Mind, Body and Spirit based on its cover or back matter. When something claims itself a #1 bestseller but it is clearly not I am suspicious, but not in a way that makes me want to investigate it. The back matter shows me that the author has a similar path as my father and other superlatives made me similarly wary. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a read on someone special’s suggestion and found myself greatly rewarded as a result.

One of the aspects of the book that I found engaging was the pleasant simplicity of the prose and concepts container therein. Dr. Michael’s descriptions of a wide variety of psychological states, the causes for their crises, analysis of components of the ego, etc. align with similar, more scholastic readings I’ve done. Yet it is presented in a way that engages the reader to be a participant in his excavations of human motivation and the Higher Self (not his term) moreso than mere exegesis of the history of those concepts in various schools of thought (a la Becker). There are multiple instances of hypnotic writing therein that are intended to get the reader to explore their own embodiment of love and fear-directed thinking and behavior (Michael’s terms).

By giving in to feelings of guilt or shame or having an ego that controls rather than a more conscientious form of mind-body-spirit co-management psychic disequilibrium starts to be create. During this period crisis can be relieved or, more often, deepened as the internal contradictions become intensified. But “What happens when the reality that you created becomes too much for you to bear?” Dr. Michael asks and responds with, “You sedate yourself with something stronger to completely alter and escape from your perception of reality.” This can take the form of self-stimming in many forms, addiction to television, gaming, books, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Freud designated this tendency pattern repetition. While Dr. Michael does not use this term specifically, he does point out that “The experiences that you did not learn from lead you to continuously repeat the same reality, resulting in guilt, pain and limitation.”

It’s this focus on limitation and examination on how the heart hardens and contracts through examples that sets this books apart from others. While I’ve been studying psychological development and various disciplines to achieve personal empowerment, I’ve often found the discussion either too metaphysical or too clinical. This makes sense as the purpose of the course readings and participatory, experiential based practicing of those materials in groups and one on one settings was to impart technical training. However, the reformulation of the material here is oriented more towards being a component of a spiritual practice.

Returning to power

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This is evident in the fact that each chapter ends with an overview and an affirmation. Besides the trace-inducing writing, there are also multiple points where you are encouraged to say aloud certain phrases. While I read this from cover to cover, this is also one of those books that you could simply look through the chapter list to find places to speak to certain areas in your life that are causing one to stray from Love and Truth, for it’s when one doesn’t operate from those perspectives but from Fear that profound internal and external problems begin to occur. By running from pain you lose the opportunity to learn from it and from that power is returned to the self. To quote my father, one must face, embrace and replace the survival messages that emerge from certain periods in our life that become no longer beneficial to our innermost needs.

In close I think it’s worth mentioning that after reading the book I engaged the counseling services of someone who’d studies with Dr. Michael. One of the components of the session was to repeat the affirmations with passion, in a similar manner that experiential psychologists would but with physicality included. This combined with other reformulations of previous traumatic experiences was a good reminder that living a happy life is often not nearly as complicated as our ego’s would like us to believe.

 

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