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Made for Laughs

The kids, excited to see Despicable Me 2, were a typical rowdy, loud bunch, even as the lights went down in the theater. But then the strains of poignant piano music filled the auditorium as a man struggled to free-climb a mighty fir, dwarfed by its size in the mist-shrouded vastness of a pristine forest. The kids were instantly mesmerized. An earnest female narrator informed us that, “Man is a determined creature…no matter the circumstance, opposition, or even understanding…” As she said these words, an infant on the screen watched with naïve curiosity as a handful of black sand drifted through his pale fingers. My own seven-year-old daughter, sitting beside me in the darkness, took her hand from the popcorn and reached for mine. As her buttery fingers clenched my own, it was clear that the gorgeous images and stirring words were getting to her. An astronaut drifted through space, framed against the otherworldly beauty of a majestic nebula, the pupil of his eye contracting in wonder as the announcer noted that man has an inherent calling to seek, improve and transcend. The whole audience was silent now, captivated. What were we watching? Was this a trailer for an upcoming film?  Was it some kind of public service announcement?  For what?

And then the reveal came, and my seven-year-old exploded in laughter, thunderingly loud in the hushed theater.

“It’s a car commercial?!!” she giggled in an echoing stage whisper. And it was. It was a car commercial for–hang on. I have to check again–oh yeah, for the new (wait, I mean the extremely new) 2014 MDX SUV from Acura. Here’s the spotIt’s called “Made for Mankind.”

“That’s hilarious, Daddy!” my daughter told me, letting loose my fingers to go for more popcorn. “I thought it was for something important!”

This is a perfect example of what happens when a brand tries to create an emotional connection through the use of story without understanding (or perhaps without caring) how story really works. It seems like everyone is desperate to create memorable content these days, desperate to grab hold of the power of story to lend extra impact and authenticity to their brands. But story is all about meaning–that’s where the emotional impact comes from–and if you’re willing to totally sell out the meaning in order to gratuitously connect it to your commercial message, then the emotional response you’re most likely to generate will be outraged laughter. 

The kids really enjoyed Despicable Me 2. On the car ride back to our neighborhood, as they were trading favorite lines and moments, one of the kids brought up the Acura commercial.

 “That was even funnier than some parts of the movie,” he said. 

“Yeah,” my twelve-year-old chimed in. “The only thing that would have been funnier is if it was for hamburgers.”

“Or underpants,” my seven-year-old suggested. The whole carload broke up laughing. 

“For B2B businesses, Character is a powerful tool. I have used Character three times in my leader marketing roles, 2x were in B2B businesses. The Character work was the foundation of a transformation in product innovation/commercialization, rebranding, M&A, sales growth, and employee engagement. Character’s work helped us take dead brands and make them relevant again and helped us establish lesser-known brands with high share in a B2B market. What’s so unique is that you don’t create something that the ‘marketing talking heads’ think the company needs, you use the history, culture and DNA that is already part of the company to bring out the true story that is unique to only your brand. The Character team is so special, genuine, and has the perfect mix of creative and business knowledge to lead cross-functional executives through this process. ”
—Melissa Minihan, Head of Digital Commerce & Marketing, Veritiv Corporation

“Character gets to the heart of what good storytelling is all about. They’ve helped Wendy’s focus on what makes us unique, different and special and that’s helped us to get people’s attention, keep their interest and keep the business growing. We compete with much larger brands, but by being overt about how we want to attack those differences, we’ve been able to have a lot of tension and conflict in the story that we are telling. That allows us to keep the story fresh and to fuel it. The more we do that the more positive attention we get as a brand and the more the brand continues to grow, which, in turn, builds our confidence in our storytelling and keeps the courage level high.”

—Kurt  Kane, President U.S. & Chief Commercial Officer, Wendy’s Corporation

“I’ve been through Character’s story framework process four times in my career, and it has always added extraordinary value. It was a central piece of Walmart’s rebranding effort in 2006, as we sought a new articulation of our brand narrative and our purpose. It’s an equally powerful tool for us now, as Walmart defines its place in a rapidly transforming retail environment. And we are currently using it to do the same for Sam’s Club.”

—Tony Rogers, Chief Marketing Officer, Walmart

“Character’s approach to brand building is unlike any other in the business. Jim and his team use the timeless truths of human storytelling to unlock story potential and connect deeply with brand audiences. I’ve worked with Character throughout my career, and my experience with Tabasco was as fascinating, inspiring, and productive as ever. 

Character worked with our team not only to help us re-examine and re-articulate the elemental truths of our iconic global brand but also to develop and apply practical tools that make the brand story framework user-friendly for our entire organization. 

I whole-heartedly recommend Character to any brand marketer who is looking to make intuitive and durable connections with their consumer.”

Lee Susen, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Tabasco / McIlhenny Company