“Mo-ooom, Jimmy hit me!”
“He hit me first!”
“Well, he called me a poopy-head”
As a parent, you’ve experienced this magical bit of storytelling.
And I’m only partially sarcastic in calling it “magical.”
‘Cause the magic comes from the lesson on storytelling.
On the Nature of Stories
Aristotle says that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
But as comedian Larry Gelbart said, ‘So does a piece of shit!’
Without delving into what Aristotle meant, that description doesn’t do you much good.
So what Aristotle means is that a story isn’t a mere chronological retelling of events where this happens, then this happens, and then that happens, and so on in the manner of an itinerary.
No, no, no.
A proper story doesn’t have an arbitrary beginning. It has a determinative origin.
Nor does its middle just have a random series of events happening one after the other. It has a causally connected playing out of consequences and choices.
Finally, a story doesn’t have any old random endpoint. It has a meaningful conclusion.
And here’s the magic part: the meaning of the story is intimately connected to it’s beginning (and it’s end).
Your Kid’s Innate Storytelling Mastery
So when the first child cries out saying, “Mom, Jimmy hit me!” he’s telling a story.
A narrative wherein he’s the victim of unprovoked aggression by a predatory (and allegedly poopy-headed) Jimmy.
So what’s Jimmy to do in the face of that narrative?
He changes the beginning of the story.
And by changing the origin of the action, he changes the story’s meaning.
No longer a tale of unprovoked aggression, it becomes a saga of tit-for-tat justice.
Now Jimmy was the one subjected to an unprovoked strike, making him the victim, forced into deploying countervailing violence as self-defense.
So how does the first child respond?
He can’t let that counter-narrative stand, so he moves the beginning back even further.
By changing the origin to Jimmy’s provocation a la fighting words that challenged his sacred honor, thereby demanding an appropriate response, the narrative changes once more, back to his favor.
Look, there’s a REASON why for any and every conflict, we always want to know “who started it?”
Just as there’s a reason why the two parties involved will always argue over WHEN the conflict really began, trying to pin the blame of first offense on the other guy.
Because when and how the story begins determines the meaning of the tale.
Applying This to Your Ads
So what’s this gotta do with your ads?
If you don’t intentionally frame the beginning of the conversation with your audience, then the default origin becomes:
“Oh, great, here comes another loud-mouth jack-wad looking to sell me something.”
And that’s a poisonous narrative you just can’t let form in people’s heads.
So do what your kid would do!
Move the origin of your conversation backwards to where it’ll serve you rather than condemn you.
As in, “this whole story started LOOOONG before your ad hit the airwaves…”
It started when some defining life event sent you on a mission.
A mission that involved making the lives of customers better by _______
For example, The Most Interesting Man (MIM) doesn’t start his story by pitching beer, for heaven’s sake!
It starts with legendary feats and mythical lore that has made him the most interesting man in the world. Some of which his ads tell you about.
It is only at the end that the MIM offers you his Wisdom to “prefer Dos Equis” as your beer of choice and “Stay Thirsty, my friends.”
Just imagine if he started with that advice instead of ending with it.
That makes for a much different — and far less persuasive — story.
It’s the same with you and your ads.
Don’t start your story with a pitch.
Start your story with an origin that’ll serve you and foster a narrative that’ll cause your competition to cry out to their mommies for relief.