“A well-thought-out story doesn’t need to resemble real life. Life itself tries with all its might to resemble a well-crafted story.” – Isaac Babel
If we could all drift back to our five-year-old selves, ignoring the stains from the syrupy fruit punch on our fingers and the graham cracker crumbs on our shirts, we’d find ourselves sitting with a group of peers, enjoying our snacks, listening to a story. We used to call it “story time.” Story time was one of our first social experiences. It’s where we learned the art of listening. It’s where we learned to paint pictures with our minds and relate to things that often looked nothing like us. And it’s also where we learned to question things, as a group. For us, a great story could never be long enough and could never have a perfect ending, because we hated endings. What we loved were invitations – invitations to places previously unimaginable, which were nice enough to always invite us back.
By late elementary school, stories were no longer a social experience. Reading stories had become an anti-social act, isolating us from the pack rather than connecting us to it. Sure, there were stories in TV shows and movies, but those stories had major social hurdles. See, you couldn’t really pose a question in the middle of those stories without upsetting your social circle. But we did it all the time as that small kid during story time, right? The minute we were ready to call bullshit on something, we just did. We’d raise our hands, the story would stop and we would discuss what alarmed us, together. Everyone was in on the conversation and when we were done, the storyteller would simply continue with the story. Maybe that’s why sports are so enjoyable. We can share in a conversation about what we’re seeing, without breaking the flow of the story as it unfolds. That’s the ultimate entertainment experience. And thanks to social media, we’re finally experiencing our stories in this way again.
Social media has reinvented story time. It allows us to all tune in to the same TV show or movie, react to it and pose questions about it, without disrupting the story. Instead of sitting around in a circle, we have access to one, via social media. And that circle can be as small as our friends or as big as the millions of other Americans viewing the story with us. The interaction is silent but impactful. It also gives us a chance to gauge our viewing skills. Are we the smart kid in the circle, catching all the symbolism and foreshadowing? Or are we lagging behind our peers, with one too many “what did it mean when?” Yeah, we’re competitive, even with entertainment. Maybe that’s why so many of us geek out by posting creative memes, hard to find quotes or clips from our favorite shows. It’s a simple, not so subtle way to remind people, that not only do we like a given story but we’re also a part of something, a circle.
Ever jump on Twitter or Facebook when a hot show is on, like the top shows? You know, Breaking Bad, Scandal, Homeland, Boardwalk Empire and Walking Dead? What you’ll see is the social media equivalent of dropping a slice of bread on an ant mound. The live social feed literally go nuts. Maybe, this fanaticism surrounding TV viewing is simply because the stories have gotten better. I'm the first to admit to blasting through whole seasons of my favorite shows, alone, free of social media. That's one experience. I also know how gratifying it is to watch those same shows in unison with family, friends and millions of others via social media, while staying connected to the conversation. That's the ultimate experience. That's the experience that reminds me of childhood.
So where does that leave advertising types like me? Oh, I think it's obvious. We should be telling our own interesting stories. Stories for and about our brands that are engaging and easy to experience socially. Stories that will leave consumers wanting one thing – for our stories to never end. One luv.