What's the story?

I love the story of Romeo and Juliet. It has everything. Internecine warfare between two proud and competitive families, love at first sight, duels, dirty talk and ultimately a tragic ending. We are left wondering what might have been and whether those remaining will manage to bury the hatchet.

In 1968 it was filmed as a sumptuous spectacle by Franco Zefferelli. He recreated Verona in the Renaissance and translated Shakespeare faithfully on to the screen. My teenage heart leapt at the sight of Leonard Whiting in tights as Romeo pursuing Olivia Hussey as Juliet.

Then in 1996 Baz Luhrmann filmed it once more with not a pair of tights in sight. The film was shot and edited to appeal to a generation brought up on music videos. The action was transposed to downtown Verona Beach, the Montagues and the Capulets are portrayed as Mafia families, the prologue is read by a newsreader and the Prince is a black police chief flying around in a white helicopter. But basically it is the same great story brought up to date and over the course of two hours it has the power to stay with you for the rest of your life.

At the heart of the most enduring brands, there usually lies a really good story.

I like the story of Prêt a Manger – the two sandwich nerds with slightly toffy names who make their sandwiches without too many mucked about ingredients. They make them in their shops, rather than some prefab industrial unit. They do this every morning and then give away any spares to the homeless in the afternoon.

Then there is the story of Volvo which was founded by two rather avuncular looking Swedes with an obsession for safety and such a desire to look out for their fellow humans that they gave a lot of their best ideas away to other car manufacturers for free. The brand says “life is better lived together” and it is right because it is not much fun having a top of the range Merc if you are a Johnny No-mates.

Another recent story that got me buying was the story of the cynical lady doctor who tested a number wrinkle creams and proved that Boots humble Protect and Perfect Serum, complete with lupin extract and manufactured in exotic Nottingham by a bloke called Steve, was better that pretty much everything else at dealing with crows feet. Cue handbags at dawn and crowds of women overwhelming Boots counters.

Closer to home is the lovely story of Vimto or Vim Tonic as it started out when in 1908 John Nichols started brewing up fruit, herbs and spices in his little shop to cheer up the people of Manchester and if my kids are anything to go by, its sweet-shoppy taste is still putting a smile on peoples face today.

Without a really good story, marketing becomes much more expensive. If people know the story, they can do a lot of marketing for you. They will tell their friends how great a brand is saving you the trouble. Have you heard about the one about the Star Trek-loving geeks who dropped out of the Stanford PhD programme because they thought it might be a neat idea to try to make a better search engine? Course you have. Google doesn't spend much marketing itself but it is now estimated to be, if not the most valuable, certainly one of the most valuable brands in the world.

On the other hand I would struggle to tell you the story of Flash or Anadin or Walls or Lenor or Axa or any number of heavily advertised brands. The problem for these brands is that they are on a marketing treadmill where they are only as good as their last execution or last claim. They either have no story or no one has taken the time and effort to tell it in a way that might catch our attention and make us want to tell someone else about it.

Sometimes advertisers ask their communications agencies to “generate lots of word of mouth” about their brand. But to get great word of mouth that endures beyond this week's chip paper you need a great story. Where did the brand come from? Who was in at the beginning and are they still around? Who loves this brand? Who hates it? What's to look out for? What does it do that nothing else does? Harley Davidson knows this, Innocent knows this, Jack Daniels knows this.

In Romeo and Juliet the story is laid out in the prologue and it leaves us gagging to see the play.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;

Great brands with great stories have the same effect.

By Katrina Michel, co-founder Planning Express

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