Thematic Beauty to Encourage an Audience

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I had to read a book recently for my public relations management class, Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others*. Kouzes and Posner, the authors of the leadership guide, realized that there were seven prerequisites to effectively leading through encouraging the heart (x). These prerequisites are:

  1. Set clear standards
  2. Expect the best
  3. Pay attention
  4. Personalize recognition
  5. Tell the story
  6. Celebrate together
  7. Set the example

I’m going to focus on just one of those prerequisites, as it is the basis for successful recognition and communication in the world around us. That is the ability to tell a story.

The “practical guidelines” Kouzes and Posner speak to are these:

  1. Identify the actors: clearly have in mind the person you are recognizing.
  2. State the predicament: present both the problem that needs solving and the standard (goal or value) that is at stake.
  3. Clarify the actor’s intentions: pay attention to what happened and relate what the person was thinking while weighing their options
  4. Describe the actions: act out to process with as much detail as possible
  5. Include the props: this allows the details to come alive
  6. Paint the scene: place the story within context
  7. Include a surprise: add that element of amazement

I do believe that these “practical guidelines” to creating a wonderful story are also seen in the phenomenal stories of today, whether in our media or in our own lives. These stories are intriguing, thought-provoking, intense, hysterical, emotional, sometimes over-the-top, awe-inspiring and worthy of my time. Let’s take a look at some of the best (in my opinion) stories written for a live audience at a national level: Super Bowl commercials.

The first story that pops into mind is the Volkswagen commercial with the little boy who thinks he is Darth Vader. The Darth Vader. What do you know?! He actually has the force. Proceed to view:

He is honestly the cutest thing ever. Oh my goodness, the exasperated sigh and hand on his little Darth Vader head when his mom pushes the sandwich towards him to help him with “the force.” He is so not about it. You can just feel the “ugh, mom, you’re ruining my force vibe” thoughts shooting out of his head. With this ad, however, the mom paid attention to the predicament her son was in: his goal — use the force. Has he been able to? No. BOOM. Automatic start to the 2012 Passat, and the turnaround, swoosh of the cape as Darth is freaking out wins the entire commercial. Go Volkswagen. All of the necessary items to a wonderful story, plus the cutest little kid ever.

Now we have to watch the one Super Bowl commercial that reminds me of Sandlot and my absolute love for that movie. Yes, I am talking about the Cindy Crawford Pepsi commercial. Proceed:

Cue the amazing early 90’s music, add the awe of the boys’ faces and the huge hair donned by Crawford, and… wait, what? “Is that a great new Pepsi can or what?” Okay boys. Way to steal my feminist heart and not go straight for the boobs. I love it. This commercial led to one of the greatest pieces of cinematic genius of my time, The Sandlot. “You’re killing me, Smalls” and so is this commercial.

The last story I am going to point out is a phenomenal win for ad executives everywhere. This is what I consider to be thematic beauty: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like commercial. Old Spice, what have you done. They took the premise that the Super Bowl is watched predominantly by men (I resent that), men use Old Spice, but who normally does the shopping around the house, and/or comments on the smell of men? Women. Look back at him, go ahead. Proceed:

This commercial is hilarious to me. The way he speaks, how serious he is about how well he smells, “now back at your man, now back to me, sadly, he isn’t me.” I cannot get over that line. This commercial is blatantly unachievable for men, but hey, use Old Spice and you might just get these abs of steel and glorious pectoral muscles.

Overall, these commercials tell stories of pure gold because they have a purpose. They’re not just selling an item, they’re selling a story that captures the imagination of those that view it. They are intuitive to what the audience would love to see, not just what the marketing executives think will boost the bottom line. After all, the customer is always right.

– C

*Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner. “Introduction”. Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others. Jossey-Bass. © 1999. Books24x7. <http://common.books24x7.com.libezproxy2.syr.edu/toc.aspx?bookid=4838> (accessed September 29, 2015)

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