What Brands Can Learn From Soaps?…
I don’t know if you happen to watch any soap operas? My wife watches them all the time, which pretty much means that if I’m in the room, I do too, but I’m not too down on soap operas. In fact I think they are actually quite an important piece of culture.
Traditionally named because they were in effect the first brand produced content (something very current!) paid for by soap companies like Pears, and because of this fact naturally they had to reflect the brands’ wholesome image.
The moral outcome was clear from that start. The baddies can’t be seen to prosper or win out. Good will win the day. All very 1960s, but what they did was to begin a very important dialogue between the narrative and the viewer. One that we are in effect aping today with branded content.
Well, last Friday I got in a little later than anticipated, thus interrupting my wife’s concentration on Eastenders. Bianca Butcher, played by Patsy Palmer was at the beginning of a full-scale meltdown which would come to last the episode.
My initial reaction to my wife was that I wish she’d just shut up and be written out, but as the programme continued I found myself being drawn into a frankly poignant and harrowing performance, for which the actress will surely win an award.
To bring you up to speed, Bianca was at her wits end, variously facing poverty, eviction, unemployment and finally prison and the loss of her children.
It is not often you’ll hear me say this about a soap, but credit where it is due. The performance she gave reminded me of Bernard Hill’s as Yosser Hughes in Boys from the Blackstuff, Alan Bleasdale’s moving and seminal study of a man collapsing in on himself as society offers him no compassion or humanity.
Now, it’s easy to dismiss Eastenders and Alan Bleasdale as being poles apart in artistic merit and critical acclaim, but that’s not what I saw last Friday. To me they performed the same function, which was to enable us to answer hypotheses. For instance…
“What would you do if your son was HIV positive?”
“What would you do if your daughter was working as a prostitute?”
Or in this case, “How would you react and to what lengths would you go to if you faced losing everything?”
In short, the function of drama as a subconscious learning mode is an important one, no matter if it is Coronation Street or Crime and Punishment. We should stop ourselves from exhibiting the snobbery that makes us to see soap operas differently from theatre.
To sum up that thought, the management consultant Tom Peters, who takes a great deal of interest in brands and how they perform, recently said that “The story is more important than the brand, and the best story wins”
Of course, as people involved in brands, our natural inclination would be to disagree, because it threatens to render all our internal (and still vital) brand work redundant in the face of something that merely amuses or passes time, but that’s not the case at all.
For the last two years, I’ve been telling any client who will listen that in five years time, content may be the only game in town, and it’s how we use content that will ensure the survival of advertising, not in fact kill it.
With the advent of Google TV upon us (to get back to soap operas and the like) even the 30 second TV commercial will be required to act differently, providing in effect a trailer to deeper content contained within the web element of your Sony Bravia. Unless we begin to think about each of our communication elements as entertainment, and not advertising, technology will edit them out.
Frankly, were it not for soap operas, we’d not be in a position to understand the value of content 50 odd years later.
POST BY DAVID BURNS, DIRECTOR