How screenwriting helps brand-making

16th November 2014

I’ve taken to screenplay studies. It is possible to become a student of anything, once you have wifi and a smartphone. iTunes University and podcasts offer so much for those of us who have little niche itches to scratch.

Screenplays are my current thing. For anyone interested in how communication is constructed, listening to screenwriters is rich stimulus indeed. It’s like finding a host of challenging mentors you never knew you had.

Charlie Kaufman is a singular, authentic voice in Hollywood. As author of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he channels a unique and piercing voice, focused on the vicissitudes of life, not its romantic glories.

In his BAFTA lecture on screenwriting, I was particularly struck by his position on the challenges of any writer: he warns not to make jokes and winks to the reader in stage directions, and advises that every iota of effort should be expended in creating a believable, consistent world. Every paint stroke is part of a single composition – and nothing should detract from this world being fully whole, fully realised.

Kaufman is speaking about establishing a coherent tone, to enable characters (or, by extension, brands) to progress through a believable and meaningful journey.

His words have the ring of truth.

They mirror an oft-repeated conversation my clients and I share: that in constructing the positioning and communication of a brand, every road sign should point in the same direction. Because each layer an audience experiences reasserts the believability of the brand and brand world created. Pull away this coherence, or tone, and you deprive a brand of its oxygen.

Look about. Incoherences and fudges are legion.

Tesco has no business speaking to its shoppers, via aisle signage, in Irish. That’s phoney.

Irish Water’s very name strikes an arrogant tone. As if the job of the new quango organisation is to ‘sell water’, rather than efficiently manage a vital national resource in our behalf.

Super Valu has little business crowing about festive birds raised ‘in the traditional Irish ways of turkey rearing’, only to picture a turkey farmer standing amid hundreds of young turkeys, cramped together using what appears to be decidedly modern rearing methods.

Along with more than a dozen errors of grammar and syntax I counted in their 2014 Festive Foods Brochure, I’m disappointed to say that my favourite retailer in Ireland is temporarily letting me down.

Often, in marketing, we are not fully sure of the brand world we wish to create. That is to say, we have not fully landed the plot, nor are we fully sure of the tone. This is no surprise. It’s a really tough one to get right.

Charlie Kaufman considers such a failure as a flashing amber warning light – a sign of aimless wandering.

Without a clear destination and coherent tone, it is impossible to go anywhere, other than around in circles.

The screenwriter does not try to dress up, or make pretty, this mathematical certitude.
© Brian McIntyre. 2014

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