Swashbuckle – battling the ordinary

1st April 2013

Idling in my hotel foyer, I picked up a book on the life of Shakespeare. It spoke in detail of ‘bardolatry’ – the adoration of the man from Stratford, heralded as a poet not only of his age, but ‘for all time’.

One of the striking features of Shakespeare’s legacy is the rumble of conspiracy that surrounds his works. There is constant protest that Master Shakespeare was, in fact, not the author of the works of William Shakespeare. These theorists propose Elizabeth I, Marlowe and Bacon, among others, as alternative authorial candidates.

At the heart of the argument is this: how could a man with so ordinary a life produce such miraculous works? In short, William Shakespeare, son of a market-town alderman, was too common for genius.

This theme – the desire in the human spirit for greatness to have swashbuckle – is one which is helpful in the understanding and practice of marketing.

As human beings we wish to believe in the transcendent; the extraordinary. It is this that makes us believe that something incredible may also be true.

I recall a rather chilling assessment by Christopher Hitchens in the aftermath of Diana’s death in Paris, in 1997.

He asserted that it was the very banality of her demise which took her global mourners (in their tens of millions) the most time to accept. In the end, the Princess had died in a road traffic accident where alcohol and absence-of-seatbelts played starring roles. It was an explanation too common to be believed.

At the heart of the Disney brand is the idea of magic – a place where dreams come true. Walt was on to something. (Let us set aside the worrying rumour that Disney is a dreadful, vicious place to work; a workplace that some of its own employees sardonically call Mauschwitz).

The pursuit of an escape from the common is one in which many of the world’s biggest ideas partake. It lies within the promise of many religions, the promise of many kinds of love, the promise of Hope as embodied in one singular politician of doubtful Hawaiian birth…

This, then, is a foundation of the promise of brands as well. They emerge from an idealised world – a world of inspiration, of beauty, of myth. Their narrative tends towards the heroic, be it as natural king of kings, or as David in the shadow of Goliath.

Theirs is a world free from the banal; a world where every bard is a prince, and every slogan honeyed wisdom.

Because, when the chips are down and I slap my money on the rack, who the hell wants to invest in the ordinary?

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