Knight at the Crossroads Feature Image

How the choose-your-own-adventure is making a comeback

The Toronto Silent Film Festival 2015 is known for showcasing black and white films from a century ago, half of which are probably Charles Chaplin dancing like a tramp. Now it can also be known for good actually clever social media marketing, releasing a Choose your Own Adventure from clips of silent films on Instagram. It’s as entertaining as watching the movies themselves and the TSFF’s agency, Red Lion, should applaud themselves for their innovative use of Instagram. But with the Choose your own Adventure narrative, it isn’t a new gimmick, rather just one of the most unusual narrative formats enjoying a revival.

Choose Your Own Adventure Book Covers

Originally called Gamebooks, what we know as Choose-your-own-adventure grew into mainstream popularity through a series of unconnected books that every the 80s and 90s kid became familiar with. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it’s a story where at select moments of the story the reader makes a choice to flip to different parts of the book to make their own story. The Choose-your-own-adventure games eventually went the way of most children books, passing on as a fad like the Redwall and Goosebump series for Harry Potter, and now Dystopic/mythological stories.

Fast-forward a decade, Choose-your-own-adventure have enjoyed a renewal (I blame nostalgia) moving from its pulp origins and into the online world. Many entertainment websites, such as Cracked and CollegeHumor, have used the Choose-your-own-narrative as a variation for their traditional article and comic formats to engage with their users in another way. 

Inklewriter Platform

It’s not unexpected that sites would use Choose-your-own-adventures. They are easy to make on browsers, just create several pages with direct links along the story decision chain. But they have also evolved in their own right with the introduction of new game-making platforms for Choose your own adventures such as inklewriter and twine, allowing anyone to make them. And people will, as the popularity of user-made game content, it’s likely that Choose-your-own-adventure games will only become more popular.

Interestingly enough the revival of the Choose-your-own-adventure has coincided with the revival of another narrative format: the adventure videogame. Thanks to companies like Telltale, adventure games have been making a comeback, and often entwined with the Choose-your-own-adventure. This means replacing the often acid-tripping logic puzzles for choose your own adventure gameplay has led to opportunities for character development and emotional depth. Most popularly with the Walking Dead Games, for which its critical acclaimed reception is indicative that we are not going to see it end anytime soon.

Walking Dead Choices

The Choose-your-own-adventure holds an unusual place in terms of medium and narratives. It cannot be classified as a genre, or as gameplay. In fact, it occupies and can be transmitted throughs several forms of communication whether through books, browser or games. However what it does offer in its vagueness is it’s flexible, a narrative medium that has the opportunity to engage with audience by offering user control, one of the main appeals that videogames have over other mediums. TSFF 2015, while not sparking any revolution but by pulling a clever spin on their narrative marketing efforts have just taken advantage of a narrative medium being taken in a new way.

 

Article Game of Yemen- Feature Image

How an Arabic Dictator is like Game of Thrones

If you haven’t been catching up with the news recently, there’s a war in Yemen which started when a faction called the Houthis took the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and booted out the Yemen president, a guy called Hadi. There’s alsa a faction called the Southern Movement who want independence from Northern part of Yemen, and who may or may not be allied with Hadi, and now the Al-Qaeda franchise in Yemen has just started making gains, with ISIS starting a new branch, and Saudi Arabia and it’s buddies (including Uncle Sam) have started attacking attacking the Houthis, while Iran has allied with the Houthis, and they’re accusing each other of supporting the other side and….

Aaah, It’s like Game of Thrones, except with AKs instead of Dragons. And like Game of Thrones, Yemen has it’s Machiavellian character in the form of Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen. And while it would be weird to see an Arabic dictator knocking it off in Medieval Westeros, he possess a lot of the characteristics that would make the likes of Littlefinger and Tyrion applaud.

His Beginnings were Humble

Varys was a homeless eunuch, Littlefinger was born in one of the smallest houses of the realm, Saleh was from a peasant family and had almost no formal education. It’s the popular rags to riches narrative, though given how they turned out it’s more like from nobody to nightmare. Varys and Littlefinger became the Master of Whisperers and Master of Coin respectively, and more powerful than their positions. Saleh moved up through the army and became the President of Yemen for more than three decades.

Saleh with his Son

 

He looks Harmless

It’s not the nice-looking guy you have to watch for but the ones that look harmless. Tyrion’s a dwarf, Littlefinger’s a financier, and Varys is a fat eunuch, Arya could probably beat all three in a fight. However Arya is still a pawn in the scheme of the game while they are more like the Kings and Queens. Saleh being president, can’t hide behind his throne, however while he is a typical middle-eastern dictator, i.e. jailing political prisoners, nepotism etc. He’s typical. He’s almost unknown by the media in comparison to some of his contemporaries i.e. Kim Jong Un, Gaddafi, Hussein, Assad, who are giving coverage for their insanity and cruelty. As such Yemen has enjoyed reasonably okay relations with the rest of the world.

 Tyrion, Varys, Baelish

He knows when to fold’em

One of the most iconic prequel characters in Game of Thrones, the one who didn’t know when to quit was the Mad King who did whatever he wanted, until killed by a member of his own Kingsguard as his city burned, the smart players know when to fold’em. Gaddafi, Mubarak and Assad chose to fight to the bitter end. Gaddafi was killed by a mob, Mubarak is now in jail. The only reason why Assad is still president is because he’s like Prince Joffrey, not just stupid and crazy but because he is being propped up by greater men than him, just replace with Tywin with Putin (though someone should still just poison him). On the other hand, Saleh in the face of the Arab spring, resigned in exchange for immunity to prosecution. He could have spent the rest of his life living it up in his mansion in relative comfort.

 Saleh, Gaddafi and Mubarak + their fates

 

He is a Chronic Backstabber

A honest title for Game of Thrones would be game of Backstabbing, so much backstabbing. Nearly every character has backstabbed or backstabbed another. The Feys and the Boltons backstabbed the Starks, Varys backstabbs everyone (he’s almost a chronic backstabber). Saleh didn’t need to take notes, he’s already a master. Case in point, the U.S. allied with him in his war against Al-Qaeda in Yemen, even ignoring his previous alliance with Saddam Hussein. However Al-Qaeda became an enemy of convenience, going as far to work with Al-Qaeda further his goals. His most current backstab was allying with the Houthis, his former enemies, against his former allies, Saudi Arabia. And if he should win, it’s likely he will betray the Houthis afterwards to be allies with the U.S. again.

 Littlefinger betraying Ned

He is Power Hungry

In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. In every case it has been the pursuit of power that has pushed much of the series. Even the “good” characters such as Robb or Daenerys, are leaders in that their actions are about securing them more power. Characters still fight for other things such as Varys who wants what’s best for the realm, Tyrion just to survive. Tywin and Littlefinger understand their desire for power and wish to gain it. Saleh has already achieved it and is still achieving it. It would be surprising if Saleh ever took the mantle of president again, he already declared he wouldn’t. And the most powerful man in Westeros doesn’t wear the crown, it’s the man at his side. Littlefinger maybe a lord but he is still hasn’t reached his goal, Tywin has, but he is dead. Saleh is still alive and kicking.

Saleh on the Iron Throne

Homeless Man Walking

Why Narrative Marketing can be great for Homeless Shelters

Poster ads have always been the place for advertisers to shine their creativity, and this example has been more awesome than  new poster ad from Depaul UK. Bonus points for it not being some finance institute run by sideburns and copious tea-drinking but a homeless shelter for youth in London. The poster, created by publicis.london, wraps around a corner having two faces. One side reads how homeless youth are perceived, and the other side of how you should perceive homeless youth. It’s an amazing piece of copywriting, using the audiences own perception against them, and embodies one of the strongest marketing tools for homeless shelters: the everyman narrative.

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While we like our superheroes, like our “chosen one” narratives, we also like stories who are as rich, as fit, as flawed as we are. There are whole stories about pedestrian #3 from the left, and have them ascend into the spotlight. While we have Batman, we have comics about the GCPD, or comics about living in the big city. It’s an entire genre of stories of just the average guy, not the hollywood handsome average guy (I think is Christ Pratt these days) but struggling to survive in their own world. Because we sympathize with us, and we engage with those we sympathize.

As I’ve mentioned before we care about characters not statistics, which is why nonprofits will show pictures of starving children and their names. One example has been a subway ad from the Covenant House in Toronto, “Why Can’t Street Kids just Get a Life?” It violates one of the biggest tenets of marketing, that is Keep it Simple Stupid by being just a block of text.

Article Homeless Narrative - Covenant House Ad
But getting English Prof here, if you do actually take the time to read it (please do because it is well-written), it also underscores how a overall perception of homeless is so shallow compared the more meaty reason, because they are people, they have struggles, they laugh and cry as much as the rest of us. Steve becomes a living human being, not just a obstacle on the street to look away from. For any shelters and non-profit homeless organizations, if they wish to gain more donors, or at least spread awareness on homelessness, it won’t be statistics, but narrative advertising to make the homeless human in our eyes. It’s their greatest strength.

Deadpool Relaxing

Deadpool is the hero of Marketing

The Deadpool movie is coming up in 2016, and unlike the usual glut of superhero movies, it’s going to be hilarious and you are going to watch it.  For one thing Deadpool is a standout among superheroes for his unique brand of humour, understands his fans (in that he knows he has fans) and represents everything that a marketer would envy.

He supports the brand as a whole

A good product/sale can promote itself, a great product/service promotes itself and supports the brand as a whole. Google Apps has helped push Google beyond just a search engine. Valve has been supported by some great IPs, i.e. Team Fortress 2, Portal, Half-Life, but also support each other such as being able to use digital items between games or sharing the same video-game universe i.e. Portal & Half-Life.

Valve IP

While in superhero universes, it’s naturally that superheroes work together, against mutual super-villains, i.e. The Avengers,  superheroes often have their own comic line and have their own core set of enemies e.g. Batman vs the gallery of rogues. Deadpool blurs the line more, as his comic book series often strongly play up the Marvel Universe as a whole, having him play goofy to his more straight-lined colleagues. Most prevalent Spider-Man whose quips sound boring compared to DeadPool’s juicy humour. 

Comicbook Cover Deadpool kills the Marvel Universe

This goes to some hilarious contrivances in the Deadpool kills the Marvel Universe when Deadpool goes and murders the Marvel universe and his creators. And while comic book nerds could argue that there are so many more powerful supers that would have beaten Deadpool to a pulp, he at least answers the question of how he would fare against every Marvel character. And by inserting Deadpool in for the amusement and exasperation of the other supers it makes the Marvelverse look more lively than DC that seems more brooding.

Deadpool is a fresh idea

In marketing, polishing up a proven formula is not always the most successful tactic. It’s often being unique that has the most potential to shine ( see Old Spice for a lesson in unconventional success). Because the one true rule of any creative enterprise is that there are no rules.

Old Spice guy Case in point, in DC created a villain named Deathstroke, real name Slade Wilson, villain to many DC heroes (most recently Batman) who is a mercenary known for using samurai swords, a wide variety of guns, an expert in martial arts and a checkered past. He’s a polished checklist of a successful super character and has done well in many comics and cartoons.

 Deathstroke vs Deadpool

At around the same time in the Marvel verse, a (it’s complicated) villain named Deadpool, real name WADE Wilson, annoying to many DC heroes (most notably Spider-man) who is a mercenary known for using samurai swords, a wide variety of guns, an expert in martial arts and a (again it’s complicated) past. He’s a unpolished, screw-the-checklist of a hilarious character. DeathStroke is a great character among other great characters. DeadPool is a fabulous character among great characters (and the one with the movie)

Deadpool is part of the audience

Every marketer’s job begins with Step 1: Know the audience. Any marketing campaign that doesn’t know it’s audience, what they expect or want, will come as tone-deaf and lacklustre. The only time Deadpool and lacklustre are in the same room together is if that room is a target range and Deadpool needs to kill off some boredom. With his constant fourth-wall breaking, and endlessly entertaining dialogue, he is everything that is enjoyable of reading comic books. While Superman would sign some autographs, say something noble then fly off, Deadpool would be sitting beside you in the movie theatre hogging the popcorn and arguing which superhero is the coolest (answer: him).

Deadpool Relaxing

This is perfectly reflected in a marketing campaign that is off to a great start with a tweet from Ryan Reynold of the first screenshot of DeadPool being utterly smart for not just starting the hype, but also poking at Deadpool being an object of desire by fans (yet still ugly as shit). Even the silly argument of whether or not DeadPool will be rated PG-13 or R on a celebrity talk show is just another opportunity to promote the movie: DeadPool Style.

 

So whether you are just a fan of Deadpool (anyone who has read a single Deadpool comic) or or if you want to take points on what’s interesting, watch the film, read the comic book, it’s going to be entertaining and what every marketer should aspire to.