Monday, March 26, 2007

The Magical World of Soap Storytelling




Brands are constantly in search of a great story to tell, to entertain, to engage, to educate, to be discussed, to be memorable and off course, addictive.

Never ever did I think that I would be blogging about the merits of the Bold and the Beautiful and other Soaps, but then again never did I think I’d be blogging… I think it is safe to say that the Soap Opera has revolutionized the way we tell stories and has laid down the foundation for some of today’s best shows, Lost, 24, Prison Break and other addictive entertainment.

So what is it about Soaps that make them so extraordinary? 1 Multiple narratives 2 Intricate interwoven plots and 3 open ended formats.


Multiple narratives deepen the story

Traditionally most story telling involved a single protagonist or hero carrying a single narrative in a linear format e.g. Knight Rider, MacGyver or even Little Red Riding hood. Soap Operas on the other hand, have multiple storylines moving from ‘protagonistic’ to’ polyagonistic’. Multiple narratives give viewers a larger world to grapple with, more to discuss, more to do in terms of linking and theorizing.

Complicated Plot Lines instill the desire to reduce ambiguity

The average soap has anything between 5 to as many as 10 different plot lines co existing. Most will link somewhere in the overall story but storyline predictability is extremely difficult considering the combinations of possibility are innumerable. This ambiguity and the desire to reduce it result in conversation, thought, speculation and conjecture about the plot lines.

Open ended formats are participatory and addictive

Traditionally, most stories come with a basic format, a beginning, a middle and an end. The protagonist and context are established, a struggle introduced and finally transcendence of the respective struggle. Soaps on the other hand offer no such structure, no such closure. After each show the audience is left to participate in thought, theorization and water cooler discussion until the next episode. Open ended plot lines invite the audience to participate with the text itself. Compare the quantity and quality of conversation about a good one off movie in relation to a the dialogue generated by a single episode of 24.

Brands can learn quite a bit from these three traits that lay the foundation for much of today’s entertainment. Multiple layers deepen brand stories, intricate plot lines challenge people to reduce ambiguity and engage themselves. Finally open ended formats offer the consumer a participatory role as opposed to merely a receptive one.
It is the combination of these three traits the could offer the consumer a more sophisticated, interesting and engaging brand story that would lead them to want to spend time with.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

While soaps/series are open ended and allow interaction and audience participation and intrigue, it is only because the medium (i.e. a soap is aired once a week) that such a phenomenon occurs. Take for example the series 24, to watch the whole of series 1 over a weekend (or a day if you are a dedicated fan) equivocates to watching a movie and can be discussed just as much (or little) as a movie.
I know you mentioned this in relation to a one-off movie, but once again you need to take into consideration the medium of the series, amounting pretty much to a riveting sequel of movies, or books. (case in point Harry Potter, I'm personally very anxious to receive the last in the series).
The Harry Potter books in fact have created the same hype as the series craze, what will happen next, will our beloved Harry reach his demise? Or will Dumbledore return from the dead and save the day?
The series/soap structure is actually that of a book or film just stretched out over months/years of time. In fact you'll come to realize that just as the film or book in a series/soap "the protagonist and context are established, a struggle introduced and finally transcendence of the respective struggle."
Case in point sex in the city. Carrie (protagonist) is established as a quirky sex journalist in new york city with her 3 other friends (context) who is trying to understand men, sex and relationships (struggle). In the end her struggle to understand men, to reach the perfect relationship is attained with the infamous Mr. Big when he saves her in Paris. Series over.
I admit I've dumbed down the series and ignored the multiple intertwining plot lines, but the same can apply for any book, for any film.
Brands must therefore take into consideration a way that they can establish themselves over a longer period of time, leave us wanting more. Maybe its a case that we have to use a consecutive series of branding/advertising campaign that enrich, create attachment and intrigue.
The question is how can we keep our brands "aired once a week" and not "available on DVD" so it's over in a weekend?

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While soaps/series are open ended and allow interaction and audience participation and intrigue, it is only because the medium (i.e. a soap is aired once a week) that such a phenomenon occurs. Take for example the series 24, to watch the whole of series 1 over a weekend (or a day if you are a dedicated fan) equivocates to watching a movie and can be discussed just as much (or little) as a movie.
I know you mentioned this in relation to a one-off movie, but once again you need to take into consideration the medium of the series, amounting pretty much to a riveting sequel of movies, or books. (case in point Harry Potter, I'm personally very anxious to receive the last in the series).
The Harry Potter books in fact have created the same hype as the series craze, what will happen next, will our beloved Harry reach his demise? Or will Dumbledore return from the dead and save the day?
The series/soap structure is actually that of a book or film just stretched out over months/years of time. In fact you'll come to realize that just as the film or book in a series/soap "the protagonist and context are established, a struggle introduced and finally transcendence of the respective struggle."
Case in point sex in the city. Carrie (protagonist) is established as a quirky sex journalist in new york city with her 3 other friends (context) who is trying to understand men, sex and relationships (struggle). In the end her struggle to understand men, to reach the perfect relationship is attained with the infamous Mr. Big when he saves her in Paris. Series over.
I admit I've dumbed down the series and ignored the multiple intertwining plot lines, but the same can apply for any book, for any film.
Brands must therefore take into consideration a way that they can establish themselves over a longer period of time, leave us wanting more. Maybe its a case that we have to use a consecutive series of branding/advertising campaign that enrich, create attachment and intrigue.
The question is how can we keep our brands "aired once a week" and not "available on DVD" so it's over in a weekend?

6:40 PM  
Anonymous The the said...

So anonymous are you basically saying that no one is upto date with 24 in the US and follow it on a weekly basis?
You’re making a generalization based on minority consumption habits.
Besides I think it takes more dedication to wait by your tv every week to find out what happens then to watch the whole thing during a single day (that’s like watching a really long movie, your right about that)

The idea that you have reduced sex in the city to a single character I think contradicts a whole lot of the shows success…sex in the citys success is based on the different characters not just Carrie. Also, how many different stories take place in each single episode,now in a season, now combining all seasons? 7 shows per season, 3 to 4 plots per show,7 seasons...do the math...vs say 300 or braveheart.

You just cant compare a movie to a Soap like dynasty which ran for 10 years…think about it.

And finally I think the day people by your brand on DVD is the day the marketing director gives you a fat kiss and asks to give you a foot massage :)

X with regards to your points, I think you forgot one main point, the fact that Soaps live along with you and are a part of your life, they are consistent and with shows like Dynasty can occupy a large portion of someone’s life for a long long long time, in the case of Dynasty a decade!! Imagine that, for a decade people would be glued to their sets every single Wednesday (never watched it myself), Soaps become a part of peoples lives, I know I used to watch Beverly hills 90210 and got into for about a year as a kid, I threw a quasi depression when one of the characters died, I can only imagine what someone would do in a longer time period…so bascially my point is the regular integration of soaps make them a part of your life, something you live.

7:04 PM  
Anonymous GB said...

I think an interesting book that builds on the theory of Soaps is 'everything good is bad for you', you can get it off amazon...an enjoyable read!

7:07 PM  
Blogger Nic said...

Hey anonymous, very valid points on all fronts...i think the question comes down to consumption patterns. I like you am someone who can run through an entire season of 24 in a weekend :)
But when i mention soaps, i mention them in their traditional format, as a tv show.

The the, as always you make a great point. Consistency is definitely a factor that is important when integrating the series into the audiences lives.

GB, read it and second your recommendation.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the the said,
i agree wholeheartedly with your comment of the fact that its about dedication and commitment to watching that once a week episode. To the contrary i am absolutely sure that consumers wait impatiently by their tv's/computer screens for the next episode. The point im trying to prove is just that. Its the fact that its been spread out that keeps you wanting more, the medium (thanks mcluhan) is the message.
Im just saying that it can be over in a weekend, all on DVD, so how can you prevent this? ensure that your consumers stay anticipated for next week's episode? for the next decade?
Your point about series being part of you is quite intriguing, it would be interesting to find a way to create this relationship with a brand. I remember when kitkat decided to change its foil packaging to fully plastic to keep freshness, i admittedly cried a little thinking i would thoroughly miss the joy of my fingernail running through the foil and snapping the fingers apart. I only wish i felt such deep passion and emotion for branding/ad campaigns nowadays.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think McLuhan's theory is a little outdated in this day and age...i think his medium is massage theory contradicts quite a bit of the current media landscape...I think the audience is the message.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

god i'm bored

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

pffft

I wish someone really interesting would get interviewed on here

sigh

4:42 PM  
Blogger Nic said...

ok i will just stop hijacking my facebook, i really do love you.

4:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home