The aspirational story—where I am the hero
The best stories about others pull me in because, really, they are about me. It’s why I read fiction and stop to listen to ads. The words or even the tone connect with something deep inside us. Something we want.
Dan Wieden, the celebrated founder of the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy and creator of “Just do it” for Nike, died on September 30 at age 77. Wieden had a macabre story (hint: it involves death row and a firing squad) for how he came up with the slogan that went from selling shoes to embedding itself as a cultural concept. Wieden’s slogan says something about you and me—it transposes our desire onto the shoes. Those Nike shoes are the ones that will allow/force/cajole me into running or at least make me look like I’m going to exercise.
Theorists like Donald Schön and Thomas Michaud will tell you subtle psychological gears are turning in our heads that allow us to pull stories into our souls.[i] Schön thought of it as “transposition,” where we hear someone’s story, interpret the story, and then apply some facet of the story to our own lives. That’s how stories provide hope and direction and why so many stories have happy endings.
Dan Wieden, and Wieden+ Kennedy, used slogans and ads to tell the aspirational stories of regular people. Stories people did not know they aspired to until they succumbed to the winsome logic of the ad. They told stories that we wanted to hear, like “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” And they sold stuff with those whimsical short stories.
Whether you are designing an ad for your client or writing social media copy for your company, putting together a poster presentation on innovation, or writing a short story, it is critical that your audience sees themselves in the story right away. Writing with empathy, with the recognition that people struggle to go for a jog, smell great, or any number of things, is a route toward getting and keeping attention.