How I came to be diagnosed is another story for another time, but suffice to say it was a pretty dark time in my life and, as so many who suffer from depression do, I sunk into myself. I sought out solitude and drew a veil over the outside world so that I could carry out my day-to-day life, uphold relationships and build a career without anyone realising anything was wrong with me.
It didn’t really work. Inside me there was a vacuum.
Around the same time as this, I listened to The Wall by Pink Floyd for the first time. It spoke to me. It struck a huge chord and offered me solace when I needed it.
And it has stuck with me ever since as perhaps the greatest example of musical storytelling I’ve ever heard.
For those who’ve not heard it, The Wall tells Roger Waters’ semi-autobiographical story of a character called Pink whose father dies when he is a small boy and who, growing up, is oppressed by his overprotective mother and bullied at school by power-crazed teachers.
He eventually becomes a rock star who is plagued by issues of abandonment and isolation, and for whom the superficiality of stardom is suffocating.
Pink builds an emotional wall to protect himself, further isolating him from the world. Drug use and violent outbursts soon follow as he starts to unravel, and the breakdown of his marriage is the final brick that completes his wall, causing a breakdown and complete isolation from human contact.
Behind the wall he spirals towards insanity, eventually placing himself on trial with an imaginary judge who orders him to ‘tear down the wall’.
As someone in the midst of depression, you can see how a story of complete isolation resonated with me at the time.
And therein lies the key to great storytelling.
The lyrics of The Wall tell the story of Pink concisely and without superfluous detail. They give the listener a flavour of his life and focus on the key points without meaningless detail. A lot of organisations could learn a big lesson from that. To think that anyone cares about the details of your brand’s story as much as you do is folly.
The Wall is also about human frailty. It’s real. What it isn’t is a story that presents an idealistic and polished version of the self. There’s no pretence. Take note, brands: being authentic is about having the courage to be honest and unafraid to admit your failures as well as talking about your successes.
And finally, the great thing about The Wall is the way the story evolves. There are twists, surprises and turning points. Pink’s journey into near insanity and the way he tries to deal with this and come out of it take the listener through a variety of emotions. A brand’s story must move us if it is to resonate. It must be much more than simply an ‘anecdote’.
Ironically, I don’t listen to The Wall very often now as I don’t get the time to appreciate its full 80 minutes without the interruption of one or more of my three kids. But it remains a record that has as much meaning to me as Definitely Maybe or The Bends or any of the others that remind me of my prime as a young man.
And that is solely because of powerful storytelling. Marketing, PR and digital communications professionals: listen and learn.
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Posted by Paul Sutton