Not Hooked by “The Hook”

In my last post, I alluded to a book I was reading about narrative and marketing. That book, by Richard Krevolin, has the short title The Hook and the long subtitle How to Share your Brand’s Unique Story to Engage Customers, Boost Sales, and Achieve Heartfelt Success. The author appears to be a story-based jack of all trades who has taught screenwriting at the university level (and thus refers to himself as Prof. K.), and is now a screenwriter and consultant to corporations developing story-based marketing campaigns.

Prof. K.’s golden rule of story-telling is that “an engaging character actively overcomes tremendous obstacles to reach a desirable goal, and in doing so, the character changes for the better.” This is what I call the heroic fable and what other analysts call “the quest.”

Where I call Prof. K. out on this definition is that it doesn’t include all the other varieties of fables. In my previous post I illustrated this with a discussion of the tragic story of Bernard Madoff. Tragedies, whether recent stories such as Madoff’s or those embodied in Shakespeare’s plays (Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet) or in opera (La Boheme, La Traviata, Madama Butterfly), remain immensely popular. People know that adversity is not always overcome, and that we all succumb to the final challenge. Tragedies activate the same mirror neurons as heroic fables.

Even in the realm of marketing – Prof. K.’s turf and not my own – employing only the heroic fable seems limited. As a watcher of television news – which appeals to an aging demographic – I can’t help but notice that most of the products being sold are intended to stave off some catastrophe, to preserve the status quo from something much worse. These include various forms of insurance, medical devices, and home alarm systems. And ads for these products often depict catastrophes: burglars vandalizing a home, people suffering a heart attack or a fall at home, or even a death. These stories seem to me to be activating the same neuronal responses as authored tragedies. It is not clear to me how these products could be marketed through the employment of Prof. K.’s preferred heroic fable.

Prof. K. is somewhat handicapped in writing his book because much of his consulting was done under confidentiality agreements, so that he cannot tell us about the marketing campaigns he developed for these products. This is unfortunate because Prof. K. could make a better case – and win more business from readers of The Hook – if he were able to show more of his portfolio.

The Hook also incorporates long, verbatim interviews with other marketing gurus (Michael Simon, Trevor Garlick). He has a similar interview with a presentation coach (Jayne Larson), justified as preparation for people presenting stories in formal oral presentations. Finally, he does include a detailed case study of one of his clients, Una Alla Volta, an online retailer of artisan craft-work (jewelry, glass, pottery) and a verbatim interview with its founder, Terri Alpert.

As an academic, I find the notion of including long verbatim interviews in a book a bit strange. It appears to me that what Prof. K and his interviewees are engaging in is cross-promotion. Prof. K is providing a forum for them to promote their brands in exchange for some sort of quid pro quo.

To conclude: I find Prof. K.’s book fascinating as a study in the practice of marketing. While he and I share an interest in the moving image, whether embodied in commercials or film, our approaches to the study of narrative and practice of story-telling are vastly different.

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