Flawed Characters, Authentic Brands and Tom Waits’ Perfectly Imperfect Voice

Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young: most reasonable people would accept the argument that the three of them together don’t add up to a single great vocalist.  And yet as rock singers, each reigns sublime in their own right.  How is that?

As noted by critic Daniel Durchholz
Said by critic Daniel Durchholz...as praise.

We respond to their idiosyncracy, their remarkability, their singularity. We respond to them much like we respond to characters in a story; if they were perfect, we wouldn’t care because they wouldn’t feel realistic, but a flawed hero gets us every time. The imperfections, the shortcomings, the blatant failings draw us in, make us relate, and flesh out these characters as believable people. Like us.

As we create brand stories instead of mere campaigns, we need to tap into this sense of what makes a hero human and tie that to our products or services. The challenge lies in convincing a client that admitting, or even touting imperfections will actually increase relatability; with marketing dollars at a premium, few want to invest the time, money and effort in anything short of high-gloss perfection.  After all, manufacturers value perfection.  Their assembly lines eliminate inconsistencies and hone tolerances to microns.  Yet when deep rows of exactitude crowd shelf after shelf in our superstores, the imperfect product creates the most interest.  This  fuels the rise of the handmade movement and outfits like etsy.com but that’s probably fodder for another post.

As advertisers, we can serve this simple truth best by bringing humanity to our brand stories in terms of authenticity: not perfection, not idealization, but authenticity.

For a great example of that, go to the iTunes store, punch up Tom Waits and just listen to the sample for his song “Gun Street Girl.”  Listen to the hard-edged experience limning his gravelly growl and you tell me this isn’t a man who knows a thing or two about dying his hair in the bathroom of a Texaco or getting liquored up on roadhouse corn.  Bless him…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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