For the past week or so, I’ve been talking about the impact of stories. We tell stories to justify purchases, sell points of view, and even frame arguments. We use them to alter perceptions and to frame our arguments. However, to those in the industry, stories have a greater purpose.
Stories can be used to capture attention. Attention, according to Seth Godin, is the most limited of resources. He argues that we’re often told to pay attention, with “pay” being the key verb. Attention is ultimately limited for everybody. There are no more than 24 hours in a day, and no more than 365 days in a (non-leap) year. People know this, and have begun to grow choosy with their precious time.
In this day and age, it’s impossible to just cater to the shoujo fans, or the shounen fans, or the moe aficionado. To capture the greatest range of attention possible, we need to begin to create frames. These frames can bring together entirely different world-views, based on common threads among them. They can inspire conversations and debates, and they can work around the biases that each smaller group holds.
To illustrate this example, I’d like to bring up Strike Witches. Strike Witches is, for all intents and purposes, a moe show. However, the show also has elements that would appeal to fans of dramas, comedies, and action fans as well. Rather than call a spade a spade, FUNimation decided to tell its own story. The story they chose to tell was The War On Pants. The marketing team played off of an absurdity in the show – namely that no female characters wore pants. Period. They’d wear kimonos, long overshirts, or the like, but pants were verboten. The group created playful newsreel-inspired YouTube trailers (below) and advertisements that reflected World War II propaganda posters. These used language like “Give ’em Hell, Ladies!” and had a strong ’40s military motif to them. They told the story of a product that was both playful and intense. This was a show that was fun, but had its serious side.
The advertising may not have been one hundred percent accurate, but it definitely got people talking. Hashtags of #waronpants erupted on Twitter, and articles began to play with the whole “War On Pants” angle. Message boards and chat rooms lit up with conversations on the unusual advertising campaign. Articles from sites like Japanator boldly proclaimed things like “If you do not laugh, you have no soul” in regards to the campaign. By the time the show’s ship date arrived, the narrative had been told, and the frame was set. People knew Strike Witches as the show with the War on Pants. This translated into market performance, as the curious flocked to the show. Those who would normally show no interest were pulled in by the frame that the show was cast in, and the show soared to the top of the charts.
Through a compelling story, FUNimation managed to frame a show destined for middle-of-the-road sales as something whimsical, wacky, and unique. They managed to earn some of the broader market’s precious attention, which spread among the core customers, as well as new, untapped markets. Strike Witches – rather, the War On Pants managed to inspire conversations, which later translated to sales. Most important, these stories made what would have been a run-of-the-mill product into something truly remarkable.
With the right story, one can turn any product into a unique experience. A compelling story that captures the right frame will command attention toward a product, be it potato chips, cars, or anime. These stories are rarely easy to tell. However, when they are handled well, the benefits are truly phenomenal.