The Palaeolithic Netflix or The real Creative cloud

The Palaeolithic Netflix or The Real Creative Cloud

How searching for a background for our new logo led to a journey into the psychology of clouds.

When we changed our name to EPiK we instantly wondered what could symbolize and express the brand visually. The name EPiK was inspired by the fact that we look at brands like stories and some our workshops are based on the way Hollywood looks at ideas and analyses its scripts. One item that first grabbed our attention was the classic movie ident. While you can dismiss them as simple corporate branding they are masterpieces in emotional scene setting. In a few seconds they command your attention, relax you for the entertainment to come, stimulate a sense of power, optimism, excitement and anticipation.

What struck us straight away was how many of the idents from the studios shared common aspects. One of these was the use of clouds, usually at sunset and seemingly after a storm. The more we analysed it, it was a perfect metaphor for story telling and life itself – the balance of light and dark aspects, the sense of something constantly changing and the horizon where hope will always shine….

In The Atlantic journalist Rebecca Rosen goes as far as to call them ‘The most useful metaphor of all time’

“Clouds get traction as a metaphor because they are shape-shifters, literally. As a result they can stand in for many varied cultural tropes. Want something to represent the one thing marring your otherwise perfect situation? Done. Want to evoke the nostalgic feeling of childhood games of the imagination? Done. Maybe you want to draw a picture of heaven? You’re in luck.”

Cloud 9, silver linings, clouds of despair, under a cloud…In the UK in particular we are used to using weather terminology as a metaphor but clouds have a lexicon all to themselves.

Stories are about giving life meaning. And cloud gazing exposes our desire to search for meaning in everything we encounter. It also shows our brains remarkable ability to fill in the gaps when it comes to the most abstract of stimuli. It is a natural psychological ‘ink blot test’ Do you see a dog, a crocodile or a man with a spear? Is it a friendly image or threatening?

Joni Mitchell perfectly captures the different worlds we can enter through clouds.

Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way.

Clouds have long been associated with the divine, the angelic and distant fairytale worlds. We can all see ‘Castles in the air’ and dream on them. Perhaps it’s why they are the background symbols to some great classical art. Constable’s landscapes inevitably frame the idyllic British countryside under characteristic towering cumulus clouds of the changeable English summer.

Constable understood the emotional power in clouds. To him they were “the key note, the standard of scale, and the chief organ of sentiment” in a landscape painting. While he documents the hardworking everyday life in the countryside the horizon is welcoming you to a world of light and optimism where everything is moving and changing for the better.

Clouds are our own story unfolding before us – with no two episodes ever to be repeated. They are the ultimate ‘me’ time and despite the distractions and entertainments available to us in our modern technically obsessed world, nothing is still quite as satisfying as lying on the grass watching the clouds roll by. When Wordsworth imagined himself wandering as a cloud, he almost succeeded in making loneliness seem attractive. A sky full of moving clouds was undoubtedly the Palaeo man’s Netflix.


Back to the Story

According to Hollywood script guru Robert Mckee,  ‘advertising is dead and old-fashioned story is the future’. 
Could this mark a revival of the UK’s golden age of commercials?

Robert Mckee - Storynomics

After a year of waiting I finally got to see Hollywood Script legend Robert Mckee delivering his new Storytelling seminar ‘Storynomics’. Storynomics is the sequel to the definitive ‘Story ‘ – a go-to bible for many budding (and established ) scriptwriters. Story outlined the core elements to writing a gripping movie script. The book was one of the first to deconstruct the real art of storytelling. Note that this isn’t a magic formula for creating stories, but a process that you need to practice and master. As he points out you don’t listen to classical music and bang out a symphony. You need to learn and understand the elements of your art to create art. So it is with story Everyone thinks by reading stories it’s easy to write one. But it’s an art that has to be learned.

Storynomics is how this art can be applied in business, and why it’s never been more essential.

First of all Mckee and his partner Tom Gerace, explain how the traditional ‘push’, or ‘interruptive’ method of advertising is losing its effectiveness in the digital age. The rise of adblockers, ad-free subscriptions models such as Netflix and Spotify and pop-up blindness spell the end of the one-way conversation. So what IS the future? As he states in a three word mantra – ‘Don’t interrupt. Entertain’, and at the heart of entertainment is story.

Robert Mckee - Storynomics

Stories are much more powerful than facts and data. Facts and data simply show what happened. Not why it happened. And as humans our core interest is the ‘why’. Because that’s how we can learn .  As Aristotle says ..’we go to the theatre to learn life’.
Stories are life with all the banal and the trivial taken out.

All stories are about change and meaning. They are causally connected dynamic events  that change from positive to negative or vice versa. The most powerful changes involve opposite values…like love/hate, life/death. Stories involve a protagonist that we can empathise with. In this sense we are not just rooting for a hero…we ARE that hero. Mckee makes the point that the association is so personal that when we criticise a film that someone else admires, we are not just making a judgement about the film, we are criticising THEM. 

Life for a protagonist is in balance until something comes along to upset it. Mckee coined the phrase for this – the ‘ inciting incident’.  The story will then reveal the various attempts by the protagonist to attain their ‘object of desire’ which will reattain life’s balance.  However as we all know, life isn’t that simple and along come antagonists or other events that thwart our actions. What we expect to happen and what actually happens  are two very different things. This ‘reality gap’ is what makes a story interesting and ultimately engaging.

It’s the struggle to redress balance that is the element of stories that business just doesn’t seem to understand. Companies have what Mckee calls ‘negaphobia’ – the fear of mentioning anything negative yet this is the fundamental element of creating a story. ‘I created the bagless vacuum’ isn’t as much a story as ‘ I built 300 prototypes and failed miserably before I created the bagless vacuum’   .

Robert Mckee - Storynomics

Business stories obviously need to end on a positive, but in order to dramatize this they need to begin with a negative value, and this is where many corporate campaigns fall down as a story.   We were shown a classic example of story-based advertising from apple. The Christmas campaign shows a sulky, uncommunicative teenager seemingly obsessed with his phone and refusing to engage with the family and their activities. The assumption is turned on its head when its revealed that he has throughout been filming and capturing events to create a beautiful family memento that brings everyone together. It is this twist and insight that makes a great story-based ad. A final turn that reveals a hidden human truth .
At this stage the conclusions seemed a little familiar. What all this brought to mind was the comparison of modern advertising to the golden age of commercials in the 70’s and 80’s Britain . The 30 or 60 second ads that most recall as classics were stories in themselves and its where directors like Ridley Scott, Alan Parker and David Puttnam cut their teeth before conquering  Hollywood. If Mckee is heard and followed can we expect another era where advertising is talked about, actively welcomed and enjoyed?