Today’s world is one where almost everything can be proved, researched or fact checked at the click of a mouse. The internet has sped up our connectivity making it harder to lie to your family, plagiarise your essay (or blog! Not that we would!) or call in sick to work on a Monday after a particularly hectic weekend.
However, we as humans feel the consequence of this lack of mystery, this need for myth that humans crave. This can’t be all there is, surely? There must be more to balance all that we “know”? It goes as far back as the campfire lore of our primal ancestors, the birth of spirituality and, more recently, aliens and conspiracy theories. We cry out for magic in our rational world.
However, on the other side, is that fact that the current digital culture is in some ways returning the story to the campfire, by allowing it to evolve, to be passed on by different voices, to become alive in different tangents and forms.
In a book or film, there is one narrative told from start to end. There is a known author, or studio director, and we know that the story that is told projects their point of view. The internet, however, is like falling down the rabbit hole – there are many different versions of a story, some overlapping and some diverging and what is truth or otherwise can get lost in the retelling.
Take Slenderman, the personification of how modern digital myths work. A tall, faceless man lurking in the back of photographs on the web, said to stalk children amongst other hazy misdeeds. Although he has a very clear and indisputable point of creation, he has now taken on a digital life of his own, and inspired his own conversations – what exactly does he look like? Where does he lurk? What is his motivation? Was he actually inspired by real events? He has even become an offline urban myth too, sparking real life crime by those that claim to be coerced by him. (Not that we advocate that in brand followers!)
So whilst the current transparency of information means the myth can be traced back to its origins with enough diligence, the tangled nature of the web conversely gives it an authenticity and connectivity that continually builds upon it.
Thought provoking for marketers in the digital age. Although a brand could start its own story, if the idea is sticky enough it can take hold and evolve, get shaped and hence owned, by its consumers. Although no small risk to let a brand out of your own hands, the amplification of the story has far greater potential for saliency than a traditional media strategy might. This could be particularly interesting for brands with history, or brands with interesting characterisation or spokespeople. Can you engage consumers to continue to create your brand story in the digital realm?