By: Kevin Nabipour
My Super Bowl moment isn’t over quite yet.
In my last post, I wrote about the overt political and cultural narratives conspicuously woven into every aspect of this year’s Super Bowl – from the ads, to the halftime show, to what occurred within the game itself. The ads in particular were a lightening rod both during and after the game, picked apart by viewers and critics alike, who felt some were unjustifiably political even though most had positive messages – inclusion, acceptance, equality – that under a different and arguably more civil sociopolitical climate would scarcely register as controversial.
It’s certainly fair to criticize companies that wait for a moment like a Super Bowl ad to form this type of conscience, but opportunism is besides the point. What has lingered for me long after is the troubling nonlinear response to these types of stories, which seem to show a leaning toward confirmation bias over a shared human experience.
As a storyteller, your goal is to render an experience to the viewer in hopes that you make them feel something they can’t easily dismiss or won’t quickly forget. We tap into sturdy archetypes like tales of renewal, a mission, an underdog, comedy and, in the curvature of the events and characters that occupy that space, a value system is built that is recognizable and undeniably human. When an underlying dilemma occurs, empathy and connection are released; the audience is fused into the story. The experience of the characters can be related to because they connect with our audience’s experiences. The same emotions are triggered.
So what happens when we no longer share the same set of values and don’t occupy the same objective reality? When the stories we develop fail before they can move us because we simply don’t exist in the same intellectual and emotional dimension?
The recent political events across the world have undoubtedly divided us. When powerful leaders make false equivalences and casual lies, it’s clear we live in a challenged relationship with veracity. Technology has exacerbated our sense of unease: bots and Reddit armies stoke fear, negativity and fakery; live video makes crime an intimate experience for digital bystanders; social media amplifies neuroses and biases.
What we can forget in challenging moments like this, however, is that it is still a privilege to be alive. That we still have so much to learn from each other. That the speed of innovation and progress is staggering and unprecedented. The will of humankind can still be a force of powerful good. And that the shapes of stories still give us our best chance to understand and connect, to measure failure and hope against a greater context.
So let’s be aware of confirmation bias and of bad actors. Let’s calculate the influence of propaganda and disinformation, and justly criticize a brand’s miscalculation of current events. Let’s seek to understand our audience, not take their interest or attention for granted and not generalize. Let’s assume the burden of proof for brands is higher than it’s ever been, and let’s relish that.
And let’s not forget that values still indeed matter, even if it seems harder than ever to make them something everyone can believe.
Kevin Nabipour is the head of Content Strategies for Allison+Partners.