Why Shakespeare Would Have Been Rubbish at Online Video…

Here’s a newsflash for you: style isn’t timeless. If you’re watching a film from the eighties, you’re most likely going to gawk at the neon-brights and shoulder pads, and wonder anyone ever thought those outfits were a good idea.

Even if you rocked something similar back in the day, you probably can no longer relate to the need to wear skin-tight purple leggings. But even if the protagonist is wearing parachute pants, you still relate to their story.You still feel what they feel. You can still embrace the storyteller, even if you can’t embrace their style.

This goes even further: nobody is going to be seen dead buying (or wearing) an Elizabethan Ruff, but Shakespeare is still revered. And even 400 years after his death, the credence of his name still brings in £635 million of annual revenue for his birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon. And that’s not including sales of his texts (estimated between $US2 and 4 billion over their lifetime), or royalties from performances of his plays (Forbes makes a conservative estimate is roughly $US1 million).

How’s that for timelessness? Although it’s unlikely they derived their inspiration from the great Bard himself, marketeers have been riding the storytelling train for some time now. Think Rhonda and Ketut (AAMI), and Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches”.

They make appeals to your sense of humour, to your empathy, and to your curiosity which is how they sustain your engagement with their brand.

Curiosity and empathy drive our viewing behaviours. Ask anyone why they watch My Kitchen Rules or The Bachelor, and they’ll give you an incoherent reply, somewhere between, “I like to laugh at the characters,” and “I really love so-and-so, she’s so down-to-earth.”

The reasons we connect so much with reality television is not because we enjoy the mundane. It is because the characters are real. We learn and view different modes of living, constantly evaluating them against our own. So the characters must always run the line between “so relatable!” or “so awful that I can’t look away!”. Sponsorship occurs accordingly: if the characters are aspirational, or relatable, they will win with advertisers. If they’re gawkable and irritating, they’re likely to fall out of favour.

It’s empathy and relatability inherent in storytelling that brought about the success of the vlog about a decade ago. There’s no arguing with the success when you look at the wealth they helped generate: consider “Vlogbrothers”, Hank and John Green. The premise behind starting their channel was simple: for the entirety of 2007, the brothers would cease all communication, except for their weekly video blogs, addressed to one another.

They talked about their own lives, their hobbies, and their struggles being branded “nerds” for being passionate about science and books and Star Trek. And it engaged people like almost nothing before it: watching them play out their entire lives on the web’s stage.Their stories formed a subculture of “Nerdfighters”, and that subculture spawned a record and clothing label. There are Nerdfighter university campus clubs, Nerdfighter conventions, and Nerdfighter gatherings held on every continent on Earth (excluding Antarctica).

The fame generated from this vlog channel brought about the popularity of John Green’s young adult novels, The Fault In Our Stars and Paper Towns, which became blockbuster films in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Paper Towns made $85 million at the box office, and The Fault In Our Stars made a staggering $307 million. What began as brothers telling stories has become a platform for selling books, films, and merchandise.

Whether by clever marketing or a complete accident, third tells you one thing: stories sell.

And not just any stories, but personal stories. This is good news for you. Self-narratives are so easily transcribed these days, because we have a plethora of shiny new tools: not just blogs, but social media like Facebook and YouTube and Instagram and Tumblr.

On top of this, personal narratives are some of the easiest to execute, because they require very little planning, and they pass the authenticity test, without relying on the frailty of actors, or the whims of box-office crowds.

Ok, so maybe you’re not Shakespeare. Maybe you don’t have one hundred stories to tell. But you do have your own story. And that story is valuable.

Shakespeare couldn’t have expressed himself in a ninety-second video anyway.