29 March 2016 by Richard Parsons

Friction Factory

FRICTION FACTORYTelling a good story is often about identifying a point of friction and releasing pressure that has built up because of it. That point is not always obvious, of course.

Let’s take the late Margaret Thatcher as an example. (Don’t worry; I’m playing Switzerland in this particular bun fight.) She dominated the Eighties and caused all kinds of upheaval – riots, union battles, pit closures and high unemployment according to one narrative; privatisations, banking liberalisation, lower taxes and the freedom to buy your own council house, according to another. She polarised opinion and generated a lot of passion on both sides.

Saatchi & Saatchi’s famous ad campaign – ‘Labour isn’t working’ – showing a long dole queue, hit a raw nerve and seemed to encapsulate the main point of friction in the country at the moment she took power. High unemployment coupled with power cuts and strikes gave the impression that nothing – and no-one - was working. 

When Thatcher resigned in 1990, those divisions quietened down, but the friction remained. Her death in April 2013 blew the lid off all that suppressed passion. The debate about her legacy raged on for days, as if she’d never left the scene. Younger, more politically apathetic generations, were left bemused. It seems she divided people as much in death as she did in life.

But this moment of release was hugely cathartic for the country.The storytelling on each side was disperate and edited out the facts that didn’t suit their respective narratives, but there was little point continuing the debate with the same intensity. Her death meant we could finally move on.

The point is that a brand may have a problem – a point of friction. Acknowledging that and tackling it head on is one way to create a compelling story.