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The Greatest Story Ever Told?

Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s 1965 film, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ brought the life of Jesus to the big screen in glorious Technicolor.

Leaving aside the amusing fact that Max von Sydow played Jesus before going on to play some of the greatest super-villains in cinema – what’s the opposite of typecasting? – The Greatest Story neatly illustrates the point of this blog post.

Brand durability depends on having a good story to tell that people will want to share. John Hegarty famously asserted at a conference that the Catholic Church was probably the greatest brand story ever. How had the church managed to keep going and expanding for 2000 years? By telling a cracking good story and reinforcing its messages though myth, ritual and symbolism, he argued.

But he wasn’t the first to suggest this. Bruce Barton, one of the founders of US advertising pioneer Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO), wrote a modern biography of Jesus in 1924 called: ‘The Man Nobody Knows’. It became the best-selling book in the US for two years running.

It argued – shockingly at the time - that Jesus was the ultimate ad man who plucked 12 simple men from obscurity and built what became a world-conquering organisation. Barton advised companies to identify the “souls” of their businesses and have faith in the companies’ brand values so that they could preach with conviction.

Christianity is the best meme ever shared. The disciples were told to go out and spread the “good news”, and people have been sharing the story ever since.

But it probably wouldn’t have been so successful if it had adopted US-style, product-driven sales tactics: “Judaism demands 10% of all your money; Catholicism only charges 5%!” That story runs out of steam pretty quickly (and fundamentally misses the point).

Everything we do in marketing should be contributing to that brand story. We should always ask: “Is it remarkable? Is it worth sharing?”

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