Great Storytelling According to The Wonder Years
My wife and I recently finished watching The Wonder Years. For those of you who don’t know, the show aired in the late 80s and early 90s. The 6 seasons track the teenage years of Kevin Arnold and his friends in their home town during the iconic 60s and 70s. Alongside Kevin is his best friend Paul, his love interest Winnie, various friends, and his family - dad, mom, big brother Wayne, and hippie sister Karen.
As my wife and I finished the show, I was surprisingly teary eyed. It symbolized the end of an era, the end of Kevin’s childhood, and the end of the piece of his life that he always referred to as those years filled with wonder. I was invested. I realized that the writers of this show knew how to tell a great story. They kept the viewer engaged and connected. By the end of the show you felt as if you had experienced childhood alongside Kevin as part of the gang - Winnie, Paul, Wayne, and others.
How does this apply to marketing? Great brands tell great stories. As a writer or as a marketer, you have to be able to tell engaging stories through various forms of content. What can we learn from The Wonder Years about storytelling?
Great Stories Have A Clear Perspective
The Wonder Years are told through the eyes of Kevin Arnold. He’s the narrator. Unexpectedly, he doesn’t narrate the story from the present, but rather from the future looking back at the past. This creates a clear frame for the viewer to interpret the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the characters involved - a grown man looking back at his wonderful teenage years.
Marketing Tip: Tell your brand’s story from a clear perspective so that the viewer connects to the story and inherits the thoughts and emotions involved.
Great Stories Have A Unique Sense of Humor
The Wonder Years developed a unique sense of humor built upon irony and sarcasm. This played out especially between best friends Paul and Kevin, and with Wayne (Kevin’s goofy big brother). By the end of the show, you were well acquainted with the humorous dynamic of the characters and of the show.
Marketing Tip: Don’t be afraid to develop a sense of humor for your brand if possible. People want to laugh. Give them the opportunity.
Great Stories Connect To Our Emotions
Nostalgia. It’s the chief emotion evoked by the show. It creates a sentimental longing for the past. The series creates a bond between the audience and the characters. As a result, we feel like we are part of it ourselves.
We were there when Winnie broke Kevin’s heart - multiple times! We felt the shock when Karen didn’t tell her parents she was moving away. We also experienced the joy when Paul and Kevin stopped fighting over a stupid girl.
Marketing Tip: When we connect our audience to the product through their emotions, we make them feel part of our brand’s story. Our audience invests more in our brand.
Great Stories Are Relatable
Throughout the series, we relate to the characters through many of their experiences, but also through their relationships. Towards the end of the show, there is a short scene where Kevin is sitting at the table drinking coffee with his dad. He asks his dad if he’s ready to become a grandpa, as Karen, Kevin’s older sister, is pregnant. I remember sitting with my dad at a coffee shop during my wife’s baby shower asking him the same question. So, when I saw the scene, it was very familiar to me. There were hundreds of other examples of this for me.
Marketing Tip: We must relate to our audience in their experiences and their relationships. What has your audience experienced and what types of relationships do they have? Show that your brand relates.
As marketers and brand ambassadors or as someone attempting to grow your personal brand, we have to become better storytellers. The best way to grow as a storyteller is by starting to tell your story. Get feedback. Then, read and listen to other great stories.
Remember to have fun and enjoy the journey, because someday in the future, you may look back on this time as the wonder years.