On storytelling: Where's the magic in your marketing?

By Hamish Nichols

Think of two of the biggest film and TV (or any medium, come to think of it) successes of the last decade or so: Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. Think also of the most highly-regarded and popular TV series of recent years, Breaking Bad. What do they have in common? Magic. Harry Potter, evidently, is a story about a school for magicians and in the Game of Thrones, magic is a thing that people initially do not believe in anymore, but is shown to really exist and gain in importance as the series progresses. As for Breaking Bad, surely it cannot be argued that it is  about magic? Well, yes, if one sees that the main character is a figure possessing special powers that enable him to concoct a magic potion (a drug) that nobody else can make in such a pure form and that everyone wants and is prepared to kill for. There is also a running Sorcerer's Apprentice relationship between Walter White and Jesse that drives the plot line of many of the episodes. 

Magic has played a huge part in literature over centuries and continues to do so today, even in a disguised form. Think how often tales are concerned with magic powers that people can gain (Star Wars), magic animals (often talking), magic and desirable objects or weapons (rings, light sabres)  and magical transformations into other people or animals or even objects. Think of Walter White in Breaking Bad, who regularly transforms into his drug-making gangster figure, "Heisenberg".  Of course, the Superhero genre is based on people who have special "magical" powers. Even comedies, which apparently have nothing to do with "magical" narrative forms are often spoofs of those very forms or use the same magical tropes, sometimes inverting them. Heroes are cowards, do not possess special powers, are inept (Inspecteur Clouseau, etc) but can still exist in magical worlds, for example in Groundhog Day, where a marmot magically makes time repeat itself until the hapless protagonist finally gets his act together and achieves his goal.

So why do we love magical tales so much? One answer must come from our childhood love of magical stories, our belief in the magical properties of certain objects and even in the magical power of our parents to create a safe, warm, sometimes scary and sometimes exciting world for us. Another factor, in my view, is that as we now live in a secular society (I'm talking Western society here) all the considerable energy we used to invest in believing in the Bible (another magical tale if ever there was one) has now to be directed elsewhere. 

So my main point is, if we are wondering why our advert, short film, corporate video or documentary lacks that certain something, maybe we should consider this: where's the magic? -  Literally. Does your protagonist (or antagonist) have special powers, or at least be trying to attain them? Does the object you are trying to sell/promote seem to have magical and desirable properties that will make people fight (to the death) over it? Do you have mentors, spirits, goblins and spells, however well they are disguised in a modern, down-to-earth form? Are there magical transformations of people, animals or places in your story, however metaphorical? If not, maybe this is the magic you need to put in to be able to captivate that awe-struck and child-like lover of magical stories that we all still carry within. May the magic be with your stories.