Can stories save New York?
I love New York. Even if you've never been there, you likely do too. With thousands reportedly now leaving the city in droves, can storytelling help keep it alive?
Last week I stumbled down nostalgia lane watching a short film Vogue published in mid-September titled I Love New York: Bella Hadid, Misty Copeland & Whoopi Goldberg Celebrate the City.
I love New York. I've visited many times: when I was living and working in the US as a news editor, and many more on junkets and as an international business traveller.
Vogue’s film is a beautifully shot rush of escapist feelings capturing the joy of New York, narrated by the inimitable Whoopi Goldberg.
The intriguing thing is its timing: the film launch comes at a time of incredible turmoil for both Vogue and New York City (NYC). Both are in the midst of an identity crisis.
The cliche New York narrative, a place of dreams, success and glamour, has been upstaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
New Yorkers are leaving the city in droves, seeking a safer and more comfortable life in the suburbs. News reports suggest the city is dirty and abandoned, countless homeless people forced to endure the extremes of weather I can personally attest swing from bone-chillingly cold to unbearably hot and humid.
According to the venerable New York Times, home sales in nearby counties jumped 44 percent in July. Some 5,000 NYC businesses have closed since March, CNN reports.
It seems it’s time to get out, quick!
Come on, Vogue
Then we’ve got Vogue itself. A super brand of fashion intricately woven into the fabric of modern life, so to speak, Vogue is facing a genuine existential crisis.
What’s the point of a fashion magazine now? This question, posed by the New York Times, couldn’t be more poignant. Fashion mags sell escapism, luxury fantasies and a feeling. They must stay uniquely relevant and effortlessly in touch with the zeitgeist.
The trouble is Instagram’s pretty good at doing that, too. Then we’ve got advertisers and retailers struggling to exist. But more critically, the NY Times offers this chilling insight: people have been re-evaluating their moral relationship with consumption.
"It's that resentment and even rage has risen toward celebrities and other elites — a pampered pool of cultural figureheads who fill the pages of contemporary fashion publications. And now there’s a pandemic to address," writes NYT critic-at-large, Amanda Hess.
Our beliefs really matter
This question of a moral relationship with consumption, and by extension the value of icons like NYC and Vogue really bear consideration.
No, I’m not virtue signalling. There appears to be a fundamental reassessment of the belief systems that underpin how economies work.
As I explore in Beliefonomics, our existential beliefs provide the lens through which we interpret stories and make purchasing decisions.
When we get our brand story right, it becomes an organisation’s north star. It informs business strategy, creatively inspiring our marketing and communications activity.
So let’s go back to our Vogue video to illustrate the point.
Make no mistake, the film might be positioned as editorial content but the brand is still selling something - hard. Whoopi says, “I love it. New York just might be the only city that loves humans. Loves our mess, loves our funk, and the fashion, forget about it! We don’t own cars, we own clothes.”
Here’s where the Vogue and NYC agendas combine. Read through the article supporting this film and you can pick up some useful shopping tips:
Joan Smalls wears Miu Miu coat, necklace, and gloves; miumiu.com
Marc Jacobs shoes; marcjacobs.com
Indya Moore wears Oscar de la Renta dress; saksfifthavenue.com
Panconesi by Marco Panconesi ear cuff; net-a-porter.com
Ana Khouri ear pieces; anakhouri.com
Gucci gloves; gucci.com.
You get the idea. The fashion business and city exist in symbiosis.
Importantly, the film pivots from the glamour of New York to embrace the reality of the city today, mid-pandemic.
“It understands you at your worst but pushes you towards your best. I love New York,” says Whoopi, supported by inspiring and hopeful music. “I love New York, because New York loves me.”
It’s this climactic ending that gives us our lesson in brand marketing. Despite everything that’s wrong in the world - and the unsettling reality of a city abandoned - here we have an inspired, creative, and evocative piece of brand storytelling embracing hope.
New Yorkers overcome adversity. Stories like that of Stephanie and her alter-ego Tanqueray in Humans of New York (HONY) captivate modern audiences and stir them to donate $2.65+ million to her trust.
You might love New York, or perhaps you hate it. It doesn’t matter. The point is this: New York's story is now all of us. Overcoming adversity is a unifying characteristic of our shared pandemic humanity. Right?
The closing question is just how deeply have you embraced a love and hope for the future of whatever brand you care about?
Do you love a city, magazine, company, country or client? Are you hopeful of pushing through and rediscovering those first loves that make the whole thing seem magical?
I Love New York is a powerful reminder that as business leaders we can’t forget the radical counter narrative. The numbers and negative trends might tell us everything is bad, but there’s always hope. You might not love New York, but it won’t hurt if more people borrow its defiant optimism.
Mark Jones is an author, brand strategist and former journalist determined to inspire more leaders to use the power of storytelling to change the world for good. You can buy his book here or book him to speak at your next client or team event.