Classic Storytelling Still Requires ...

Olivier Boulay

Boy meets girl.

David topples Goliath.


Overcoming hardships.

Goliath meets girl.

All the basic themes of classic storytelling work in any culture and in any language.

But this doesn’t mean you can develop stories in your home market, fling them over the fence to far-reaching countries and expect them to resonate with the local media.

Regardless of the theme, you still need local characters for a story to play in a “Peoria” like China.

Look at the story last week in the Journal “Scouring China’s Streets for Car Design Ideas” that examines Mercedes-Benz’s decision to focus on China for inspiration in building tomorrow’s cars for the global market, not just China.

First and foremost, you have a local protagonist in Olivier Boulay, who heads up the Mercedes design studio in Beijing.

A killer anecdote sets the tone for the story:

A decade ago, in search of inspiration for an ultra-luxurious Mercedes-Benz, designer Olivier Boulay studied Japan’s chauffeur-car culture.

Now, as he dreams about the future of the automobile, he zips around Beijing on a $367 electric bike, along with throngs of the city’s residents.

Nice touch that Boulay shared the receipt of his motorbike with the reporter.

The story goes on to weave in China-centric stats like how China now represents Mercedes’ fourth largest market compared with 10th place back in 2006.

But the most revealing data lies in a bar chart that shows Mercedes now sells more cars in China than in Japan (although it’s strange that the same bar chart didn’t appear in the online version of the story; perhaps a shortage of bytes on this day).

Shift in Fortunes-China and Japan

Accentuating the point, we learn that Boulay spent 17 years in the Mercedes design studio in Japan before making the jump to China.

Step back for a moment and consider the head of Mercedes Japan. Do you think he or she was thrilled about this story? What about the Mercedes employees based in Japan?

But without this context, you don’t generate the drama that shapes the story.

The communicators looking after the Mercedes global brand recognize this point and obviously had the clout to advance this one-voice story (would be interesting to know if the Mercedes communicators had to navigate internal politics to free up the story).

Playing a bit to the nationalist tendencies in any country, Boulay shares:

“You can see how a new generation of consumers in this country is way out in front.”

Also worth highlighting, you don’t need hard news to generate these types of stories. The closest the Mercedes story comes to a news hook is noting that “Boulay moved to Beijing this year.” Not exactly a stop-the-presses moment.

All in all, it’s a great example of localizing storytelling.


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