This week’s viral sensation was Caine’s Arcade, the story of 9 year-old boy who built a cardboard arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store. It’s the kind of story great writers conjure – except it’s true, and it provides great lessons for storytelling and branding.
1. For a story to connect, it needs to be real.
9 year-old kid, summer vacation, nothing to do, so he builds an elaborate arcade out of cardboard in his dad’s store.
He doesn’t mope about. When Caine wants a claw game, his dad says, “why don’t you build one”? So Caine builds a claw game. No helicopter parents. No carefully crafted messages. No Disney production value.
Just a real kid, with a great big imagination and incredible focus. And when the arcade becomes real to a bigger community it’s much more than a flash mob event, it’s a story of vision, perseverance, and imagination. If there’d been any question of Caine’s authenticity – if it looked like dad did the work, or that the video had been overtly staged, the story would fall flat.
2. For a story to connect, it needs to be told.
What are the odds that a filmmaker would be Cain’s first customer? Pretty small. He was lucky. And, to be honest, the filmmaker was pretty lucky too. You don’t find authentic, simple stories everyday. That’s why they’re so powerful when you do find them.
For a story to connect with a bigger audience, it needs legs. While the subject is one boy and his homemade project, it’s bigger than just that. It’s about believing in a dream despite all obstacles.
Brands are rarely lucky enough to have their story “discovered,” and overt attempts to capture attention often ring hollow. The greatest brands figure out how to connect with authenticity, telling their stories in a way that resonates and enables others to embrace them.
3. For a story to have impact, it needs to engage.
Great stories engage their audience and ask something from them in return. The genius of Caine’s Arcade is that it asks for you to believe in small miracles and the simple genius of a 9 year-old. It has worked, and quickly – people have donated over $140,000 to Caine’s college fund. He didn’t ask for it. It wasn’t what he set out to do. But his story inspired people to action. Brand stories are about more than selling or promoting a product or service – they inspire and engage their audience to believe in something.
Caine’s Arcade is a great story. It gives us hope that imagination and perseverance will prevail in an often cynical and manufactured world. It also is a great lesson that the best stories are real, easy to tell, and inspiring.