Have you heard the one about the hare and the owl, or the watering hole, or the Hall of Wonders? These are no ordinary tales. In fact, they're of an entirely new genre: folktales for social media marketers.
Among various books and stories I've been reading ahead of my upcoming trip to the Middle East, several of my favorites have been about the folklore of Egypt and Arabia. Especially notable have been "Folktales of Egypt" by Hasan M. El-Shamy and "Kalila and Dimna: Fables of Friendship and Betrayal" by Ramsay Wood, plus one anecdote in "Taxi" by Khaled Al Khamissi. Along the way, I wondered what such folklore would look like if it was rewritten for our industry.
Below are a few such ideas, each with its own moral for marketers and agencies. I can't claim to be as wise or as great a storyteller as Bidpai, the narrator of the tales of Kalila and Dimna. Yet as such stories have a way of adapting themselves to new audiences whenever and wherever they're told, perhaps it's fitting for us to have our own pantheon.
Now lean back, make yourself comfortable, and take in these three new social marketing folktales.
The Hare and the Owl
A hare and an owl made a bet to see who could best curry favor with the king's vizier who often held court in their garden. When the vizier was taking a walk through the garden the next day, the hare approached him and said, "Vizier, as a humble denizen of your garden, I can hear all that is going on from this kingdom to the next. I can smell out danger. I can see all who approach. It would be an honor to devote myself to your service." The vizier answered, "I thank you, goodly hare, but I have many ears and eyes and noses looking out for our kingdom." The hare hopped away dejected.
Later the owl saw the vizier distraught while sitting on a bench in the garden. The vizier spoke aloud, thinking he was alone, "If only I could unburden myself to someone, as I just found out one of the king's favorites of his harem has proven unfaithful to His Highness." The owl gently flew down beside the vizier and cooed, "HOOOO! HOOOO!" The vizier delightedly exclaimed, "Who indeed! Fair owl, I don't need anyone else to hear, just one to listen." With that, the owl remained forever in the vizier's favor, and the hare had to fetch mice for the owl all week.
By the Watering Hole
The animals of the plains were heard discussing how well their week went. The oryx said, "A baby was born, triggering cries of joy from our dwindling population." The gazelle said, "We found a new expanse of grasses, allowing ten percent more of our herd to eat with us." The waterbuck said, "We lost only two to jackals this week, down from four the week before." The hippo said, "Five of us learned to play the tambourine." The hippo, measuring not what mattered most, would fare the worst that winter.
The Hall of Wonders
A king ordered his three sons before him. Each had a different mother but was born on the same most auspicious day, just moments apart.
"You are all coming of age," said the king. "My future is becoming more certain, while much uncertainty remains with yours. I will send each of you into the world with one gift of your choosing, and in one year you will return to share how you used it. The one who makes the wisest use of his gift will succeed me on the throne." Each son then accompanied the king into the palace's Hall of Wonders.
The first son selected a chalice that, once filled with fresh water, never went dry.
The second son picked a satchel that replenished the gold within it no matter how much was taken.
The third son chose a cloak of invisibility that would conceal him whenever he donned it.
The king granted their wishes and sent them off in three directions to learn the land beyond the kingdom's borders for the first time.
A year later, the king jubilantly greeted his sons as they returned home. Following a feast, he asked them what they learned.
The first son said, "Wherever I went, I filled my chalice and shared it with all who were thirsty and declared it a blessing of the king. Your name has been praised far and wide."
"A shame," said the king, "as when they are thirsty again and have no chalice, they shall curse me."
The second son said, "I used the satchel to buy up lands and expand the eastern borders of your kingdom, building palaces in your name in each city I acquired."
"Alas," said the king, "I now have more lands than I can manage and my kingdom will be the weaker for it."
The third son was amazed at what his brothers did and terrified by his father's response. He reluctantly said, "Just beyond our southern border I tried on the cloak. I was so excited to be invisible that I didn't realize I was tearing up a local matriarch's garden beneath my feet. I took off the cloak, found the owner, and agreed to stay and work the land to make up for the damage. I stayed there for the year and never wore the cloak again."
The king beamed, "You honored my name and my kingdom. In leaving your invisibility behind, you became truly transparent." The sun set on the king, the third son took the throne, and his days were the brightest yet for the kingdom.