Storytelling 2.0: Think Leonard Cohen

Suddenly, advertising is all agog for storytelling.

Every product wants to play a leading role in the story of every consumer’s life -- a role so important it must be snapped, shot, shared, pinned, tweeted, and stored forever.  What we buy and how we show it off defines who we are. 

47 years ago, Leonard Cohen wrote “Suzanne,” a song about an engaging young woman who “feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.”

In those few words he painted a picture of an exotic, mysterious, romantic and desirable creature, just by having her serve him a light snack.

Every woman I knew went out and bought a can of those sweet little Geisha oranges. And you had to really look for them, too.

I bought several.  Along with a flowery blue kimono. I was, after all, an Italian girl from New Jersey.

I began to arrange,  (OK, “style”) my pantry to prominently feature those oranges. Just in case a gentleman caller happened to open the cabinet, he’d see them and assume I was just as exotic and mysterious as the famous Suzanne.

Every few months I bought a fresh can.  After my 11th can in two years, I assumed Leonard was in on the deal. He had singlehandedly created awareness and desire for those little oranges in our culture.  He was responsible for putting Mandarin oranges on the map and in the Mayfair Market. He had to be getting a cut.

Eventually, I met a man who loved me for my true self.  One day he opened the cabinet and suggested we toss the oranges into a salad with avocado and shrimp.  It tasted delicious.

Decades later, I heard LC interviewed about “Suzanne.”  He said she was a rare beauty who served him Constant Comment Tea.

My heart sank. My mother drank Constant Comment.  It wasn’t from China. It wasn’t exotic. It wasn’t the tea AND oranges I pictured, it was a tea bag WITH slivers of dried up orange rinds.

What happened to those sweet, juicy crescents glistening in the morning sun? Poof!

Cohen was no fool. You only have to read  “And she serves me orange-flavored tea” to hear how unsexy that sounds.

I had been tricked.  I had fallen for the oldest con in the book:  storytelling.

But I thank you, Leonard, for giving me 40 years of believing I could be somewhat magical and mysterious and exotic. And I sincerely hope the world appreciates what you did for the marketing of Mandarin oranges.

6 comments about "Storytelling 2.0: Think Leonard Cohen".
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  1. Michael Odza from Odza Consults/Social Media Lift, October 25, 2013 at 5:11 p.m.

    Maybe because I'm a guy, but what I remember about Leonard Cohen is Dick Cavett's snarky introduction of him: "Leonard Cohen: the most understood poet in America today."

    Of course as a marketer now, I'd love to have my clients be labeled that way!

    And in no way do I mean to undermine your basic point about storytelling!

  2. jean brincko from California Career Services, October 26, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.

    Leonard Cohen doesn't hold a candle to you as a storyteller.

  3. Gene Del from CoolWorks, October 29, 2013 at 2:45 a.m.

    What a great story! are a talented writer. I suspect that you created a lot of Geisha oranges of your own. I can only wonder how many of your brand creations that I eagerly consumed. Just never tell me the true origin of your imaginative inventions. I prefer to live the fantasy.

  4. Angela Giglia from AGCreative Digital Media, October 31, 2013 at 11:49 a.m.

    In a single phrase, images and impressions were created that last a lifetime. I love how you were "sold the dream" and made it your own...down to the avocado and shrimp salad! His story becomes your story and that's how we connect. I love that.

  5. Nikolaj Birjukow from Ogilvy & Mather, October 31, 2013 at 6:42 p.m.

    Only the best stories endure over 4 decades...and I loved reading yours!

  6. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC, November 1, 2013 at 11:26 a.m.

    Great story, Alice. Insightful. Marketing is not all about storytelling (think "Price," in the Nine P's of Marketing. But be true to your brand. For 35 years I have taught Marketing at USC, CSUN, Pepperdine and other Business Schools and worked in marketing at advertising agencies. For the past few years I have been making extra presentations at Middle Schools and High Schools on branding. It's fascinating what you can learn from 11-12 year olds. I teach them they are building "their" brand, every day especially in each team they are in whether in the classroom or on the playground.

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