One-hundred eighteen years ago, Thomas Edison experimented with moving pictures. One of his company’s first subjects? Trains. Yup, trains.
Although these silent images aren’t much to look at today, crowds reacted to them the way modern day moviegoers watch a horror film. Many flinched as they anticipated locomotives crashing through screens and into darkened playhouses.
But like all things new, eventually, they become old. The first set of trains was scary. The second set was impressive. Yet, by the time the third set came around, the larger-than-life, smoke-puffing monstrosities seemed tame.
Years ago, my friend Tim Street told me that “spectacle always precedes story.” He explained that while media-based innovations grab people’s attention, their hold dwindles with time as the novelty wears off. It happened with radio, movies, television and the Word Wide Web. It’s happening today with GoPro videos, aerial drone photography, and virtual reality with Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.
Tim’s wisdom contains a lesson for all business storytellers. No matter how spectacular something appears today, its impact will diminish tomorrow. We can only watch so many first-person cliff dives, beautiful sunsets shot 250 feet above a waterfall or virtual reality shark cage experiences before we find ourselves wanting more.
We’ll want a story. Instead of “Freight Train,” we’ll want “The Great Train Robbery.”
Spectacle always precedes story. Salacious clickbait headlines will work until audiences tire of feeling baited & switched. And while viewers may find the untimely demise of their favorite Game of Thrones characters exhilarating, inevitably they’ll grow weary and demand something more.
Don’t be a one-trick pony. Spectacle is temporary. Story is everlasting.
Or, as in the immortal words of the Eagles, “They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along.”
Video Credit: Library of Congress