“We learned more from a 3-minute record baby, than we ever learned in school!”
A few months ago, my brother and I flew 1,200km to hear someone sing about their life. More precisely, we joined 50,000 adoring fans at the Ernst Happel Stadium to watch Bruce Springsteen perform. And let me tell you, he did not disappoint.
Bruce Springsteen isn’t called The Boss for nothing. He’s regarded as one of the greatest rock n roll performers of all time. Throughout his huge catalogue of albums, he sings about relationships, financial struggles, political issues, and everything in between.
Fans have developed an incredibly strong emotional tie to Bruce and his music. So much so, that people will travel across the globe to see him perform.
You might think that’s got nothing to do with B2B marketing.
But our ads don’t just sit alongside other adverts. They live in people’s social feeds, on their TVs and on digital music platforms. Our adverts compete for attention with content from born storytellers – from Scorsese and Bruce Springsteen.
So, what makes people pay to see Bruce? But pay to avoid most advertising? For me, it comes down to these three key storytelling principles.
1. Every great story has ups and downs
Springsteen has never been one to airbrush the past. He remembers his humble beginnings – and people love it.
Victories and shortcomings alike, you’ll hear about all of it in Bruce’s songs. Fans can relate to the ups and downs, unlike the overly sanitised storytelling of much marketing.
I will never forget seeing ‘Wrecking Ball’ live. Bruce reminisces about his upbringing in the ‘swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago’. He recalls the New Jersey Giants baseball stadium, a beacon of hope, being demolished in a time of economic difficulty. But despite this darkness, it’s ultimately a song of hope. There’s a sense of resilience that builds through the song, urging people to be strong in these moments.
What’s the lesson? Sometimes, you need to show a little darkness, or people can’t see the light.
In B2B marketing, the audience’s real emotions need to be authentically represented through the messaging, positioning and, what I focus on, the visual communication. Everything from typography to the tone of imagery needs to be something in which the customer can see themselves – staying true to genuine emotion not ‘what the world should look like’. This authenticity builds trust, and in the world of B2B, trust is a critical foundation for lasting relationships.
2. Real storytelling is specific
‘Bobby Jean’ is one of the greatest friendship songs of all time.
Bruce arrives at Bobby Jean’s front door, only to discover Bobby Jean has disappeared. This friend ‘hung with me when all the others turned away, turned up their nose’ – and Bruce reminisces about shared memories. Finally, he accepts this decision to leave. Life brings many changes, but their friendship will remain.
Most likely, you didn’t have a friend called Bobby Jean. Neither did I. But Bruce doesn’t make things general and vague, just because he isn’t sure if you’ve experienced the same thing. This would be much less emotive. Instead, he sings about a specific experience of his, but one where we can all relate to the emotions.
Brands can learn a lot from this. Ironically, you can tap into universal truths best by using personal, individual stories. This simplifies complex information, grabs attention, builds trust and gives brands a ‘Human Touch’.
3. Joy is infectious
Springsteen is 73-year-old. But throughout the whole show, he rolled back the years and performed as if he was 23.
Even after all these years, The Boss doesn’t take anything for granted. The set is prepared down to the smallest detail. The message is clear: he still cares, and he wants to give the fans a night they will never forget.
A big part of that experience is the sheer joy he feels performing. Bruce and the E street band have a strong bond which is clear on stage. They are constantly joking and everyone, including Patti, his wife, gets a chance to shine.
The lesson? Pour all your energy into creating and be meticulous. But don’t take things too seriously. If you’re free to experiment and mess around with ideas, your audience can see and feel the joy in your final work. They’ll share it.
That might mean using unexpected visual metaphors or using assets in unusual ways – creating memorable campaigns. Playfulness and collaboration backstage, whether it’s reviewing the very first concept or perfecting the final result, really matters.
Take this Adobe advert, filmed like a heist movie. I don’t doubt the marketing team enjoyed planning, writing, and filming this ad – because it’s so much fun to watch.
Time for the ‘Glory Days’ of B2B marketing
Bruce Springsteen and his music have stood the test of time. His work continues to resonate with fans across the globe. So, next time I’m tackling a B2B brief, I’ll be thinking a little less about competitors and features. And a little more about The King.
We make the complicated simple.