Samson meets F.C. De Kampioenen. Storytelling for Flemish brains?

I recently came across the below YouTube video. It mixes two of the most popular Flemish TV shows ever – F.C. De Kampioenen and Samson & Gert – into a video clip for the latter show. It got me thinking.

Could it be that there’s something like a narrative format that pleases Flemish brains? What constitutes those success factors? And did Bart De Wever – a nationalist populist politician – crack that same code to win elections?

So to answer the questions from the introduction, I strongly recommend to have a look at the above video after which we present some background on Belgium and the TV shows in particular.

Background: Belgium & Broadcasters

Belgium at a glance.

Belgium at a glance.

Belgium. One of the planet’s most difficult, absurd and surreal countries. Yes, we excel in chocolate, beers and waffles. And that’s a good thing. But apart from that we organized our country into distinct regions like a French-speaking part called Wallonia, a Dutch-speaking part known as Flanders and a mixed region known as Brussels.

There’s something remarkable about Flanders and its most popular TV shows.

Successful TV Shows on Public Broadcasting TV

The Belgian broadcasting landscape is organized along the same lines of the country. That is to say, TV is organized and managed by the regional governments. In case of Flanders, the Flemish government takes care of the media landscape. That landscape is a mixture of public broadcasters and commercial broadcasters. It’s important to realize that the public broadcasting service is quite popular up until recent changes in the media landscape.

What’s striking however is that this public broadcaster often airs the same shows. This allows them to recycle content without investing in the production of new shows. Equally important is to point out the fact that the ratings for these shows remain impressively high.

Over the last 20 years there have been two remarkable TV Shows. Those were so brilliant that they were aired year after year.

Flemish TV Shows as a cultural meme?

During my entire lifetime there seem to be two extremely successful TV-shows, one for ‘adults’ and one for ‘kids’. I’m respectively talking about ‘F.C. De Kampioenen’ and ‘Samson & Gert’. Both have been aired and recycled year after year that an entire generation of Flemish people actually knows these stories as if they were a cultural meme. Hey, I believe today they actually are one.

But why exactly are these shows that popular? I believe one needs to find the answer by looking at both shows. For me, it’s quite clear that both shows draw upon the same principle. The way the narrative is structured and told is the same. The only thing that differs between both shows is in fact that the one is for adults and the other one is for kids. In practice, it comes down to a family wide social TV watching experience.

The Flemish brain?

Why do these stories appeal the Flemish people that much? And why don’t these stories appeal to the Dutch-speaking neighbouring country ‘The Netherlands’? Yes, we tried to export both shows. The one for kids worked fine but wasn’t as big in the Netherlands as it was in Flanders. The TV show for adults was a complete disaster: Dutch people did not like it at all. Was it our humor? Or is there something more at stake here?

I believe that the TV shows are popular just because of the way the story is told. The stories are wired for a Flemish brain. The only thing I need to find is a method to analyze stories so to check whether this hypothesis is valid anyway.

How to analyze TV Shows as a story?

In order to find the “success narrative elements for Flemish brains” I’d like to analyze loads of the shows of both series and consequently compare both series to one another. The final goal is to demonstrate that both shows act on the same storytelling principles. Principles that are particularly appealing to Flemish people.

Until today however, I’m having some issues developing the right analytical frame to execute a proper content analysis. I would truly appreciate your help. Do you know any studies that have analyzed the narrative as such?

Content Analysis Framework to discover the narrative

In order to demonstrate that both shows rely on the same narrative principles, I’m looking to develop a framework for content analysis so to test my gut feeling. The below information from Dr. Chris Griffin seems a good starting point.

narrative analysis

narrative analysis

Has Bart De Wever cracked the code?

We recently held local elections, as my earlier article demonstrates. And regardless of the fact that they were on regional level, Bart De Wever was able to take it to higher levels. He had to anyway, otherwise his “story” wouldn’t have made any sense.

Bart De Wever, N-VA

Bart De Wever, N-VA

But now that we touch upon the story-aspect. Is the political success of Bart De Wever related to his storytelling tactics? Does he deploy the same techniques that F.C. De Kampioenen and Samson & Gert stories do? I believe he might have. What he certainly does is simplifying reality. This has been proven in a Ph.D. “N-VA. Analysis of an ideology.” that states “the party reduces democracy to a temporary dictatorship – meaning: the ones who won the elections are the only ones that can actually reign. In their story they are the only valid voice of Flanders. And this story is often repeated in media outlets: N-VA and especially Bart De Wever are the personification of the moral community of the “Flemish people”.

What else could explain “Flanders Only” popularity?

This Monkey is in for some Candy. And Stories.

Monkey brains want stories.

Monkey brains want stories.

Please Listen very carefully to what this monkey has to say. He shall say this only once!

It’s monday evening. You had another marvelous meal with your family. Children are to bed. You’re all set.
Couch? Check. Tele? Check. Wife half asleep under the blanket? Check. Game on? Check. Candies? Check.

Hold on, wait a minute!

Didn’t you just enjoy a great dinner with wife and kids? Do you really need that candy bar? I thought children were to bed? I can tell you one thing: you don’t want candy. So why are you eager for candy than?
Well, simply because you have a monkey brain!

You’re telling me I have the brain of a monkey?

No offense, but yes I do tell you that you have a monkey brain. Period. Let me explain. In fact, you still have that brain from back in the days people lived in caves. And it’s that caveman that is hard-wired deep inside of you that makes you want to have candy. You know back in the cave days, sugar was scarce. So we took every single chance we had to pump sugar into our body.

Nowadays, we still have that same brain. We still take every chance we have to eat candy. However, in today’s world sugar isn’t rare it all. It’s everywhere. But our brain doesn’t realize that. What our brain also doesn’t realize is that it simply loves stories.

Monkey brain loves stories.

Back in the cavemen days, stories were the manner to transmit information and knowledge in such a way that it was easy to remember and to share. The explanation speaks for itself: in an oral culture – where content is transmitted via speech – one needs a certain “angle” to find something compelling in order get attention, to be remembered and – especially to be shared. And that’s where stories come into play.

Stories create an angle. An angle makes something remarkable. Something that is remarkable enough to be noticed. Something that is that impressive that you might remember. Something that is that awesome that you need to share it with your peers.

Storytelling as a means to pass information - cavemen speak

Storytelling as a means to pass information - cavemen speak

Stories are told with moderate voice, or even whispered!

As stated before, in oral cultures, information was passed along through the usage of stories. As people were unable to transcend distance, only those at the right time and at the right place were able to hear the information. They were close enough to hear a story being told. A story brought to them via the medium ‘voice’ or ‘speech’.

The medium wasn’t disruptive and messages weren’t loudly screamed at participants. People who wanted to take part were pulled towards the storytelling circle, because of their interests, because of the fact they belonged to the community.

What we should realize here is that “stories” and “storytelling” are hard-wired into our cavemen brain – as is our love for sugar and thus candy. OK. Fact. But doesn’t the monkey brain brings along implications for today’s business, marketing and communication?

Not authentic? Sleep outside of the cave... not safe for mammoths!

Not authentic? Sleep outside of the cave... not safe for mammoths!

The monkey brain and your business, marketing and communication efforts

I didn’t tell the story above without a reason. I want to distill some essential characteristics of human communication and relate them to the world of business, marketing and communication.

The thing is, we are still cavemen, all of us. Our brain still favors elements that are compatible with a cavemen environment. We live in a modern world with a prehistoric brain. So here we go, what are the implications of the monkey brain for business, marketing and communication?

  • Don’t push it, Pull me. But pull me hard, Baby!
    The storytelling phenomenon from the cavemen clearly demonstrates that information or messages should not disrupt (push). Creators and distributors of information made their content that relevant that people were basically dragged towards them. In this manner, creators could whisper the story to the people in the circle. The circle is what we label today as a community.
    Today, with so-called social media, we have the chance to spread stories and make them easily accessible for anyone. Through conversations about the story, the community is build. No need for shouting. Whispering works just fine.
  • Connect people, Stupid!
    The whole point of the cavemen culture was to connect people by creating a “shared knowledge base” crafted through stories. Because of mankind’s evolution we altered from this and we started screaming our information. After all, screaming was the only way to reach people spread across the globe.
    Today, with the rise of social conversation digital media, we have the chance to act close to our monkey brain again. We can whisper messages to people in our storytelling circle slash community. To match the monkey brain, a whispering approach seems to work well. As a result we need to show ourselves in our authentic way, fully transparent.
  • No spinning please, those sleep outside of the cave.
    Social control was rather big in cavemen society. People that told stories that weren’t authentic or fully transparent weren’t appreciated. They were condemned to sleep outside of the cave. Pretty unsafe for mammoths!
    If you aren’t authentic and transparent today, you’re well on your way to loose all the monkey brain people – which is basically everybody! So you might want to consider…

Old marketing versus New marketing

It seems as if the above reflections result in the same conclusion as made by market researchers. Here’s something I found through Twitter (yes, Twitter): a “bit of Polle Demaagt” from InSites Consulting. I believe at the end, we (try to) indicate the same thing. For those who rather have schemes than a story, I’m talking about the scheme below.

Old versus New Marketing - Insites Consulting / Bits of Polle Demaagt

Old versus New Marketing - Insites Consulting / Bits of Polle Demaagt

That’s why I Whisper through the Web in XL, Medium and Small

The above shows why I whisper through the web. Yes, I don’t wear a monkey suite. And yes, I do realize that the baseline “screaming is from the past” doesn’t completely fit. But I hope to have demonstrated that in the cavemen era people whispered in a community – they did not scream to people outside the community (who didn’t care about the information) and that we consequently altered from this, but that we now have the chance to go back to acting like our monkey brain loves most.

See which stories I whisper through the web? Hit the below links:

Oh, just one more thing.

The above is just my story, framed for a special purpose. I could have framed it completely different. But here’s why I did not.

Just one more thing - Steve Job sentence

Just one more thing - Steve Job sentence

The story of me ending up writing this story

Date is March 2010 or something like that. I decided to set-up this blog. Did get an average of 23 people a day. Hooray!

OK, it helped me to get rid of my writing anger. But clearly, it soon appeared that I wanted more. So I ended up thinking about adding some touchpoints for the blog: a twitter account, mention it on linkedin, tumblr account, etc. Options were numerous.

I decided to go for Twitter first. I think we were September 2010 by then and it’s one of the key drivers of writing this piece.

Twitter as a home-cooked private teacher

There you are. You have a twitter name. Congratulations! Now what? What to do with it?

I decided to consider Twitter as my private teacher as I figured a lot of interesting people had to be active on Twitter: MBA professors, Industry Thought Leaders, etc.

Twitter is full of crap


Twitter - try to craft it into a first-class professor

Setting up an attempt like crafting Twitter into a first-class MBA professor is hard. Quite frankly, I’ve unfollowed loads of people that I followed at the start of my Twitter experience.

But one guy has been there almost from the very start. And I’ll probably never unfollow him: @rafstevens.

@rafstevens, my Storytelling teacher

I was intrigued by Raf’s project “The New Trade”, a crowd-funded and crowd-sourced book on Storytelling for business. So I asked Raf: “how does the collaboration process work?”. Raf kindly replied me “why not have a phone call about that” and provided his phone number. I promised to call him the day after. I didn’t. It slept my mind. My apologies.

However, I decided to take this “social error” (not calling as promised) into an advantage. After all it gave me the time to get more details and insights on the entire storytelling thing.

I used Twitter (and @rafstevens in particular) to obtain an MBA in storytelling. With Raf’s expressions and links to other world-class storytellers I started to realize what it’s all about. Or at least, I believe I do. I wonder if Raf thinks so too.

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