Wu-Tang Storytelling For Advertisers

While at SXSW recently, I had the opportunity to watch Wu-Tang Clan founding member and budding film director RZA deliver one of the festival’s keynote speeches. RZA is well known in hip hop as both a producer and rapper, and I credit him with ushering in a completely new sound in rap music: a gritty, street-ready version of the genre that incorporates eastern philosophy alongside audio samples from old kung-fu films. RZA passionately talked about the narrative behind his music and how film has influenced the albums he’s produced.

Each album is a story, and like a film, is to be experienced as a single body of work, start to finish.

The narrative that RZA paints in his music is vivid and consuming, and brings the listener through a journey the way a well-produced film would. Simply listen to the Wu’s debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, and you’ll experience what I’m describing.


So why is this important to advertisers? First and foremost: the attention to the narrative. Great advertising has always been about storytelling. I think back to the famous “Lemon” ad for Volkswagen or Apple’s “1984”—these ads are timeless because they put narratives in play that would become the cornerstones of the brands. As much as the advertising from VW and Apple has evolved over the years, the ethos captured in those ads can still be seen in the construct of the brands today. Today it’s more important (and difficult) than ever to find your product’s narrative.

Could we, as advertisers, look to film to inspire our trade? It seems like a logical place to start.

Great stories are crafted with a beginning, middle, and end that need to seamlessly work together. For a successful journey in film, the beginning has to be written with the end in mind. This is how great filmmakers capture and engage their audience—the story must be connected. If brands are stories—and we treat them as such—we can’t write great narratives unless we have a clear vision of where we, as advertisers, intend to end. And we must realize that our audience is constantly watching (more so than ever now with the advent of social media), so it’s important that we are conscious of how we represent our brands at every stage of the narrative.

By forming the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA built one of the most successful hip-hop brands ever. From the distinctly gritty yet harmonious sound of the collective of rappers to the ubiquitous Wu-Tang symbol, RZA understands the power of brands. He’s the epitome of what we strive for in advertising—to be the ultimate storyteller.

– Charles Auletta, VP/Group Director, Marketing