Picture this …
Three sweaty mates on the trip of a lifetime, wade through nine inches of filthy water to board a boat that’s about to take us down the longest river in Southeast Asia – the Mekong.
At this point, we’ve been on our travels for 60 days, so I’ve already had my fill of 24-hour-long bus journeys with no air-con.
Not to mention I’ve still got a belly full of Bintang after a heavy night out in Luang Prabang.
My friends outvote me two-to-one in favour of getting this slow boat, as opposed to the fancier speedboat that’d get us to Vientiane in half the time.
I’m sulking. But I hide it and jump on board.
The slow boat is a big long wooden thing with an engine most hairdryers could rival. There weren’t too many tourists aboard either.
We set off, and it’s not long until I realise that it’s not called the “slow boat” just because of the tiny engine, but also because it stops at various different points down the banks of the river.
At every stop, a new group of kids hop aboard.
Local children, aged anywhere between five and eleven, most of them wearing fake football shirts, bundle onto the boat with what looks like supplies – I presume they’re hitching a lift down to the next village.
I remember thinking they seemed poor. From an entirely different world to what most people are used to.
They’d stare at you for minutes on end, fascinated. I felt like an alien.
I take out my iPhone to snap a picture of the surrounding landscape. Shelf after shelf of rice paddies line either side of the river bank, like something you’d see on the Discovery Channel.
After taking a few pics, I look around me and realise that something quite remarkable is happening …
The kids surround me, completely astonished by this thing in my hand. Older brothers scramble to get the attention of little sisters – making sure they catch a glimpse before it disappears back into my pocket.
I try to pass it over to a girl for her to take a proper look at it. But she bows her head, almost embarrassed to take it from me.
It’s a strange feeling.
Their jaws drop as I point out where we are on ‘Maps’.
And they giggle and gasp with excitement, as I take daft photos of my mate – fast asleep with his mouth wide-open.
I then point at the logo on the back of the device and say: “Apple?”
Not one of them nods.
At that moment, I realised that products are stories in themselves. The look on their faces reminded me of how I felt when I got my first pair of Nikes, or when my Dad hoisted me up on his shoulders to see the fireworks at Disneyland.
That wow factor that connects us to brands, that nostalgia you feel for something at an early age. All of a sudden it came back to me, seeing their faces.
I realised there’s more to storytelling than meets the eye. You don’t just have to write to inform your reader or sell something.
You can serve their emotions. You can help them become the main character.
That moment stuck with me. I’ll never forget that encounter with the slow boat kids. It’s the one moment that always stands out when reminiscing about my travels.
From that day onwards, my understanding of the power of brands changed forever.
When the clock strikes 5.30pm this Friday, I’ll be officially one month into my digital marketing career.
The opportunity to harness my passion for brands is one thing.
But I’ve now got SEO experts dotted around my desk.
Sat behind me – a collection of Paid Media Strategists.
And in amongst it all, I sit within a Creative team that brings Latitude’s advertising to life.
It’s been a long and winding river to get to this point (not quite as long and winding as the Mekong). And, in some ways, it feels like I’ve only just hopped off that slow boat.
Now I’m on another – where I have the opportunity to help create brand experiences, memories, and moments just like that one with the iPhone.
Not sulking anymore.