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Then there is this blinding light, even with my eyes closed. The sound of breaking waves… the taste of salt water and sand in my mouth. I’m laying face down in the sand. Why am I all wet and where am I? I open my eyes but the image I see is like an overexposed picture, completely white with some faded stains. One of the stains is moving and slowly transforms into the silhouette of a man with an unknown face: “Bom dia, tudo bom?” The man speaks Portuguese. What am I doing here and where is here? “Do you speak English” I ask, with a strange voice, caused by the sand in my mouth: “Where am I?”. In the way the man looks at me, I see that he does not understand what I’m saying. “Yes, I’m okay, tudo bem… given the circumstances” I reply as I sit up. But what are the circumstances? The man turns around, picks up his fishing gear and walks away following the coast line, leaving me sitting here on this unknown beach. “Okay, calm down” I think out loud, “let’s start from scratch… what do I know? My name is Maarten Schäfer and I’m from Amsterdam. I’m the founder of a company called CoolBrands House, specialised in storytelling for brands. I travel the planet in search of brands which have a cool story to tell. I then write the stories with a wow-‐factor and stickiness to facilitate word-‐of-‐ mouth. But what am I doing here, flushed ashore on a, as it seems, Brazilian beach? Was I on a boat? I try to recall memories of a boat trip. Images pop up in my mind. I see myself on a 38-‐metre schooner. There is a light breeze and the sails pull the ship gently through the water. Suddenly the calm is disturbed by one of the crew: “Whale shark!” Leaning over the rail we scan the water’s surface but can see nothing but waves. “Whale shark!” the sailor calls out again and gestures towards the waves. Suddenly we see part of a tailfin emerging above the surface, slowly cutting through the water. “There he is!” the sailor exclaims and we see a shadow disappear under the boat.
We get into the Zodiac and the sailor takes us to the place where we spotted the whale shark last. Whale sharks are the largest fish on earth, measuring more than 12 metres in length and weighing up to21 tonnes. I put on my diving mask, bite on the snorkel and spend a few seconds considering whether it is a good idea to get into the water with a beast that weighs the equivalent of several mid-‐class passenger cars. I decide that a real man should not be afraid of a couple of mid-‐class passenger cars and let myself fall backwards into the water. As soon as the air bubbles have dissolved and I have oriented myself I start looking for the Big One. The sailor has spotted him from the Zodiac and points: “He’s coming!” he calls out “You’re on a collision course!” Is that excitement or worry I detect in his voice? An undefined shape is moving toward me and getting bigger by the second. I distinguish a one-‐metre-‐wide mouth with two small eyes on either side. The colossus is swimming right at me and is only a few metres away. “Easy boy!” I think with all my might. I know these fish are plankton eaters, but I have no doubt that I would easily fit into this mouth that is the size of a garbage container. A metre and a half before impact the whale shark appears to notice me and dives down to pass underneath me. I walk my hands over his back, which feels surprisingly smooth. After about eight metres of fish I see an enormous tail fin coming at me – it looks more like the sail of a wind surf. As though he knows where I am, he steers his tail clear of me as well. Strangely enough, when I come up to the surface the world hasn’t changed… I just had a close encounter with a whale shark! “Wow!” I try to scream, but because I have a snorkel in my mouth it comes out a bit differently. I pull myself up onto the boat, fall onto the floor of the Zodiac and realise that I can cross one item off my Bucket List – one down, nine to go!
I remember getting back on the schooner safe and sound, so this can not be the event leading to me washing ashore on this beach. And then, the encounter with the whale shark was in the Gulf of Aden, near Djibouti so that makes it quite impossible to end up on a deserted beach in Brazil. I get up and look around, but see noting but a white sandy beach separating the endless ocean from a dense forest. No sign of a metro station or bus stop, so I decide to start walking in the direction where the fisherman went. In 2002, I decided to travel the world meet people and encounter brands, take pictures and write stories. The idea of this project is helping brands with storytelling. They know how to do commercial communication and how to transfer a marketing message to their target audience, but it’s all top-‐down. The average consumer is confronted with an information overload with thousands of marketing messages every day. There is also a growing mistrust towards commercial communication while research tells us that more than 70% of all purchases are influenced by peer2peer communication. So by telling a good, relevant and authentic story to opinion leaders, the message starts travelling horizontally through connectors to the target audience. I’m walking on this beach, following the coastline for over an hour as I see an entrance into the forest. I decide to take the path into the forest, as the good thing about paths is, that they lead to places. Maybe this is the path that leads to the place I want to go! The forest is dense and the sun is captured by the highest trees which makes the temperature drop at least 10 degrees.
“This must be part of the Atlantic Rainforest”, I think to myself. In the 16th century, when the Portuguese explorers reached the current Brazilian coast, the Mata Atlantica covered the complete coastline from North to South, much further than the eyes could see. ‘Civilisation’ replaced forest with cities and agriculture leaving only 7% of the primary forest. “Who needs trees, if you can have cities and cars?” I think out loud “But then again, what will we breath when there are no more trees left? Carbon dioxide?” I hear a group of monkeys up in the trees. The noise approaches slowly and seems to come from different directions. Then I see them, crossing the track one by one, two levels up. They jump from tree to tree, stop and stare at me just as I’m staring at them. “Is this the way to a village, where I can have a coffee and a shower?” I ask them, while pointing in a random direction. They look at me as if I’m speaking Chinese, and then continue their route without answering. “Let’s assume this is the right direction” I say to myself and continue walking. The narrow path is getting more narrow and the forest is getting more dense. Suddenly I have the feeling that I’m being watched. I look backwards on the track, but see nothing. I scan the forest, but all I see is trees. Probably there are hundreds of animals watching me, but I do not see a single one. Then I see a black, orange bird high up in the trees. It’s a toucan, observing each and every move I make. I continue walking, but the bird is following me from the treetops. He moves down a level and starts shouting at me in toucan language. It’s as if he is yelling: “What do you think you’re doing in my forest!” I look up and reply: “Sorry, but I’m lost and I’m trying to find my way back to civilization.” The toucan moves down a branch and continues shouting: “Well get lost somewhere else, this is my forest!” I look at the bird, amazed by its arrogance and reply: “Who do you think you are, Elvis or something? I must say you have a big mouth for a small bird like yourself”. Then the bird flies away and positions itself in a tree top and shouts down in toucan language: “And you humans have really small brains, cutting trees and destroying the forest!” he turns his back at me as he finishes his monologue: “Now go forth… and stop multiplying!” All of a sudden, I feel dizzy and sit down on the ground. “Am I hallucinating? Was this bird really talking or am I dehydrated? I really have to find something to drink.” I get on my feet again and continue the path deeper into the forest.
The big secret of the CoolBrands storytelling campaign is that we then seed the stories via the network of the participating brands: 25.000 opinion leaders and 2.5M connectors worldwide sharing the stories. Actually CoolBrands is a sort of launching platform for stories, rocketing the stories around the planet.
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