What communication agencies & brands can learn from ‘The Wire’

Last week I  was chatting with one of my fellow planners, Cat Collins about things that have had inspired us creatively. She got talking about how the HBO series ‘The Wire’ was an amazing piece of storytelling and that brands could learn alot from this masterful series. So I asked her to do a guest post. Here tis. Thanks Cat, love your work 🙂

I believe that The Wire is the greatest work of creativity to have emerged in recent years, maybe even in my lifetime. So surely, there must be some lessons we can learn for our own creative endeavours. Here are 5 observations that I think we would benefit from applying to our work with brands and communications. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.

1.       Don’t be scared of scale.

The Wire is epic. It tells the story of the disintegration of an entire city from every angle – education, drugs, the law, politics, the media, industry, families. A lot has been written on the demise of the big idea as communications becomes more nimble and agile. The Wire shows that a big idea, told through multiple, interwoven stories is a very powerful thing indeed.

2.      Don’t underestimate your viewer.

The Wire makes no attempt to make the show watchable. The dialogue is fast and the Baltimore dialect takes a while to understand. The storylines are complex and you have to be paying attention to know what the hell is going on. I’m pretty sure that the Millward Brown scores for comprehension would be abysmal. But it is the effort that you make to step into the world of the Wire which makes it so compelling and makes the reward for watching that much greater.

3.       Tap into big human truths.

I don’t have much in common with a drug dealer on a West Baltimore corner but the issues the show tackles ensure I relate to every character. Love, loss, moral codes, ambition, family, loss of purpose in life – all big issues which strike a chord with anyone on the planet.

4.      Embrace unconventional heroes.

Omar, the gay, black, stick up boy who whistles while he hunts. Stringer Bell the brutal henchman with a mind for commerce. Snoop, the diminutive girl whose bloodthirsty appetite for violence is extraordinary. All too often in communications we fall back on stereotypes and miss the opportunity to surprise.

5.       Be true to your vision.

When David Simon pitched the Wire to HBO he presented a coherent vision of how all 5 seasons would pan out. He knew the characters stories and had a vision for how theses would be played out on screen. Comparing the pitch to the finished work, it’s extraordinary to see how much of his vision he managed to pull off. Next time you pitch a creative idea and then watch it get pecked to death by 1000 ducks, remember why it is worth fighting to keep the integrity of an idea intact.


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