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Fear Your Content Nevermore: Edgar Allan Poe on the Unity of Effect in Brand Storytelling

Artists and marketers unite! Unite in the unity of effect. Sounds mysterious? It’s because today’s wisdom comes from the one and only Edgar Allan Poe – the architect of the gothic tale, the father of the horror genre, the progenitor of early science fiction and detective story, and the master of the macabre. With his poetry and short stories, he changed the trajectory of modern literature. Ergo, we can trust his professional advice.

Working as an editor for several prominent literary magazines Poe managed to publish his outstanding work to the acclaim of a wider audience while he was still alive. Yet, despite the success, his earthly journey was a stormy one, filled with struggle, poverty, death, and hopelessness. Against all odds, the writer managed to reforge this distress into tales that now help us deal with our own demons. Poe’s artistry is a gift that keeps on giving.

 “Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

So what is the unity of effect and what role does a marketer play in this process? The answer is complex and multilayered but we are here to unify it for you (see what we did there?).

Once upon a midnight dreary… The Philosophy of Composition

The reason we’ve all heard of Edgar Allan Poe is undoubtedly “The Raven”, an ominous literary masterpiece that’s an embodiment of ars poetica. Lucky for us, Poe also wrote an accompanying essay about how the poem came to be. In “The Philosophy of Composition” he revealed his method for writing well. For example, he claimed that a good piece of literary work should not be overly long (what would he say about our modern attention span?) and argued that “keeping originality always in view”, an analytical approach to the act of creation, is superior to a fine-frenzy one.

Nonetheless, the biggest takeaway from the essay is certainly the notion of the unity of effect. Essentially that means whenever we set out to create something to be received by an audience, we need to first determine the effect we want it to elicit in their hearts and minds. According to Poe, this desired reaction should dictate the design of our storytelling. And if “The Raven” is not a testament to this way of thinking, we don’t know what is. The simple repetition of “Nevermore” combined with the imagery of a sinister bird instantly sends shivers down our spine.

“Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

The unity of effect is the essence of marketing. Whether we want someone to read our poem, buy our painting, or use the curatorial services of our museum, we construct our brand storytelling in a way that will potentially pique the interest of our target audience. To achieve this, we think it’s best to take a three-tiered approach.

The Tell-Tale Heart: The Artist and Their Art

The first tier of our extended take on Poe’s unity of effect is the relationship between the artists and their art. We keep hearing that we are not our work. But say it to a creative and chances are they will only cast you a wistful smile.

Edgar Allan Poe was POEtry. Young and dipped in folly, he fell in love with melancholy, and even his mysterious death seemed to be on-brand with his stories. After being declared missing for a week, the writer was found wandering the streets of Baltimore delirious, half-conscious, and wearing somebody else’s clothes. He died four days later without being able to explain what had happened to him.

 From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—

— Edgar Allan Poe

Was he mad? More like madly talented and resilient. Not everyone would be able to withstand so much loss, grief, and pain as Poe did. He channeled that distress for the sake of his storytelling and then stayed creatively loyal to his darkness. When we set out to represent an artist with a darker past, we need to remember that their craft is their way of coping with the horrors looming in their memories. Whatever they want to put into their art, we need to honor their authenticity.

Paramore sing in one of their songs, “The truth never set me free so I did it myself.” Objective veracity is of no interest to a writer, musician, or designer. Through their work, artists create themselves and their own meaning of things; this enables them to carve their unique space within reality. In order to build a professional relationship with our clients, we need to honor both their process and its result.

Art, in all its forms, is authentic. Preserving this authenticity is key.

If You Seek For Eldorado: The Artist and Their Marketing

The second tier of our unity of effect is the relationship between the artists and their representatives (which can be a delicate one). In order to build mutual understanding and respect, it is our job as marketers to put effort into digging deeper into our artists’ truth rather than our own surface interpretations of it. We need to trust our clients so that they can trust us.

Get to know their artistry in and out. Try to understand where they are coming from and what contributes to their process. Listen, observe, take notes. Be a student of their craft. Dissect and acknowledge their reasons and motivations. Their demons will want to talk to you, let them – they won’t be as scary to you as they might be to their carrier. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, artists want to make you part of their journey, and empathy is key.

Creative souls tend to feel their way through life, we are here to help bring these emotions to light. They build castles in the air, we help put foundations underneath. In a whirlpool of marketing strategies, our clients might feel like strangers in a land lost in the dark. We help them peek into the abyss, keeping their head above water at the same time.

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;”

— Edgar Allan Poe

A Dream within a Dream: The Artist and Their Audience

And now, tier number three: the relationship between the artist and their audience. This is the denouement of the unity of effect that also lies largely in marketers’ hands. The creator is a brand and their message is the selling point. But they still need us to tell their story to as many members of their core audience as possible.

We will never have total control over our readers’, viewers’, and listeners’ empathy levels but we can influence their perception of our client’s mission. Lead with your own experience of the material you promote based on what you’ve learned about its background from the creator. How does that piece of work resonate with you? Define your own reasons for believing in it, then find all the relevant points that might connect the artist’s authenticity to their audience’s truth and highlight them all.

Make every word as deliberate as possible, repeat and paraphrase your message to reach more hearts, all the while staying true to the original meaning. The unity of effect lies in the desired elevation of the soul that is sometimes a short explanation away. Even when darkness is all that’s lurking between the lines of a poem or brushstrokes of a painting, dramatically vivid substance will speak for itself (even if only to shock and snap some of us out of our sleepwalking through life).

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

We only fear what we don’t understand. If the art you promote is loaded with complex and complicated meaning, translate it to your audience bit by bit. Take it apart and temporarily rearrange the pieces. Split the story into chapters, open one door at a time, don’t put everything into a single Instagram caption but make it a series of posts. Create dreams within a dream.

Open one door at a time for your core audience.

Danse Macabre: The Unity of Effect

Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes takes time, empathy, and sometimes one more cup of coffee, yet in the end, we’re usually left in awe of how spectacularly our perception of reality can be expanded. As Cesar A. Cruz put it, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”.

Darkness can be a differentiating factor. Begin with understanding what you promote to deepen your professional relationships on all three tiers of the unity of effect. If your source material is full of shadows, taming it with an empathetic approach will help you create content that both honors your artist’s origin story and resonates with their audience. The ultimate effect? Paraphrasing the last lines of “The Raven”:

“And their soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall stay lifted—evermore!”

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