Name the most iconic moment in The Wizard of Oz. . . . The “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sequence? Munchkinland? Invasion of the flying monkeys? Emerald City? If you’ve seen the movie as frequently as I have, you’ve likely noticed the credits, scrolling the names of Harold Arlen (composer) and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg (lyricist). They’re the two responsible for those earworm songs. What you may not know is how much of the movie was derived less from the L. Frank Baum book and more from Harburg’s song lyrics. For one of the most famous motion pictures in cinematic history, the tail was most certainly wagging the dog. And therein lies a big meaty lesson for companies creating content.
The whole Munchkin scene was originally done in prose. Harburg threw it out and lyricized it, creating an extraordinary 10-minute rhyme, a classic montage of memorable vignettes including Good Witch Glinda’s entrance, the Lollipop Guild, the coroner’s report, and the Yellow Brick Road send-off. Magical, transcendent storytelling. A case study in content elevation.
Same can be said for Dorothy’s unforgettable ode to anywhere-but-here, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Ironically, there was no reference to a rainbow in the Baum book, nor was there a framework in the book for that song to be sung. The scene and song were driven entirely by Harburg’s lyrics. Indeed, the film’s director, Victor Fleming, cut the scene out of the movie, and only through the pleas of Harburg, producer Arthur Freed, and the intercession of studio boss Louis B. Mayer did the most recognizable song on the planet, other than perhaps “White Christmas,” make it back into the flick. Good call, Louie. Are there any marketing folks out there listening to this?
In a recent biography, Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist, the lyricist recalls the genesis of many of the movies from the 1930s through 1950s, dominated by plots driven largely by the greatest lyricists of all time: Harburg, Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Howard Deitz, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, and others. There’s a lot to be said for the tremendous success these stories enjoyed among the movie-going public, and a lesson in ROI for corporations who persist in telling their hard-sell brand stories in droll, corporate-speak.
More and more, consumers are looking askance at product messaging manifest in overly clever, even disingenuous advertising campaigns or corporate communications created without consideration for enriching customers’ lives. In attempts to develop more authentic information and better storytelling, brands could take a valuable lesson from a movie made almost 75 years ago. That is, if you really want to engage, drop the heavy sales pitches and brochure copy. Offer prescriptive, entertaining, and engaging frames for your brand message. Get yourself a good case of the Yips, by putting your messaging in the hands of people who can really make your story sing.