Brand building through storytelling

Not just another lost cat poster

The temperature called for my gray cashmere sweat pants, when I’d been hoping for at least a few more days in pink linen capris. Worse luck, the cashmere sweats had been ravaged by moths that had nibbled and chewed from hemline to butt, not sparing the crotch. I’d have pitched a lesser garment but cashmere is my one consolation for winter. So I rushed my tattered treasure to the Mayo Clinic of clothes, where a black-clad woman peered at the damage through impossibly chic glasses and promised I’d be wearing my cashmere pants for years to come. Just one catch: her ministrations would take six weeks and cost $150.

I craved a little lift to redeem the day’s disappointments. It appeared on a telephone pole that at first looked just like all the rest, swathed in the usual urban collage of posters for everything from yard sales to Japanese lessons. But one poster caught my eye and wouldn’t let go. The headline had the urgency of a human voice insisting on the uniqueness of its message, and the promise of a narrative with twists and complications: “Not just another lost cat poster.” I know zilch about the cats in that part of town, but it’s not every day that I get to read a story while pausing outside a subway station. And as I suspected, this particular story wasn’t really about a missing cat named Brando. Its real subject was the narrator who, in a moment’s inattention, let Brando wander out of sight and has regretted the lapse ever since. For years, not days.

“You’re probably wondering why I’ve waited so long to write this,” she says (or words to that effect; I’m quoting from memory). I’m picturing a woman, former English major, with big earrings, Birkenstocks and a couple of discreet tattoos. That’s what every story does—start a movie in your head.

No story worth reading is ever what it seems; there must be a conflict to drive the action. This narrator quivers with conflict between despair and late-blooming hope. She knows that Brando is gone for good, but has gradually found a new way of seeing his loss. Perhaps he’s found another home. If so, she’s not about to interfere. She just wants to know that he’s safe. As she said, this isn’t just another lost cat poster. It has a narrative arc, from breast-beating anguish to generosity and acceptance. Instead of simply reaching out for a missing cat (black, spayed, wonky tail, 12 years old if he’s still around), it reaches out to a kindred spirit who loves him. It left me feeling rueful yet expanded, and awestruck at the sheer surprise of meeting someone’s intimate self glued to a telephone pole outside the Dupont subway station on the first, unseasonably cold day of October.

I know how it feels to lose a cat. I’ll tell you more in “Cats of my life,” one of my first posts on this site and still a personal favourite.

 

Posted by Rona

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