In 2001, ten-year-old Laura Buxton released a helium balloon. On one side she wrote “please return to Laura Buxton”, and on the other she wrote her address. Where would this balloon land? A tree outside her village in Staffordshire, UK? A lake? A field?
It was found by a man in his hedge in Wiltshire, 140 miles away. He read the name on the balloon and took it to the little girl next door. Excitedly she wrote to Laura Buxton to let her know that she had the balloon. The catch? The girl was also named Laura Buxton, and she was also 10 years old.
The girls arranged to meet.
They were amazed at the similarities between them. They looked the same, had the same colored hair and had dressed in blue jeans and pink jumpers. Each had brought along a pet guinea pig. The pets were also remarkably similar, with a small patch of brown on their tails.
Years later, the two Lauras are now firm friends. The story of their meeting is astounding, but is it something more? Is it a miracle, fate, or simply an amazing coincidence? Take a listen to the program from WNYC and make up your own mind.
If you are like me, one of the most intriguing parts of the story is not what is told. What is NOT told – at least as part of the headline – is the story of statistics, of coincidence and the inconvenient facts which were omitted.
You see, the balloon only found its way to Laura #2 because her next door neighbor thought it belonged to her. He could easily have disposed of it. One of the Lauras was ALMOST 10 – not quite.
This story is being told with microscopic precision. Facts that don’t support the sense of coincidence are removed or downplayed. Why? Simply to help the story create a pattern that we can see and respond to. That’s right – the story is all about the audience.
Our brains work to identify patterns, to make connections and to ultimately make sense of so-called random events. When a pattern is identified, the brain releases dopamine – the chemical trigger that produces a sense of reward and pleasure. So as readers, as listeners, as people engaged with the story, we are being pulled further into the story with each new revelation.
Think about the sense of realization and excitement for the two Lauras. Think of the way their friends and family would have reacted. Think about your own response to the story.
In many ways, the ultimate goal of branding is to create coincidences that our audiences are able to piece together, experience by experience. We leave out extraneous details and focus on the pattern-building aspects – repeatable symbols, names, images and so on. But this is branding with no soul. The real challenge is to open the brand up to the world of individual experience, of interaction. If we really want to recreate the magic of coincidence, we have to do this in the realm beyond the borders of your brand.
It is, perhaps, why social media has so captured our attention. It is the perfect field for the discovery of these kinds of coincidence. And who knows, maybe social networks really do act as a form of brand oxytocin, reinforcing a sense of trust that plays out as what Kevin Roberts once called Lovemarks.
But there is no doubt about one thing – it’s the power of the story that attracts us. And the two Lauras are living proof.