Defining 'Meaningful Experiences'

DEFINING 'MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES'

INSIGHT | ALLY MANSELL-COOK | BRAND EXPERIENCE AMBASSADOR

Our 2heads mantra is "creating meaningful experiences," and as an expert in the subject, I felt important to truly understand this at the core if I wanted to have any credibility; with myself in a way more than anyone. My mother is a social anthropologist, my dad is a politologist with an expertise in Max Weber and German political philosophy. I therefore grew up surrounded by conversations and books related to semiotics (study of signs and symbols), hermeneutics (methodology of interpretation), phenomenology (study of the structures of experience), comparative religion and sociology. I then went on to study design and wrote my thesis on the topic of visual narrative. I've always been fascinated by these subjects and so this seemed a good place to start my quest in fully interpreting our ‘meaningful experiences’ motif.

On one of her visits, my mum left behind a copy of Sapiens, an anthropological examination of the history of humankind. In this book, historian Yuval Noah Harari identifies it is our ability as storytellers that makes us such a successful species. As Harari explains, ‘Humans are special because they inhabit an imagined world, created from their own ideas which they take as real.’ Storytelling is communicating the meaning of ideas; and it is by experiencing life which in turns give homo sapiens the fuel to create the stories that link these "experiences" together.

Having a chat to my German philosophy/sociology expert – dad - on my quest to find the true definition of "Meaningful Experience," he suggested I research the German word "Erlebnis." I followed his advice and more than just a revelation, it was by researching Erlebnis in depth that I truly understood a new profound layer to the subject of what I do for a living.

Erlebnis is a common German word which normally has a connotation of; event, occurrence, adventure, experience; something memorable which happens to someone. I'm from Mexico, so the direct translation into Spanish is "Vivencia" from "vivir" "to live” and "to experience" would be the closest translation into English. It became a term of study for Wilhelm Dilthey, a German hermeneutic philosopher and other nineteenth century intellectuals. At its zenith, Erlebnis was an extraordinarily rich and powerful idea that founded thought in the inexhaustible meaning of experience. However, sadly the term in its conceptual promise did not take hold outside of the German-speaking world.

Dilthey's model states that Erlebnis is the personal/subjective understanding that arises from privileged moments, and the personal history that evolves in relation to such moments. The part(subjective) and whole(objective) relationship works itself out in a life by means of memory, which retains only what is significant from the past. The special place such memory confers creates the key points for what Hermeneutic phenomenologist Paul Ricoeur will call "a narrative identity:"

"We grasp the meaning of a moment of the past. It is significant for the individual because, in it, an action or outer event committed him for the future or a plan for the conduct of his life was made or carried forward to realization. The single moment derives its meaning from its connection with the whole, from the relation between future and past."

This is interesting because it explains why, for example, one brand activation can add meaning to an individual (even if they have no connection to the brand).  "Every individual is also, a point where systems intersect; systems which go through individuals, exist within them, but reach beyond their life and possess an independent existence and development of their own through the content, the values, the purpose, which is realized in them" (Ricoeur).

According to Harari, businesses and brands are amongst the more prevalent ideas that humans collectively endorse. Brands now compete in an overcrowded content world to an increasingly cynical and inattentive audience, who do not like to feel that they’re being advertised, sold or marketed to. If brands are to survive, agencies like 2heads are here to help them master, utilise and understand Erlebnis… as it is the only way it can connect the missing links within each individual to the brand's collective universe.

If brands can learn one lesson from expert philosophers, hermeneutics', historians and sociologists such as Harari, Dilthey and Ricoeur, it is the reminder that humans are hard-wired to listen to stories and through the power of Erlebnis, can identify, bond and find meaning in a brand. Emotions can override rationality, and if we want to reach todays audiences’ we need to boost engagement through proximity to interesting and engaging narratives.

If you have a brief you would like to discuss please contact me at allym@2heads.com.