Thursday, 17 May 2012

Creating stories (or How I survived the Red Dog Saloon's Hot Wing Challenge)

I love stories and it's a highly discussed theme in the advertising and communication industries these days. Stories are at the heart of how all human beings communicate, learn, and entertain ourselves. Stories and narrative in general are perhaps even more present as social and digital types of media offer even more new ways to tell and publish all kinds of stories (like there weren't enough before). Some brands strive for more people to be talking about them and sharing its stories so they are trying out telling stories longer and/or differently than via a 30 second TV ad, with varying degrees of success.

I've been thinking about stories lately (or more accurately I've been telling stories, practicing) and you basically have two essential ingredients to a great one:


In other words I'd say 'What' and 'How', of course 'who' and other such questions are important but let's keep them aside for now. If we're creating stories, the content is the foundation of a story and it's indissociable from the delivery, how we're going to take that stuff and share it or bring it to the attention of another. The blend of content and delivery is what makes a story great.

Stories are also interesting in that memorable experiences can make great stories and in turn a great story can become a memorable experience of its own. Memorable experiences can also be created and given I prefer practice to theory, here is a story for you:

I was in London a few months ago in February and spent an evening with Adam, one of my best friends at the Red Dog Saloon. It was a Monday night, there was no particular occasion aside from the fact that I was going to leave soon and probably not be back in town for a long time. I learned with interest that the restaurant offers a Hot Wing Challenge: Eat 6 big chicken wings doused in a sauce made with the hottest chili in the world in 10 minutes or less, then wait 5 minutes 'burn time' with no food or drink. If you succeed, you get your photo on the Wall of Fame.

Given I am a fan of Adam Richman of Man v. Food, I had never tried something like that, and most importantly I thought that would make the evening memorable and had the potential to be a great story to tell. Sure a bit of sufferance might have to be paid but what's the price of a good story? Or at least that's the kind of sensible rationalising that went on in my head about it. It could be I'm just a bit crazy. There was not much else going on that quiet Monday evening so I created the entertainment by taking on the challenge.
After consideration and discussing the challenge difficulty level with Adam and the waitress (very difficult apparently, that one time a woman completed the challenge and then immediately ran outside to be sick on the pavement) I decided to go ahead. I was given a responsibility waiver form to sign before the challenge began. The restaurant also wanted to make clear that they were not responsible if all hot wings after these would seem bland and tasteless.
Following Adam Richman's example, I had mentally prepared to try and eat the wings as fast as possible, before the chili burn hit too hard and stop me from eating more. The only sense of flavour I had was for a split second when I had my first bite of wing. After that, it was just burning and my focus on eating as fast as possible.
The heat was so intense I was immediately crying my eyes out,  sweating, and my nose was running. Eating fast also meant I had more sauce smeared all over my face and fingers, meaning more burn surface. My face was a pretty contrasted white and red apparently. Meanwhile Adam was laughing at me, live tweeting the event and taking photos. 'It's hot, it's really really hot' is the only thing I think I said.
My strategy paid off and here you can clearly see the satisfied face of victory. The burning face of a man who ate six hot wings in under three minutes and thus survived the Naga Viper Chili. The waitress was very impressed. She was cute, so that mattered. I, on the other hand, wasn't that cute.
 The five minutes 'burn time' were the longest of my life. My whole face inside and out was burning and  I was just agonising on my seat. Pure mind over matter. I was given a glass of milk when the five minutes were up and never a beverage had tasted so sweet. It felt good and here is my photo on the Wall of Fame for all future challengers to see. About 20 minutes later I was fine, had a milk shake and was having fun with two other friends who had joined while I was doing the challenge. I thought I was sorted and done. Big mistake.
I like spicy food and I never had a hard time digesting chili so the fact that it was possible hadn't occured to me. About 2 hours after the challenge as we were getting ready to leave, I started feeling queezy, quickly paled and suddenly started having cold sweats. Big stomach ache. I talked to the chef who was finishing his shift and he tells me it's normal, it's so strong that it's really tough to digest and it's just going to be extremely painful for most of the night (I later learned that the fresh Naga Viper Chili is strong enough to pull paint off a wall). I've never experienced so much pain in my life, I had trouble walking back to the tube. Obviously Adam was laughing at me all the way. I would've done the same in his place.

I felt much better the morning after. Since then I've been perfecting the telling of the story and I told it to great success to several groups of friends and family. Practice and experience are important parts of the delivery. This blog post is also different way of delivering the content. I have loads more stories for you whenever we meet up, and I've been practicing my own storytelling as well.

And you know what? I don't regret doing it whatsoever. You may not want to try the Red Dog Saloon Hot Wing Challenge, but you will come across other opportunities to create memorable experiences and potentially great stories. Take them, you won't regret it and you might just start developing a different perspective on what good content and delivery are if that's a part of your line of work.

1 comment:

neilperkin said...

Oh my lord. Remember you telling me about this but now I see the pictures...rather you than me is all I can say!