New models of narrative control

In 2013, when Chiara de Blasio, daughter of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, published a video describing her history with drug abuse and addiction, media columnist Michael Wolff called it a new model of narrative control, one with a millennial spin. The mayor’s daughter spoke to the camera reality tv-style and published her testimony on Instagram.

That would have been a step too far for the generally media-shy Bezos. Nevertheless, he had to do something. As Wolff noted backed in 2013, companies are now under the same pressure as politicians to sell the right story. “The up-to-date marketing view is that brands must become publishers, or storytellers, themselves—the most important thing they’re selling is, in fact, narrative,” he wrote. “It’s another step on a road that we’ve been on for a long time. Functionality, actual products and division of labor give way to a much more disembodied sense of reality, wherein we create and sell an effective fiction.”

For most brands, this rule wouldn’t apply to a leader’s private life, of course; even as we expect vulnerability from leaders, some boundaries remain. But Amazon’s heft makes Bezos a celebrity CEO inseparable from his brand—and his company’s influence makes him a public figure whose decisions, like where to build a new headquarters or how much to pay his warehouse or grocery store employees, are inevitably political.

Bezos hit just the right tone

The majority of responses to his tweet suggest that Bezos hit just the right tone, by any public relations standard. “Your divorce sounds better than most people’s marriages,” was one comment expressed a few different ways. Some people mused about how the money will be divided, of course, and others made predictable jokes about proceeding with the legal work through Amazon’s AI assistant Alexa, and asking Alexa to play “Thank U, Next.”

Many others praised the Amazon founder and his wife—an American Book Award-winning novelist who met Bezos when she worked for him at a hedge fund in New York—for acting with courage, as if they were speaking to friends.

Of course, there also were attempts to bust any illusion that this highly personal announcement somehow makes millions of people a part of Bezos’ inner circle, or that it changes anything about the degree of empathy we should hold for this CEO. Twitter user Jim Earl, for instance, wasn’t down for the Hallmark moment.

But perhaps the best gauge of Bezos’s control of the narrative came from the markets, where Amazon shares were trading at $1,657.81 in midday US trading—up $1.23 for the session.

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