Have you ever heard of a branded thriller?
No? Then it’s high time! And we are delighted to start off the year 2021 with an interview extraordinaire for our B&C Zine. Why are we so excited? Because this translation project was one of the highlights of last year for our team. All we can reveal is that it involved an innovative Swiss company with a global presence, and a whole range of current issues such as hands-on corporate values, cybercrime, authenticity, multicultural diversity and ethical investment. At the same time, this interview is also part one of a three-part series based on notable Swiss companies for which we have the pleasure to translate.
But enough of the small talk, let’s move on to our interview with Dr. Andreas Giger, the inventor of the branded thriller in person!
Mr. Giger, a branded thriller is an original addition to the brand- and image-building toolkit … one that we can read. Exactly how does a branded thriller work?
A branded thriller is a thriller written exclusively for a client, in which the client’s brand plays a leading role. Whereby the word “brand” here may refer to a commercial proposition, or a company name, or for that matter a town or village, a tourist destination or an NGO. The object is to spread the word about a brand and heighten the sympathy felt by the reader.
The means to an end is to integrate the brand into an exciting and enjoyable story.
Can you outline for our readers how you came to write your first Appenzell story, your first branded thriller? Is it always the same detective who investigates?
I never used to write thrillers. What I really wanted to do was create a gift for the sixty guests who attended by my sixtieth birthday, as a lasting reminder that would explain what fascinates me about the Appenzellerland where I live. That’s how I came to write my first Appenzell story. Given that many of my guests came from Germany, where the Appenzell name is associated with one product in particular, the eponymous cheese plays a leading role. Such was the positive feedback from my guinea pig readers that I sent a spare copy to the Appenzeller cheese marketing organization, which promptly ordered a substantial print run for use as promotional gifts.
That’s how I discovered this gap in the market, and from then on, I actively sought out clients for my stories.
With some success, if you consider that I have since written around thirty branded thrillers.
And no, I don’t have a resident detective. Most of those who play the most important parts in my thrillers are private individuals who fall more or less by accident into the role of investigator. These people may also appear in more than one story, but I keep moving them around, whether as required or because I feel like it. One thing they all have in common is that in one way or another, they work well with the police.
At Baker & Company we understand the power of storytelling – but wrapping an entire thriller around a brand seems at first sight to be a somewhat elaborate. What are we missing here?
Thrillers are known to enjoy broad popularity, which makes them attractive as a means to convey a brand message. And I don’t write massive tomes, my thrillers generally run to around 150 pages.
This is enough for readers to immerse themselves in the story and consolidate their relationship with the brand.
The result is to create a sustained communication effect, for example when a book is regifted.
Let’s imagine, if we at Baker & Company were to commission a branded thriller from you. Where do you start, how do you develop the various events and protagonists, and what research do you do?
My first task is always to carry out some in-depth research into the brand using all the information available, both printed and digital. Then I talk to a group of people – selected by the client – who all have something to say about the brand. Normally these interviews are face to face, but at the moment with the coronavirus, I use the telephone.
The stories that I develop on the basis of this information, and so also the protagonists, are not the product of a systematic process, they are simply the result of creative intuition.
A good branded thriller does not consist solely of facts, it also requires a healthy amount of fiction. How do you handle this balancing act? Particularly when you consider the need to entertain and satisfy both the client and the reader – two completely different target groups?
As a result of one, and only one, negative experience when a client became a little confused, I always make it clear in advance that what I write is not an advertisement that exaggerates the good points and glosses over the less good. It is more an exercise in public relations.
Of course the underlying tone of my stories is sympathetic towards the brand, but critical elements do not go unmentioned. That is the only way to make the story credible for the reader.
And that is what matters, the worm on the hook must appeal to the fish, not the fisherman, as the saying goes. Smart clients know that and therefore give me a largely free hand to invent my plots.
In a time in which podcasts and the spoken word are enjoying steadily increasing popularity, could you imagine recording your branded thrillers in that format for your clients, maybe as a series spread over the four seasons?
I still love the sensory perception that comes with a printed book, but I am in no way opposed to other media. So yes, I could imagine it.
Do you have a favorite anecdote around your branded thrillers that you would like to share with our readers?
I was visiting a place for which I was about to write one of my thrillers, and between interviews I took a stroll through the village to sample the atmosphere and take some photos … I remember I was wearing a rather exotic coat at the time.
A short time later my next interviewee reported that rumors were circulating in the village of a suspicious stranger who was walking about, taking photos of unusual objects.
Fortunately, no one called the police …
Your location and brand of choice for a Giger-style thriller?
I have already had two such wishes come true: I was lucky enough to write a thriller in installments for Vögele-Reisen, a Swiss tour operator, and as a result my partner and I were invited on a round-trip tour of the Canary Islands. Also with my partner, I spent a week in the exclusive Gasthof Post in Lech, after which I wrote my first hotel thriller, something I had long wanted to do. What about a thriller tailored for a river cruise operator – if only….
Last of all, what is your motto for life?
Look and see what’s going on. I am a born observer, and wherever there is something happening, I am fascinated to watch how it develops.