So you want to stand out from the crowd?

What a musical version of Roald Dahl's Matilda can teach us about branding...

By: Lucy,   3 minutes


“Now here’s a tip.

What you know matters less

Than the volume with which what you don’t know is expressed.

Content has never been less important, so…

You have got to be…


Girl, you’ve got to learn to stand out

And stick out from the crowd!”

The musical Matilda was the last place I expected to find a lesson in branding. But when Mrs Wormwood – Matilda’s brash bottle-blonde mother – lectures her daughter on why ‘looks are more important than books’ she perfectly sums up how not to go about the business of branding. And I found my writing cogs shifting into gear…

Usually the only way to get me to a musical would be to drag me kicking and screaming. However, the prospect of Roald Dahl’s dark humour combined with musical comedian Tim Minchin’s wickedly witty lyrics was too much to resist. I broke the habit of a lifetime and headed to the Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End to see Matilda the musical in the name of Feeding.

Like generations of children, I grew up devouring Roald Dahl’s funny, dark brand of stories. From Revolting Rhymes to The Witches his stories revelled in a delightfully wicked streak, with characters that delight and terrify. I’d always had a particular soft spot for Matilda, the book-loving little girl who uses her special powers to defeat the child-hating headmistress Miss Trunchbull.

Matilda is an exceptionally bright, intelligent, book-loving little girl who has the misfortune of being lumbered with a brash, shallow, TV-obsessed family. Her father is a loud-checked-suit-wearing used car sales man. Her mother is an image-obsessed peroxide blonde. And her brother, a monosyllabic product of a life spent glued to the box.

At school Matilda and her classmates are subjected to the bullying of the hammer-throwing, pig-tail-pulling Miss Trunchbull who routinely punishes children by sending them to the terror that is chokey, a cupboard spiked with bits of broken glass. Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey is the only one to recognise Matilda’s special talents.

Amid a rising anger at the stupidity of her family, the blaring of the telly and the tyranny of the Trunchbull, Matilda discovers she has a special power to move objects just by looking at them. She uses her powers to defeat the Trunchbull and makes her dream come true of going to live with her beloved, book-loving teacher Miss Honey.

This was the story as I remembered it when I read it as a child. Sure enough, all of the elements were there, but what I hadn’t bargained on, coming at it from the perspective of someone who works with words, were the underlying messages and how they relate directly to the world of branding and creative advertising.

As Mrs Wormwood strutted across the stage, peroxide-blonde hair piled high, wearing garish pink lipstick, flashing red fishnet stockings, extolling the virtues of being ‘LOUD’ I realised that this was a perfect example of how not to advertise a product or talk about a brand.

“It doesn’t really matter if you don’t know nowt!

As long as you don’t know it with a bit o’ clout.

The less you have to sell, the harder you sell it!

The less you have to say, the louder you yell it!

The dumber the act, the bigger the confession!

The less you have to show, the louder you dress it!”

It’s our job to make sure our clients stand out from the crowd.


Matilda’s song ‘Quiet’ provides the perfect antithesis to her mother’s pushy hard sell:


Like silence, but not really silent…

Just that still sort of quiet

Like the sound of a page being turned in a book,

Or a pause in a walk in the woods…

Like the sound when you lie upside down in your bed.

Just the sound of your heart in your head…”

It reminded me of how important it is to Think before you speak – or write – in order to figure out just what it is you really want to say. Then you can find an original way of saying it that suits your way of doing of things – whether it’s all-singing all-dancing, or softly and quietly.

Matilda certainly stands out from the crowd – for all the right reasons. It’s a reminder that to stand out from the crowd there’s a time to shout, a time to be quiet, and sometimes – as Matilda points out as she swaps her mother’s peroxide for her father’s hair gel – there’s a time to be a little bit naughty.

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