Storytelling: The Hottest Thing In Advertising Is Thousands Of Years Old
It’s deliciously ironic that in the midst of some of the most profound and vigorous technological changes the advertising industry has ever seen, more and more of the conversation is shifting back to the oldest form of communication of all:
Even less than halfway into Advertising Week 2012, I could easily say that the best sessions I attended focused on storytelling – either as their core topic or as their key delivery mechanism.
Why, in the age of infographics and big data, is storytelling worth so much discussion?
Because stories have a greater power than numbers when it comes to human perception. And advertising is about modifying perceptions to influence behaviors.
That point was delivered loud and clear at Turning Stories That Inspire Into Moments That Matter, a panel session sponsored by Google and the Ad Council. Author Andy Goodman shared a study from the 80′s by Richard Nisbett that demonstrated that once a perception has been rooted in our mind via a story, it is very difficult to dislodge it – even with substantial numbers and facts.
As Goodman pointed out:
“For thousands of years, we have looked to stories to convey meaning and tell us how to live our lives.”
I will take it a step further than Goodman, and posit that those of our ancestors who paid heed to stories were more likely to survive than those who insisted on testing and proving out each tale.
Our brains are more tuned to accept and internalize stories – even in the face of data that refutes it.
A single, atypical story can create a wall that blocks out a sea of statistics and facts. For marketers and communicators, this can present a massive challenge to affecting the change we are paid to produce.
As daunting as the challenge may seem, Goodman’s proposed solution is simple and elegant:
Fight fire with fire.
The best way to combat an entrenched story is with another story. This is perfectly summed up in a quote from Annette Simmons:
“Facts don’t have the power to change someone’s story. Your goal is to introduce a new story that will let your facts in.”
To help illustrate this approach, the panel was rounded out by three creative auteurs – each of whom has successfully used powerful storytelling to impact some long-held perceptions.
Rob Feakins (CCO/President, Publicis Kaplan Thaler) gave a taste of the stories of high school students at risk of dropping out. As part of the campaign for BoostUp.org, these stories have been changing the perception that students who drop out are lazy – or that they just don’t care.
Brian Pines (Executive Producer, It Gets Better Project) spoke about the incredible movement that formed around the It Gets Better Project. Sparked by the original video posted to YouTube by Dan Savage, the project aims to stem the tide of gay teen suicides by changing the perception of that very same group. To date, over 30,000 adults – gay and otherwise – have added their own stories and messages of hope to the project. Each of those individual stories has become one part of the larger story.
Finally, Katie Dellamaggiore shared her acclaimed documentary, Brooklyn Castle, capturing the story of a city middle school – where 70% of the families live below the poverty line – that happens to have the winningest junior high school chess team in the country.
At first glance, it may seem odd that such a subjective, touchy-feely topic was brought to us by Big Data heavyweight Google – but there’s a story behind that as well.
Google actually views part of its mission as delivering tools that empower people to tell their own stories. They also practice what they preach with a wonderful campaign that offers a shining example of storytelling in advertising. Dear Sophie is an unbelievably touching example of where a brand can simply act as the background canvas on which the story is painted.
Knowing that this type of storytelling isn’t as easy as these three make it look, the panel offered up some valuable tips on harnessing storytelling:
- You have to strike a delicate balance between finding the story first – and trying to make it fit into your message – vs. starting with the idea and then looking for the right story.
- For authenticity and a truly compelling story, you have to have access to characters who will share the intimate details of their lives. If the characters won’t let you – and the audience – in, then the audience won’t let the story in.
- The stories that fail are those that resort to clichés – the ones where you know exactly what is going to happen. A story needs to surprise in order to open the gap that your new information will flow through.
As the entire industry grapples with constant change and upheaval, storytelling serves as a comforting constant that can improve advertising.
- by AWSC
- posted at 1:05 pm
- October 9, 2012