The Subtle Strength of Story
When Matthew, Mark, Luke and John sat down to write the bible, they didn’t write an instruction manual, they wrote stories. Why? Because even then, they knew people connected to stories. It was true then, and it’s true now; us humans love stories. From stories being passed down through generations, to Netflix, ancient myths to storytime videos on TikTok, stories have always accompanied humans. In fact, it’s said the average adult spends 6% of their waking day actively engaged in stories, whether they be on screen or on pages. And surely we spend 100% of our ‘sleeping day’ engaging in stories we tell ourselves in the form of dreams.
So what does it have to do with advertising? Well, while in the bubble of a brand, whether agency side or in-house, we often begrudgingly have to remind ourselves ‘no one cares’. Things that are so important to us on the inside are simply not relevant to the general public. It is our job to make them care, to give them reason to pay attention. And how do we do that? By telling a story. The story of a product, the story of a brand, the story of who you could be with this product. And time and time again the impact of these stories is researched, and time and time again, we see how they resonate, evoke empathy and, ultimately, connect with people. Stories are the heart of advertising.
The beauty of stories, and perhaps why we utilise them so much, is they are resilient. Since the dawn of advertising the stories we tell have changed, how we tell them has changed and, most noticeably, where we tell them has changed. The media landscape has altered phenomenally over even just the past 20 years and yet stories are still here, dominating ‘entertainment’ of every form.
In our industry, we have some true titans of storytelling. The likes of Nike, Apple and John Lewis produce stories people genuinely look forward to engaging with. But it’s not just the big boys big ads, every day brands are excelling in storytelling. Like Surreal, the new challenger cereal brand. Their story is one of underdog, of cheeky little brother, of sticking it to ‘the man’. This underlies everything they communicate. Or the likes of Tony Chocolonely who are constantly propelling their brand story of fair trade and pushing their competitors to do the same. While not the typical stories told by the Nikes of the world, these are still strong stories that undoubtedly benefit these growing brands.
Dave Trott considers the term ‘storyteller’ to be patronising, as advertising creatives are so much more than that. While his arguments absolutely stand (and make for a thought-provoking read), I think the role of storyteller is not one we, as a society, look down on, but rather one we hold on a pedestal. Why? Because we enjoy them so much. Those who are labelled storytellers are lauded with awards, fame and obsession. It is an honour to be considered one.
As a true, scarred millennial, I am not foolish enough to think I know anything about what the future looks like. But I am certain of one thing; story is here to stay and it’s our job to keep telling them.