Everyone has a story to tell
by Belfast Copywriter Brian O'Friel There’s a very evident trend in marketing and advertising for today’s brands to ostentatiously engage in ‘storytelling’. And while there’s always been huge value in this approach, I sometimes balk a little at the word ‘storytelling’ in relation to talking about a brand. Why? Because I’ve always associated the word with ‘making things up’. It goes back to childhood when I was forever asking my grandfather to ‘tell me a story’. And it never took him long to launch into a long yarn that always played fast and loose with what little truth might actually exist in the story in the first place. He’d tell me how the big wind of ’47 blew his bedroom clean across Ireland. How his pet lamb turned into an alligator overnight. Or how he invented the telescope while looking inside a bottle to examine a trapped wasp. Wonderful stories but scarcely a grain of truth in any of them. Of course, that’s not to belittle the telling of actual ‘truths’ about a brand. It’s like the old McCann Erickson strapline: “Truth well told” – a line that really ought to be applied to the marketing industry as a whole. But back to ‘storytelling’. Because the term is so ubiquitous in modern marketing, it’s important to recall that telling a good story about the brand has always been at the core of modern copywriting. Whether it’s the great Volkswagen work of the 60s, the Timberland press ads of the 70s and 80s, the ageless Jack Daniels work, or more recent output by the likes of Innocent, pertinent truths from within a business create long lasting empathy with the customer and build value for the brand. Indeed, Ted Royer of the Droga5 advertising agency said that at the core of every brand is ‘a good story waiting to happen’.
Finding it, though, can often be difficult. It’s not always the most obvious part of a company’s history – and it’s not always the story that a brand’s management team would have you tell. And unearthing a believable and sustainable brand story in the era of social media is tougher still. In the ‘old days’, a brand could decide on its story pretty easily and just 'get it out there' with little risk of any negative feedback being generated by the public at large. Today, however, if social media sees through your brand story, it’s going to backfire on you badly and quickly become a millstone that will link to your brand advertising for ever and a day. So, the moral of the story is mighty simple – never fib in your storytelling; just dig real deep to find a gem. Oh, and hire a professional copywriter to do it.