Storytelling

When I was a little girl, “telling stories” meant lying. It was frowned upon. Now, “storytelling” is the latest and greatest term in advertising.

How I hate the yearly “hot new term.” I guess it sells books. Remember “tribes”? “Permission marketing”? “Tipping points”? “Servant leadership”? “Purple cows”? I suppose, given enough time, we’ll eventually hit everybody’s hot button. And this year, it’s “storytelling.”

Storytelling sounds good when it comes to web content. [Although from what I’ve experienced, clients generally prefer less story and more visual.] Websites require new content in order to stay relevant. But brands have always been built on the stories they tell – whether it’s on a website, in a TV spot or in an ad.

A cool story posted on a company’s website? That’s branding! A great TV spot? Branding. A wonderful video? Branding. Even placing a particular product in a movie is branding! Ideas that improve your brand in the minds of the consumer are not stories, they’re brand building efforts.

Websites, social media, native advertising – they’re all branding efforts. Plain and simple. Tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook statuses are just another avenue through which to push products and services. Granted, it’s done in a different way – “engaging” the consumer rather than pushing messaging on him/her. But that engagement is happening across all media now. It’s the age of consumer engagement – of “pulling him/her in” rather than “pushing messages out.”

We are advertisers, trained in the art of persuasion. We’re paid to tell stories that position the brand in its best possible light. We craft our messages with an end goal: we’re trying to SELL products and/or services.

If we were simply storytellers, we’d be at home, starving, coming up with fun scenarios and entertaining plots. Our only goal would be to sell books (and, perhaps, make a social commentary along the way). We’d run these ideas past publishers, not clients. And 90% of what we create would never see the light of day.

Calling ourselves “storytellers” is all very romantic, but it loses sight of the very task we’re paid to do. So let’s stop telling stories about what we do for a living and get back to building brands.

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