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The Magic Of Storytelling

Few people saw Honda’s “Power Of Dreams” commercial and instantly went out to buy a new Civic. It’s unlikely that many people saw the Wild Horses campaign, paused the TV and went to the pub for a Guinness. I highly doubt that the campaign for Smash (ranked by Channel 4 as the best TV advert of all time) caused viewers to stop what they were doing, leave the comfort of their sofa and head to the shop to purchase a sachet of dehydrated potato flakes.

These adverts have been lauded by critics and the public as some of the best ever made. But, like the vast majority of advertising and marketing, they didn’t work their magic immediately.

Advertising works by embedding an idea in your head and staying there. So that when you do come to buy a new car you think Honda (because, like Honda, you believe in the power of dreams). When you go to the pub for a drink you think Guinness (because good things come to those who wait). When you plan a quick mid-week meal you think Smash (because you’re lazy and would rather eat soggy cardboard than peel a few potatoes).

So how do successful adverts embed these ideas in the heads of millions?

One word - stories.

The power of stories cannot be understated. It’s not just businesses that use storytelling to help build their brands; entire belief systems are built on storytelling.

The Bible is the best selling book of all time with estimated sales of over five billion and it’s essentially a collection of stories used to promote the world’s principal religion.

Scientology is a faith built on the stories of L. Ron Hubbard; a sci-fi author first, leader of a church/cult second.

Almost all faiths have a story (whether it be printed or simply passed on verbally from generation to generation) at their core. You would be hard-pushed to find a religion (or cult) that doesn’t have a very compelling story at the centre of its faith.

I am a massive fan of the enigmatic “mentalist” Derren Brown. He has performed lots of material on the subject of religion and faith, but it was his book called Tricks Of The Mind which shed some light on the subject of storytelling.

In the book he explains techniques for how he creates some of his illusions and the section which fascinated me was around memory-recall.

Derren explains how he has trained his brain to recall huge volumes of information. In order to memorise a long list of objects he uses techniques such as the Linking System, Loci System and Peg System; these are systems that anyone can apply to memorise information and facts.

These systems are employed to do one thing - create memorable stories.

These stories are far easier to recall than simply a memorising a list. He does this not just because he is an incredible showman with the power to entertain millions, he does it because that’s how our brains work. It’s how our brains are wired. We can’t simply look at a long list of facts and “learn” them; we need to transform them into stories in order for them to be embedded into our memory.

As Yuval Noah Harari (bestselling author of Sapiens) wrote in 21 Lessons for 21st Century: “Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers or equations, and the simpler the story, the better.”

Or to put it another way: no child was ever told a bedtime bullet point list.

So if you want to build a brand which is remembered… then you better tell a good story.

Author Al Mitchell