On Storytelling

by Sharp | May 16, 2012

There is an inclination for brands to want their stories and their images to tie up neatly into a simple narrative – into a slogan or catch phrase or topic sentence that captures the brand and allows 1 + 1 to equal 2.

What was interesting for me about this mini-documentary on Ken Burns and storytelling is his quote from the introduction in which he says that the stories he is interested in – the stories that are worth telling – are the ones where 1 + 1 = 3.

“The thing that matter most to us … is that other thing where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

He also talks about the idea of “emotional truth” – the trust in possibility and future and change.  This emotional truth is what allows us to suspend disbelief when we are listening to stories; it is what allows us to feel connected to a story’s characters and storytellers.  This concept was reiterated on a more scientific level recently in Fast Company.  There are actually mechanisms in your brain that allow you to become emotionally invested in stories and in their meanings and that the stories actually work to help your memory and recall.


Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.


Sometimes complicated makes a good story. Often times it is the flaws and the surprises and the nuance to characters and plot and history that drive connection, that drive memory and that drive loyalty. For luxury brands especially, in cases where we are trying to reach an increasingly discerning audience, there is an opportunity to embrace a more complex story and take the time and energy to convey a rich history and a nuanced brand narrative.  Bob talked a while back about how Cartier approached this with their online video.

For me this piece is a good lesson for brands about the importance of being human and of allowing a good story to be shaped, even if that means a little loss of control.  It requires brands to open themselves up and to get a little messy, but I think the rewards can ultimately justify the process.


((thumbnail image courtesy of George Bailey, Shutterstock (via Fast Company)))

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