The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning.
— Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New, 1980
Storytelling, then, is born from our need to order everything outsides ourselves. A story is like a magnet dragged through randomness, pulling the chaos of things into some kind of shape and – if we’re very lucky- some kind of sense. Every tale is an attempt to lasso a terrifying reality, tame it and bring it to heel.
It could bring us closer to God, to a sexual partner, to appropriate behaviour, or to better mental health.
That is why we crave stories like a drug – for it is only through story that we are able to bring our inner selves into line with the external world. In that process some kind of sense is made, and if we’re lucky, some kind of truth discovered.
— John Yorke, Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them, 2013.
If, as Hughes and Yorke suggest, stories, art and the emotional journey that we gain from them, are, as opposed to argument, the way that we interpret the world, then ‘narrative’ is important, and stories need to be told. The latest Pew Research data shows that in the United States, for example, 62% of adults access their news on social media (Gottfried & Shearer 2016). With Social Networking Services (SNS) increasingly becoming the source of the general population’s information, as well as its realm for public discussion, I would argue that we may see users increasingly trying to come to terms with big ideas, debating morality and interpreting the world via written, argumentative discourse that takes place in the absence of storytelling. The possibility of bringing stories into these spaces will be the focus of this post.
The Commercial Argument
Advertisers have arguably known how to exploit our craving for stories, or, the effectiveness of narrative persuasion, since the conception of the industry. However, in recent years the concept of ‘brand storytelling’ has been popularised and become a large, integral part of marketing strategy (Gains 2013). Perhaps better than delving into the specifics, take a look at this Google advertisement and see if you can gather why ‘narrative’ is a powerful tool for marketers:
— Google India. 2013.
Brand storytelling does everything that Yorke and Hughes prophesy about ‘story’, yet part of the ‘truth’ that we discover is our apparent affection toward the brand. Supported by research conducted by cognitive scientists, the case for the effectiveness of storytelling as a means for engaging customers is growing steadily (Gains 2013, pp. 98).
Unsurprisingly, SNS add an entirely new layer to this story. Interactivity has allowed brands to have a dynamic relationship with an active consumer-base (n.a. 2015). For example, in 2012 Volkswagen ran the Why VW campaign, which allowed users to share their own experiences with VW products and features.
“What sets Why VW apart from other storytelling platforms is the integration of our own content with the real-world experiences of VW owners and fans,” said Mayer. “If someone wants to learn more about Volkswagen performance or a specific model, they will see relevant consumer stories side-by-side with information we provide.”
— Kelvin Mayer, qtd. by Corey Proffitt, Volkswagen Introduces ‘Why VW’ Brand Campaign and Social Media Storytelling Platform, 2012.
Coca-Cola tried a similar approach with ther #ShareACoke campaigh. As outlined on Lafferty’s blog, Coca-Cola encouraged its consumers to tell their story and share it using the unifying hashtag #ShareACoke:
Esther Lim of The Estuary LLC, a company that specialises in immersive digital marketing, argues that interactivity can augment a story and utilises techniques such as creating Facebook profiles for individual characters (that can, via status updates, tell their own versions of a story alongside, say, a web series) or building a world on social media in between episode releases (Chin 2011).
Jerome Bruner famously stated that a fact is 20 times more likely to be remembered if it is part of a story, or as he put it ‘anchored in narrative’ (Bruner, 1990).
— Neil Gains, Brand esSense, 2013, pp. 98
The Social Argument
So how does this translate to ‘online discussion’? A behavioural study conducted by Lu, Heatherly, & Lee concluded that, according to their findings, exposure to ‘discussion disagreement’ on SNS held a negative association with political participation and that, regardless of the increased exposure to opposing political views, that SNS users experience, “it seems that [they] are unable to translate the deliberative benefits of discussion disagreement, such as a better understanding of oppositional views, into meaningful behaviors.” (2016).
In other words, ‘discussion’ is certainly happening online, but those involved aren’t being very (effectively) persuasive. On the contrary, as we have discussed, “narrative engagement appears to be an important mediator in persuasive effects” (Bilandzic & Busselle 2012). Narrative persuasion could be the answer and digital storytelling the medium. Perhaps in a world saturated by information, facts are not enough to combat “alternative facts“, rather, it may be time to employ the alternative to facts: narrative.
Narrative mimics intelligence; perception mimics detection. Making sense, assimilating opposites; ordering the world.
— John Yorke, Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them, 2013. pp. 225.
Bilandzic, H., & Busselle, R. (2012). Narrative Persuasion. The SAGE Handbook of Persuasion: Developments in Theory and Practice, 200 – 219.
Brand storytelling: The other side of the story . (2015, April). Marketing, 58.
Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of Meaning: Four Lecture on Mind and Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Chin, Y. M. (2011, April 12). Esther Lim: Interactive Narratives and the Future of Storytelling . Retrieved from Digital Book World: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/esther-lim-interactive-narratives-and-the-future-of-storytelling/
Gains, N. (2013). Brand esSense. London: Kogan Page.
Google India. (2013, November 13). Google Search: Reunion. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHGDN9-oFJE&list=PL-kIBfSqQg3uMx9Z1fOpc7WPw2wDvbhFu&index=1
Gottfried, J., & Shearer, E. (2016). News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016. Pew Research Centre, Journalism & Media. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Centre.
Hughes, R. (1980). The Shock of the New. Detroit: Knopf.
Lafferty, J. (2016, June 08). Can You Quantify the ROI of Great Storytelling? Retrieved from ceros: https://www.ceros.com/blog/can-you-quantify-roi-great-storytelling/
Lu, Y., Heatherly, K. A., & Lee, J. K. (2016). Cross-cutting exposure on social networking sites: The effects of SNS discussion disagreement on political participation. Computers in Human Behavior, 74 – 81.
Proffitt, C. (2012, September 22). Volkswagen Introduces ‘Why VW’ Brand Campaign and Social Media Storytelling Platform. Retrieved from Professional Services Close- Up: https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.rmit.edu.au/docview/1046784636?accountid=13552
Yorke, J. (2013). Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. Milton Keynes: Penguin Books.
*Featured Image Credit: Book of fantasy stories, Reading a glowing fantasy book – violetkaipa
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