An enlightened client remarked to me last year that marketing is witnessing a fundamental shift.
In the past businesses like his had relied on brand fictions – the lies organisations tell so that people fall in love with them. Now they’re obliged to deal in what he called non-fiction storytelling: the actions a business takes, and the commitments it makes, that are more important than what their brands say on their behalf.
I guess that’s right.
But I’m not sure it’s quite everything.
I admit I’ve become worried about the word ‘storytelling’. I fear people use it when they don’t want to say ‘advertising’. Like they say ‘user’ when they don’t want to say ‘consumer’. It sounds more thoughtful than its predecessor did, but its overuse renders it a bit vague, a bit devoid of meaning.
But each time I go to The Story, storytelling feels potent again. Not woolly, or fluffy, but fundamental. It’s a currency, something we exchange with each other. After a day at Conway Hall the story feels like our cost of entry to social interaction.
The Story – the event, that is – is nothing to do with work, and yet has everything to do with it.
And this year I realised that the client I quoted is essentially right, but the distinction between fiction and non-fiction isn’t quite everything.
In fact, really powerful stories combine the two.
They come alive in the spaces between truth and lies.
I have no idea if Matt intends a theme like this, but after letting the granules percolate for a few days this is the inescapable aroma flooding my memory.
The film-making duo behind the new film about Nick Cave declared that the “truth didn’t doesn’t matter.”
“It’s such a narrow road for our imaginations to go down,” they said.
Instead they wanted to embrace the myth. Allowing Cave to keep the mask on would reveal a deeper truth about his art than if we forced him to take it off.
This conversation, the one between fiction and non-fiction, between fact and emotional truth, occurred throughout the day.
Like when Alan Rusbridger claimed that, without the journalistic nous of The Guardian’s writers, and their ability to surface the material in the right way, the Snowden NSA files would have simply remained information. It took editing to make it a good story.
Or when Meg Rossof told us the only way to write well – to write convincingly – was to write “from a really deep place.” Somehow, the stuff that’s there but no-one wants to admit to, makes for better novels.
When Lisa Salem said her Walk LA With Me project, where she filmed herself walking and talking with strangers, the city’s dispossessed, showed her that “deep down people were telling the same story, even though the facts of their life on the outside were different”.
When the Vine maker showed his work and it became clear his stop-motion sleights of hand were way more compelling than his everyman biography.
When we heard – literally – the Foley artist whose deliberate, studied fakery is used to make moving images on film seem more real, and therefor more powerful.
When we watched the videos and songs of the made-up pop star, created by a 9 year old girl and her aunt – the performance artist who now plays the role everywhere from schools to Women’s Hour.
And so on.
Whether they we’re creating make-believe or bearing witness, embracing the myth or disclosing important informations, all of these speakers shared a desire to make what they said as vivid and as powerful as possible. To resonate with the audience.
To protect the story at all costs.
Because that is everything.