“They weren’t true stories; they were better than that.”
My son has three favorite books. Last night, I read each one to him five times. Often, I’ve wondered how many times he would sit and listen to the same story, if I allowed it. 30? 100? Until he fell asleep? Until my voice gave out?
For children, it is both entertaining and comforting to hear the same stories over and over again. It is innate, this desire, this need. And it is limitless.
My son is two. But, I would argue, adults aren’t all that much different. We crave our stories in much the same way, though not as overtly or even as consciously. And we gravitate toward the same stories over and over again. The universal stories that resonate. The powerful tropes that hook us and keep us invested. The tales that reassure us: we are not alone, our lives have meaning, we all matter. Even the same story told repeatedly, though in different ways by different people, has power. Some of its power may even be in its sameness. In the fact that we’ve heard it somewhere before, that it feels both familiar and new, stirring up feelings we’ve felt before, long forgotten or buried, while also introducing us to feelings that are new.
While many stories remain the same, we’ve evolved not just how stories are told, but also where we tell them. For those of us in marketing, storytelling has become a dreaded buzzword, the act of telling a story now an overused story unto itself. How many articles have you read about the power of story for brands, for content marketers, for business? (This now being one of them.)
Yet story can still hold immense power. I’d even say that, somehow, by extending storytelling into other realms, moving it from religion, to family, to history, to now business, we’ve upped the bar.
Take one of my favorite brand stories, for example. It’s almost 10 years old, but still resonates. In just under a minute, Google’s “Parisian Love” tells a love story solely through search entries, from traveling abroad in France, to how to impress a French girl, to churches in Paris, to assembling a crib. It brilliantly evokes emotion through its simple story (and music), while simultaneously telling the Google story—revealing how deeply Google is embedded in our daily lives, bringing us together and enabling us to always find what we need.
A story about a search engine is transformed, elevated, into a story about love and connection. It’s a universal story, one that we’ve all heard before—the benefit of new experiences, life as a journey, love as an unexpected destination—told in a new way. It’s a story I’ve read (and watched) over and over again, seeking feelings both old and new.
It’s not a true story; it’s better than that. The writer Alice Hoffman wasn’t the first to express this sentiment, and she won’t be the last. As we work to tell new stories, for both new and existing brands, it’s not enough to tell a brand story. It needs to be better than that. It needs to be universal, powerful in a way that’s the same, inspiring in a way that’s new.