Roger Horberry

29 June 2015

A sorry story

I have before me a brochure I picked up in achingly hip Copenhagen during the recent Horberry family holiday. It’s for a posh furniture store called Bolia and describes itself as 62 stories on how we live – the reason it caught my eye in the first place. Imagine my disappointment when instead of the aforementioned narratives I found it stuffed with pointless and clearly fictional anecdotes that are trying far to hard too be edgy, amusing or otherwise out there.

Examples:

87 year old Gertie enjoyed her newfound love: reading erotic literature. She just wished she’d started earlier.

Charlie decided not to invite Sarah to his party. She decided to crash it anyway, by driving her car through his front door.

All are accompanied by artfully styled pics of desirable Nordic furniture with nary a human in sight. For example:

Page from Bolia brochure

For some reason all this made me think, “God I’m sick of stories”. Not the form itself you understand, just the senseless shoehorning to the word into every conceivable item of comms, regardless of its relevance or worth. You must have noticed this phenomenon yourself. I’d say we’ve reached ‘peak story’ if it wasn’t such a nauseating phrase.

If stories are natural engagement engines – and they are – then Bolia’s excrescence has exactly the opposite effect, turning me off rather than on. Obviously it doesn’t have to be this way. The trick is to make a story vivid enough to embed itself in its readers’ imagination, and grounded enough to touch on or illuminate some universal human truth. That’s where Bolia goes wrong – their ‘stories’ are one-dimensional fictions that manage to reduce rather enhance their brand’s authenticity.

Don’t get me wrong. In the right context stories are a wonderful tool, not least because they’re fun and functional at the same time. Fun because they’re naturally appealing and we’re primed from birth to accept information presented in narrative form; functional because they’re powerful explaining tools that enable us to describe the who, what, where, when, why and how of a subject without seeming to. I suppose my point is I’m fed up with every piece of non-factual text being described as a story – it’s lazy and has diminished the impact a genuine story can achieve. I daresay I’ll get over it.


Read Me book coverRead Me: Ten Lessons for Writing Great Copy by Roger HorberryGyles Lingwood is out now, published by Laurence King. There’s even a chapter on storytelling. Find the authors on Twitter at @RogerHorberry and @GylesLingwood, as well as @ReadMeLKP.


What do you think?

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Larner Caleb

June 30, 2015 at 10:51am

You’re right, Roger, they’ve overcooked those ‘stories’ to an inedible mush.

The thing that intrigues me most about this is that it’s just another case of marketers jumping on this whole storytelling bandwagon, like it’s the latest holy grail. They’ve even had the temerity to include THAT word in the header. Storytelling to sell has been happening for thousands of years and certainly was around–and used to great effect–in the rock ‘n’ roll days of the 50s. I’ve used it myself many times, as I daresay, many of this forum’s members have, long before some guru decided to coin the phrase. And like you say, Roger, in the right context, stories are a wonderful tool. But it’s a little like marketers banging on about ‘native’ as if that’s new, when all it is really is ra-ra-skirted advertorial.

And, like you, I’m fed up with every piece of made-up stuff being called a story, but it’s all part of the current fad, I guess. There; I’ve agreed with you several times and still managed to be grumpy. I daresay I get over the whole thing, too. 🙂

Joe J

July 1, 2015 at 8:47pm

Couldn’t agree more, Roger. I grouched about the same subject here: http://joejeffries.co.uk/story-time-quaker-oats/

PRO

TamaraCopy

July 23, 2015 at 1:13pm

Me three. The trouble is, ‘storytelling’ in the marketing sense is a vague term that encompasses anything from flights of fancy to case studies, basic information-giving or simply a matey tone of voice. Nobody’s sure what it is, they just know they want it.

My beef was always that the most convincing stories have conflict, despair, failure, revenge… y’know, ugly, real things that can’t exist in the sunny uplands of comms. “We do a good thing and look, now we do it even better!” just don’t cut it, story-wise 😉

That’s not to say interesting stories don’t exist within organisations and products, but it usually takes a helluva lot of time, skill and digging to prise them out. So it’s easier to make them up – with the disastrous consequences you so pertinently observe, Roger.

Clare Lynch

March 5, 2017 at 12:28pm

My current bugbear is the Tescos ‘food, love, stories’ campaign. It was clearly created by a team that went: ‘Stories, stories, we need stories. Get the agency to do something around stories.’ Solution: include the word ‘stories’ on all the posters and objective achieved.