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- 17 Jul 2009
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I want to tell you a story

Simon Aboud, creative director of the London creative agency Make Believe, pleads the case for better storytelling and ‘storyselling’ in order for brands to maximize their potential.


We need stories. We need stories with depth, texture and integrity. Consumers have changed and they are looking for something more robust about the brands they choose. Great brands are great stories, brilliantly told and never has there been a better time to author and articulate the right story. The consumer has not gone away, they have just changed the channel. They are not satisfied with the headlines anymore, they want the in depth news.

Plenty has changed. Luxury has lost much of its froth and now value is taking on a whole new set of criteria. Whilst value could many times be derived from price and provenance alone, consumers want more, much more. They want to scratch below the surface and find more or, more likely, they want to know that if they needed to scratch below the surface, there would be plenty there. A great story provides reassurance, an anchor in turbulent times. Value becomes long term versus short term. Investment becomes the name of the game. Their purchase attaches them to something that will persevere, mean something.

Storytelling has kept the human race trucking along for a very long time, connecting generations along the way. It is our most powerful form of communication, no doubt.

We are effectively made of stories. They point to a past and hint at a future and at the end of the day one could argue that all we have are stories.

In our everyday lives stories sell to us, inform us, teach us, preach to us, heal us and coerce us whilst covering us in a comforting blanket of entertainment. Stories can be multi-dimensional and have a depth of meaning and texture to them that we now crave in our multi-media worlds. Smart brands now understand this as they send their complex, cinematic and detail-rich short films out into the ether where they know their audience is waiting and whom they infect with their smart marketing like a virus. Nothing spreads quite as well as a good story, just look at Susan Boyle.


Story sells. It always has but never more than now. Good story permeates through because the connection is pure. Good story takes us from the rational into the emotional, it’s what turns product into brand. Why was Slumdog Millionaire so successful? A powerful story, brilliantly told. Nothing surprising in its success at all if you think about it. I remember the clapping at the end of that movie, the life- affirming exhalation of emotion at the end of a great story. Hollywood is still trying to understand the formula of the low budget movie that breaks through. Whilst it’s true that a big budget will polish and promote a story, there’s nothing to replace the blue touch paper that is created when a narrative comes together. We all want to be part of that and we gather around our modern day campfires as eagerly as we ever have.

Stories also provide internal cohesion within an organisation at a time when everyone is waiting; sitting on their hands, to see what everybody else is going to do. You know the old marketing rules don’t really work anymore but you’re still waiting for someone to be kind enough to send you the new rulebook. You know that your advertising maybe isn’t doing enough to get you the individual stand out you need. You also know the numbers aren’t stacking up anymore in terms of media delivery. You know that digital is no longer number two on the agenda. In fact, you know quite a lot.

A story that everyone buys internally can help make the most difficult decisions and set new and more opportunistic agendas. A new story or a better-crafted story will give confidence. People feel part of a story, they add to it, give it their own touches, and add to its richness.

What is it that makes us good storytellers and allows us to respond to effective storytelling? Most of us don’t receive any formal training and yet we all seem to have an intuitive feel for the basic principles. Storytelling is best learnt on the job and as thousands upon thousands of stories seep into our subconscious, the timeless principles of storytelling such as plot, antagonism, cast, genre and hook are learnt. We don’t all naturally write in three act structures but it is still a vast majority of us that have never heard of Robert McKee and we still manage to muddle together a pretty compelling story every now and then.

I have been storyteller for a long time now. Since I’ve been in gainful employment I have been a teller, and perhaps more importantly, a seller of stories whether they be television and print commercials or screenplays. The selling bit is what tends to sharpen the need to acquire the principles of storytelling and see where there may be an opportunity for a good story. It is storyselling not storytelling that hones the skills.

Right now, this market we find ourselves in is an opportunity. There have never been so many channels for story or so many eager eyes and ears. In the words of Steven Spielberg “He who has the best story wins.”


Simon Aboud


663_told_medium Told – the art of story is published by Booth-Clibborn Editions and is out now.


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