The science of story telling
Why intelligent marketeers should read The Sun
THE rest of this blog post is pointless – if I haven’t got your attention by now.
As internet users we’re fidgety and utterly spoilt for choice. With five billion web pages, the internet is a competitive place.
However, newspapers – especially the tabloids – have long since mastered the science of grabbing your attention in seconds.
But why do news stories exist in the first place? We could digest our news in list form – it would certainly be quicker and fewer people would get offended without the flourishes of journalism.
Take this recent story from The Sun, broken into the bare facts:
- Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) moving to Home Office building
- £9m saving
- £40k maintenence contract cancelled in 2010
- Office plants now being sold off
That’s everything you really need to know about that particular story. But let’s see what The Sun did with it in their headline:
Eric Pickles flogs John Prescott’s 40k pot plant pile
Whether the angle of the political heavyweight spat came from a point-scoring DCLG Press officer or a journalist is irrelevant – the point is somebody spotted a human story, and I am intrigued enough to read on.
But the science of attention-grabbing storytelling isn’t just about the content itself, it’s about the order of the content.
Look at any news story closely and you’ll see it doesn’t give equal weight to the beginning, the middle and the end like we were told to do at school.
If that Sun headline did the trick you should now be ready for the rest of the story. Firstly this is where the reporter explains the story, putting the juiciest lines first:
JOHN Prescott’s office pot plants are being sold off — to prune the deficit.
Labour’s former Deputy PM blew nearly £40,000 of taxpayers’ money filling his London HQ with costly shrubs.
But Tory successor Eric Pickles has ordered a clear-out of the rubber plants and fig trees to trim costs and raise cash.
He is holding after-work “jungle sales” where staff can buy them.
Next the story is verified with a quote:
Mr Pickles said: “John Prescott went potty over pot plants, spending tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash. We are now trying to recoup some of the cash.”
And only at the bottom do we get the boring facts that we care so much less about than the mental image of two hulking, middle-aged politicians at odds over a potted aloe vera:
Mr Prescott set up a deal to pay contractors up to £6,600 a year to care for the 88 plants.
This was scrapped by Mr Pickles after the Coalition came to power in 2010.
He decided to flog off the plants ahead of a move to a new building which will save £9million a year.
For all the snootiness levelled at it, The Sun remains Britain’s best-selling newspaper because, among other factors, it loves to tell a good story. It’s fearless in making us read what we need to know by stealth, under the cover of a human tale scripted with intrigue.
Of course tabloid hacks are no pioneers of this medium. The history of storytelling goes back beyond our own childhood bedtimes through all cultures and the entirety of human existence, before marketers were even men with fruit stalls.
Little Epic founding videographer Barry Wale says: “When aspiring, young filmmakers ask me what the most important thing about making movies is I always say you have to tell a story.
“People interest people, people buy from people and nobody is immune to the power of being drawn into a story.
“So whether you’re in entertainment or marketing, storytelling is the way to engage your audience.”
And that is why in this attention-starved marketplace of the internet, we can learn a lot from tabloids like The Sun.
We humans become engaged when our feelings and senses of humour and fears are stirred through storytelling. Once you’ve exploited some of that you will have a captive audience to tell want you want it to hear.