Roger Horberry, as many of you will know, is a very fine writer. I once tried very hard to get Roger to join my team at Interbrand but the siren call of the North was too strong. Since then we’ve worked together on various Dark Angels and 26 projects (including his role as Robin in Keeping Mum). All the while Roger has been copywriting and producing various books related to writing, including his latest Read Me that will be published next month. I recommend you get hold of a copy as soon as you can. In the meantime here’s Roger’s guest blog.
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 too hard to 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”, and “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 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 than 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 diminishes the impact a genuine story can achieve. I daresay I’ll get over it.
Roger’s latest book “Read Me: Ten Lessons for Writing Great Copy” is out on Laurence King Publishing in September. There’s even a chapter on storytelling. Add it to your wish list now.