What do you think counts as “storytelling,” and do you think the term is overused?

I do think the term “storytelling”, especially in advertising, is overused. Honestly it seems like storytelling is for recreation and it’s something someone does to convey a story of what happened, purely for expressing information. Not a company doing it to sell their product or service. I wouldn’t call that storytelling, more rather sponsored content or brand publishing. Like the Wells Fargo piece about the sponsored climb for the veterans, it was a good piece about what they’ve accomplished, but the end of it was plugging the company and that it was all possible because of Wells Fargo. A grandfather telling a story to his grandkids isn’t for the sake of buying a product or service, it’s for conveying what happened. Once you add a company to it, there’s this part in the back of your head that knows it’s an ad for their benefit and the point ultimately is for them to make money.

I feel like “content marketing” is just another term for advertising only with a minor difference. Advertising is just standard ads with “SALE” or “10% off” and the price written; whereas “content marketing” is just advertising by using stories. It’s more refined I guess but it’s still advertising. I don’t think that because it’s not as obvious as standard ads and that they try to tell a story, that it is necessarily storytelling, more rather, branded content.

I like the way the Columbia Journalism Review put it when comparing a brand’s “storytelling” to code words; “In the same way ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ became a code word for torture, ‘storytelling’ and ‘storytellers’ have become code words for corporatized news”.

Another thing I agree with was described in the New York Times article about storytelling in the business environment. “While stories in commercials aren’t new, as Mr. Quesenberry said, we ‘keep rediscovering this and have to remind ourselves of the point of stories in a business context.’ And while there is a formula, stories fail if they’re perceived as formulaic.” I thought this was good in the sense of an individual trying to tell a story to a company, but also I liked the point that stories fail if they’re formulaic — I thought this could apply to companies too. Overall I am fine with companies breaking away from the traditional ads and telling a story with branded content, but I would not say that they are “storytelling”.

CC image courtesy of Flickr.