“Socrates said, ‘The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.’ He wasn’t talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.
A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.” -Ursula Le Guin, A Few Words to a Young Writer
Ursula Le Guin is a fantasy and science fiction writer who has written dozens and dozens of books and stories. The quote comes from her book, A Few Words to a Young Writer. This lesson touches on a subject that marketing storytellers should heed. Even if you are trying to sell using a story, that story is still bound by the ironclad laws of believability. Whether she approves of advertising in general will be left to her, but for me this is not about what you use your words for but how you choose to use them.
People don’t like being marketed to. Seth Godin mentioned that. They never have and now when we are being sold something just about everyday, we as consumers have developed a keen sense for marketing double-speak. That’s why the stories that sell products and build brands are the ones that speak to some truth beyond the advertising message. They say something. It doesn’t have to be complex, but it needs to be true. The impetus is on the advertiser to create a campaign that people understand, respond to and believe in. It’s the reason why sponsorships and endorsements are so coveted, we live in a world where the only currency that really matters is trust, and once you lose that – you lose the ability to get people to act on anything.
Craft your stories with respect for the people who will hear them and respect for the words you use to tell them.
Take this classic example from the 1980 Superbowl. This commercial features Football great “Mean” Joe Green. It is believable, it tells a story, its message rings as true and it was highly effective.