No Conflict – No Story

30.01.2014

Written By: Matt Baker

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Marketers are increasingly obsessed with the need to tell stories. Successful brand communication now, apparently, relies on the ability to frame your message in a more evolved narrative and story structure.

It’s dangerous because it’s a loose and fuzzy concept. Storytelling is a catch-all phrase that can be used to describe any communication that goes beyond an old-fashioned short, single-minded piece of brand communication. Brands are increasingly relying on longer ‘stories’ to convey their heritage, provenance or future vision. They may be stories, but they’re often not very good ones, because they lack the basic elements that make a story more engaging in the first place.

So what makes a good story and why? To point us in the right direction, Russell Davies recently wrote an article on where brands are currently falling down on the storytelling front. He describes how there’s too often an absence of the basic elements that make a good story – surprise, jeopardy, character and, most of all, conflict. Without conflict you don’t have a resolution, and without resolution there is no reason to follow the story at all: there is no empathy with the plight of the protagonist and no reward when the outcome is revealed.

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Why does the conflict / resolution structure work? In his Inside the Story publication, Adam Westbrook talks about the science of storytelling, the effect that conflict and the reward of resolution has on the brain, and therefore why stories that include this conflict and resolution engage the audience better.  It’s all in the “dopamine squirts”, apparently. Dopamine is a chemical used to transmit messages between synapses in the brain. It’s directly linked to the sensation of pleasure and reward. You have a “dopamine squirt” when you have sex, take drugs and, as it happens, consume stories. But, as Adam explains, that’s only one part of the story. Experiments have proved that more dopamine is released when you’re anticipating a reward but you’re not sure that you’re going to get it. Admittedly, the experiments involved monkeys that were rewarded with apple juice, but you get the point. The more you anticipate the outcome of the story, the bigger the reward will be when you finally get it.

BAMM sits in the middle of this on-going debate on storytelling. We have always used photography and films to tell stories and the recent obsession within the field of marketing has only motivated us to work harder to understand how we make our consumers’ stories more engaging for our clients. What we do know is that it’s not just in the trick of an edit, or the combination of the right photographs; it’s about a deeper understanding of our consumers’ lives, the conflict within them, and how they strive to resolve it.

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