Whoever controls the story controls the world.
It may be clichéd but there’s a reason.
Stories are the best vehicle to frame messages and influence outcomes, and when they are created with tools that are current and aligned to global distribution mechanisms, narrative production becomes irresistible.
Visual tools are top of the tree right now as a narrative production medium.
From video to photography, animation to illustration, when the story is visually realised it tends to get equal traction from both the form ie. narrative and the immediacy of the medium.
This is why social media platforms have invested in making visual content distribution easy; from TikTok to LinkedIn, bite-size visual stories compete for headspace because controlling the narrative using the most advantageous medium is a powerful tool in persuading, cajoling or just downright intimidating people into behavioural change.
In the current fractious times, lockdown sceptics have used video clips of mass protests to support a narrative of significant minorities willing to take to the streets. The video is powerful, but as with all stories unverified and unverifiable. The visuals undoubtedly lend credibility. And that’s the point. Whether or not they are true, it’s part of the immense effort to shape a story that is stronger than anyone else’s.
If the story wins, it’s likely the idea will win.
Propaganda, advertising, publicity are the names by which ‘stories of our time’ might be categorised. These activities are truly about creating and controlling the narrative. They have a pedigree as long as human history. The great religions with their great teachers have all used stories to change behaviour.
What it tells us is that we’re hardwired to re-act to narrative. The ‘once upon a time’ timeline or its disruptive, post-modern cousin (that likes to turn a story on its head) are both winners when it comes to influencing and re-setting whole societal agendas.
Someone asked me last week why they should use video as part of corporate training inductions rather than stick with presenter-led Power-Point. Apart from the rather obvious benefits that video modules bring in terms of cost savings on trainers, there’s the small matter of creating narrative engagement through ‘show and tell’. Controlling the workplace story in a video induction is not only memorable, but it strongly embeds the idea of cultural identity and good behaviours at a mindful level.
Whilst we imagine that most story telling is verbal, there is a longer tradition of visualising stories, from hunting scenes in cave art to friezes in the Pharaohs pyramids to religious iconography in stained glass and statuary.
Indeed, the verbal and visual have walked hand in hand down the centuries in drama, from shamanic dancing to morality plays. So, it’s no surprise to see the visual arts of our time; video, animation and photography being harnessed to aid the emerging narratives of the powerful.
But for all that there is a difference between then and now.
Tools and platforms that were once the preserve of the top echelon of society have become democratised. This means stories and their telling are no longer in the hands of a few. With the internet has come the free-flow of information and even amongst the vast amounts of content swirling around, robust narrative still rises to the top and captures our attention.
Nowadays, the architecture of a narrative can be supported by multiple pieces of content, much of it visual, created by us. If we are smart and can see the value of producing the best stories with the most engagement, we too have the ability to effect change.
The first step is to recognise that stories have power.
Narrative production, whether it is a promotional video, a company training programme or a casestudy, can take a personal message, turn it into a compelling story and send it into the world to compete for hearts and minds.
Nicky Robertson, Managing Director of Mendip Media Productions.