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The story of advertising

Recently I’ve been writing a few short stories for a website run by Tom Mason. The conceit is that each story must be sparked off by an image and be no more than 330 words long.

It’s a great format for me because with it I can say something quickly without running into the issues of structure I’d face with something longer.

I do, however, periodically consider whether what I’m writing can be classed as “story” at all.

In fact, the definition of “story” is something we all wrestle with at Head First because it is integral to creating strong and effective advertising.

The difficulty I have with my 330 word stories lies in the difference between a story and a concept. Is it possible to relate a story in so few words? Or does the reduction render it to a concept?

It’s easier to see when you reduce the word count even further. To, say, 140 characters. One guy tweets very short stories which come across more as outlines (or perhaps poems) than stories.

You could argue, of course, that anything can be a story. If I write something like:

“She lived. She cried. She died.”

You get a sense of narrative. You get a classic beginning, middle and end. Even the choice of words plays a part. “Lived” is more emotive than “was alive” because it suggests more than the simple act of existing, of breathing. And by starting it that way, I set the scene for the tragedy that follows. The reader might arrive at their own conclusions but it is clear that the woman’s situation is a result of her having “lived”.

So that could be described as a story.

Except it isn’t. Not in the more traditional way.

For that, you need more flesh on the bones for story to occur.

My personal jury is out on the 330 word stories. Perhaps they are something different. Certainly they are something exciting (to write at least).

What is clear, however, is the lesson they contain for advertising. Because by challenging my understanding of story, they make me challenge the story of advertising.

Whether I’m writing a two word ad or advertising through social media the lesson remains. I must ask myself what story am I trying to tell.

For the two word ad I must work to ensure the experience, through the combined efforts of text and imagery, is sufficiently satisfying as to provide a story.

Because stories are how experiences are related and relationships formed.

And that’s a way to ensure advertising is effective at the deepest level.