October 18th 2014

Engaging content ideas through storytelling

by Martin O'Toole

First thing's first: I use the words 'story telling', 'brand story telling', 'content' and 'engaging' A LOT in my blog posts, seminars and client presentations. Clients are searching for this stuff on Google and they're asking what we know about it. These terms are included in our SEO strategy. So yes, I've evidently fallen into the jargon trap and I'm owning up to it for all the right reasons.


I was in a pub-based creative meeting with our two leading creatives a couple of months ago and we ended up discussing 'content', 'story telling' and the death of beautiful ads (and yes, I said "engaging content ideas"). By the end of the chat, I'd had a fair hammering by my discerning colleagues for adopting and peddling some of the new wave of jargon that's suddenly saturated our world. Their reasoning was simply because a lot of the 'digital' jargon out there doesn't actually define anything new. Quite the opposite in fact; it's repackaging concepts we've used in the advertising industry for decades. I'm afraid I had to agree.

Then last week, everything got REALLY out of hand, when I returned from a meeting at our new online farm foods client (http://farmison.com), armed with Booth's supermarkets' new and beautiful Christmas catalogue. I was pawing through it and actually found myself saying "Check this out for a beautiful piece of content". Then it hit me: what a total prick I sounded! "Content"?! It's a catalogue, you moron!! So why am I suddenly referring to it as "content"? Because it's "engaging"? Because it's free? Or because it was a catalogue and Christmas recipe book all rolled into one - which made me think "well done Booth's! You've just gained permission to sell to me, all thanks to this beautifully designed and produced cookbook/catalogue!" Who knows? But the point remains it's a cookbook/catalogue - thus demonstrating my point that perhaps it's time to strip things down a bit.


I can't help but wonder whether this is a BIG part of the problem when it comes to brands adopting new ways of working in online terms. Equally I can't help but be bemused that some of the old guard 'digital agencies' are now repositioning themselves as 'advertising agencies'. One can't help but wonder whether this is because they've become victims of their own tech-based smoke & mirrors sell..?

So let's get back to basics:

  • Brand has product to sell;
  • Customers are in the market to buy;
  • Brand has to sell product to customers;
  • Brand needs big idea from an agency (or collective ;)) to sell product.



What is content if not information about a product or brand, rolled out to different collateral formats and distributed amongst various marketing channels? Content is EVERYTHING. By that rationale, me referring to Booth's cookbook/catalogue as 'content' was fair enough. Though it's also a fecking cookbook and catalogue! Just like a video is a video or a blog is a blog, PR is PR and an infographic is an infographic.


The most over-used word in advertising, after 'wanker'. What does 'engagement' actually mean and where did this heinous brush-stroke/positively-skewed word come from?! Surely everything we do as marketers has to be engaging? What's the alternative? "Here's an idea for a campaign that won't really get anyone's attention and is unlikely to sell any product..."? How about we think of being 'engaged' with a brand as being bothered?


I've discussed 'storytelling' in one or two blogs. Primarily to try to explain what it really is and is not. I don't believe that advertising is storytelling. Our job is to sell a product or service in an informative, entertaining - and indeed - memorable way. Brand storytelling is really all about linking a brand 'tale' consistently through a mixture of channels. Which is my point: we already have an expression for that, and it's 'integrated marketing'. Before that - WAY back in the day - we called it 'full service' or 'multi-discipline' marketing.

I'm at pains to point out this isn't a rant. More a realisation and an invitation. This job is hard enough as it is, without the on-going development of super-jargon for the sake of God knows what.

This is worth a couple of minutes of your time. Stefan Sagmeister (pretty impressive creative based in NYC) was asked about 'storytelling' at FITC, a creative and technology conference in Toronto. Her said this:

And then he said this:

And then Jared Ficklin said this:

So maybe we could stop pissing about trying to reinvent the wheel and just get far better at producing decent and authentic creative ideas that help clients sell stuff?

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