CIW’12: Storytelling

As part of Chicago Ideas Week, I attended a talk titled, Storytellers: The Power of Perspective. It featured a political artist, an advertising agency chief creative officer, and three bestselling authors, one of which can also be called a “human guinea pig.” Although I was disappointed that the scheduled host, Jon Meacham, the EVP of Random House, had to cancel at the last moment, at least one thing from each of the remaining speakers stuck with me.

One quick note – Chicago’s Ink Works has been taking live, visual notes of every CIW talk. They had a lab session this morning, which I unfortunately was not able to attend, but I love the idea of taking very visual, infographic-like notes.

Transparency means giving out information even when people aren’t asking. It’s not just a response.
This was a point made by Arun Chaudhary, a political artist and the former official White House videographer. It was really interesting to see all the footage he captured of Obama, and how the president acted the exact same way on the campaign trail when he was up for election as he has over the four years in office. All those hours of footage of Obama demonstrated how he openly offered information throughout his term, a true level of transparency on his presidency and his personality. I thought it was a great point at how you shouldn’t just offer information and transparency reactively or in times of crisis, but by establishing yourself as a transparent organization, entity or brand long-term, results in true authenticity and trust.

Narrative Magazine
One of the authors who spoke was Carol Edgarian, and she has co-founded, a non-profit digital source for storytelling. On the site, all the content is free to read and access, and the 300 artists it publishes each year helps maintain a spotlight on storytelling, whether it falls under fiction or non-fiction writing.

Our life spans have more than tripled over time. 
It’s such a simple statement and so obvious, but think about it. Today, we live three times longer than our ancestors did. Can you just imagine what this means. We have three times as much time to do, try and experience things during our lives. But there are also so many more things to do. No wonder I feel pressured to do and experience so much and so intimidated by all the choices we have. If we live three times longer, we should be able to achieve so much more, right?

This was a point made by A.J. Jacobs, a really entertaining author who has immersed himself in various challenges, from living according to every single rule in the bible for a year to becoming the healthiest person alive. One challenge he also completed was reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z. It took him a little over a year, but I gotta say, I’d be very interested in replicating that challenge myself. Anyone have a set of encyclopedias I can borrow?

The Secret “Mean Stinks” campaign.
One of the speakers was Susan Credle, the chief creative officer for Leo Burnett. She showed several videos of her previous work in advertising, which all incorporated elements of storytelling. Working at a social media and word of mouth marketing agency, I can easily see how important storytelling is in marketing.

One example she showed is a recent campaign, “Mean Stinks” by Secret deodorant. I found this campaign to be so inspiring. First of all, I damn near cried during the reel, but second, this is an example of how a brand can tell a really compelling story in a very credible and relevant campaign. This is the essence of finding that one overarching theme that you can create an entire campaign around. I’ll let this speak for itself:


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