Why I’m Re-Reading Robert McKee’s “Story”

Yep, for the moment I’m setting aside Groundswell and Buyology for all 480 pages of Story, a ten year old, way too heavy hardcover that focuses mainly on the craft of screenwriting.  Why?

Today's Marketing Must-Read
Today's Marketing Must-Read

Because I no longer believe that campaigns measure up in our web 2.0, socially networked world.  Today, we broadcast our messages into an environment where we can control them perhaps seventy percent of the time.  Consumers drive the other thirty percent: blogging, posting reviews, tagging Flickr photos, making YouTube videos and simple word of mouth recommendations.  When we must cede control of the message nearly a third of the time, we need to rethink every assumption we hold regarding pushing out campaigns.

And that takes me back, not immediately to McKee’s 1997 hardcover, but rather some 17,000 years to the Paleolithic age in the South of France.  Admittedly, I wasn’t there, yet those prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux still possess an eerie power all these eons later.  Because those strangely-dynamic images of bulls and horses vividly engender the notion of story; a story told once, then again, then tens of thousands of times, evolving, changing and growing with each new storyteller.

The Magdalenian Age's Must Read
The Magdalenian Age's Must Read

And that takes me back to McKee.  As marketers, we must get really smart about the principles of storytelling. If we can shape compelling brand stories that motivate and engage our consumers, and at the same time specifically identify and highlight foundational aspects of those brand stories, then we will make it easier for our consumers to add their own experiences to our brand story foundation, personalizing the brand to themselves and evangelizing it to all of their friends.  And that sounds like a way forward: not thinking about campaigns, but obsessing over story.

Besides, “campaign” is such a warlike word.  “Story” is so much more inviting, so much more one-to-one, so much more fundamentally human and authentic.  

You know, like the best brands.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

2 thoughts on “Why I’m Re-Reading Robert McKee’s “Story”

  1. dougK says:

    The challenge as i see it, is that very rarely do today’s brand stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.
    5-10 years ago, in the age of television dominance, storytelling was a one-way conversation. We put out If we were lucky) big production tv spots to start the story and then very dutifully pushed the consumer down the funnel and through the buying process. The story was a closed loop. Today, social storytelling enables the consumer to jump into your story at any point in the narrative. Or even change the narrative to add in their own experiences or perceived holes in your story.
    I whole-heartedly agree with the human, authentic nature of storytelling—the analog antidote to this digital barrage of content. I would also add the human traits of listening and interaction and dare i say temperance (as in the letting the consumer decide when the story ends for the night, and not the preordained media plan).
    To me, that’s the storytelling 2.0. Where do you see the story going.

  2. george says:

    so, how is it working out for you? have you found any useful insights into narrative? was the book worth its weight in wading through? are you done with it yet?

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