The Evolution of Storytelling

Adfero Eight is an annual list of trends set to change the communications landscape. This year, we explore the future of storytelling.

A Century of Storytelling

At each step, we learn. We become better. We tell stories in new ways that capture the public’s attention in a way that holds them. Stories themselves aren’t new but we’ve become better at telling them.


The Greatest Show On Earth

Dubbed “the patron saint of promoters” by Life magazine, American showman P.T. Barnum uses advertising to draw thousands to the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Despite a questionable reputation, Barnum was an innovative businessman. He understood that lively copy paired with bold design could convince people to believe the impossible and spend their money on his shows.


Carrying the News

Skidding by on a bicycle or commanding street corners, paper boys shout the day’s headlines to sell papers. Tabloid journalism is born: the most sensational, pithy lead-ins capture the public’s attention, and a boisterous army of young men make it impossible to miss the story.


Hopeful Voices

During the Great Depression, millions of Americans are comforted and inspired by President Roosevelt’s candid, forthcoming radio addresses. And, filling those spaces between, the first radio advertisements hit the airwaves, charming listeners with friendly voices and catchy jingles.


Suds and Scandals

Proctor & Gamble produces dramatic, fictional stories brought to life by voice actors. This radio programming – which successfully captivates homebound women across America – is created for the sole purpose of advertising P&G’s Ivory soap during sporadic intermissions (hence the term ‘Soap Opera’). Women tune in – and Ivory soap sales soar. Tweet This


Words Through Wires

Teletype machines – used to deliver written messages over telegraph lines – are introduced to newsrooms across the world. No longer relying on operators to translate morse code, journalists and publicists get information in real-time and quickly relay the news to eager audiences. Tweet This


Seeing is Believing

Television introduces the world to exciting – and sometimes painful – images from around the world. NASA is widely praised for its footage of Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Television coverage of the Vietnam War, on the other hand, proves how live images can drastically influence public opinion. Tweet This


A Billion Tiny Stories

In 2006, a little blue bird takes flight and changes journalism and storytelling forever. Today, 500 million micro blogs are generated by people around the world on Twitter each day. The Library of Congress archives tweets to tell the story of America – 170 billion tweets and counting. Tweet This

Anatomy of a Well Told Tale

Let me tell you a story ... Why is it that those words capture our attention like few other statements will? In many ways, we’re hard-wired to perk up and absorb information in story form. Here’s your brain in action when you encounter a story: Tweet This

The Fact Is:

The Fact Is: Facts fire up the Broca’s and Wernicke’s area of the brain that processes facts and language at a basic level.

I Trust What I can See or Hear

Sound and video simulates your auditory and visual cortices. As a result, your attention is heightened, your process stories more quickly and you begin to believe that this really happened.

I Felt Like I Was There

A well-told narrative activates your primary motor cortex. Your brain simulates the motion you experience as if it were happening in real life. You become a participant in the narrative.

Just When They Thought All Hope Was Lost

Conflict (like the kind created when you’re not sure whether a character will survive) triggers the release of cortisol and oxytocin (also called the empathy chemical) making you more generous, charitable, and compassionate. These powerful chemicals lock the story in your mind and memory. Tweet This

You Have to Hear This

When several areas of your brain activate at once, you can’t help but be engaged. This intense experience spurs you to action, lighting up the prefrontal cortex, where choices are made. Like the choice to tell a friend about what you learned.

A More Convincing Story

Some say the simplest stories win.
But maybe it’s really the most sophisticated stories that win.
Today we have the technology for the next chapter in capturing the public’s attention. It’s a shift from tell me a story to make me a part of the story.

Adfero Eight

This year’s Adfero Eight list is the examination of one large trend, with an analysis of eight of the elements we predict will play a role in this storytelling surge.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Website user experience (UX) takes on a new dimension and information is furnished – i.e. the story unfolds – based on a user’s actions and decisions. The “Choose Your Own Adventure” concept can be implemented as a game-like experience, exemplified by the Philips “Designed to Play” video campaign; it can also be carried out with by asking users to complete a short quiz wherein the answers they provide inform the “bespoke” content they are served. Tweet This

Building Brand Promise

Organizations use a plethora of engaging content to connect directly with supporters and/or consumers. Offering an excellent product or service is valuable; organizations who position themselves as a resource thrive in the long term. We’ll see more organizations using content as a way to fulfill their brand promise. The National Retail Federation, for example, offers a veritable library of useful information for members and non-members alike. Tweet This

Single Call to Action

Persuasive pieces conclude with a single, concise call to action. Vote No on Prop X. Shop Small Business Saturday. Investing in a rich multimedia piece or long form editorial is only worthwhile if you make your motives clear. You tell the story to engage and to motivate; don’t make the mistake of assuming you “ask” is implicit – or worse, not asking at all. Tweet This


The donation process is demystified by showing users the story of what happens with their hard-earned cash. Beyond powerful images and videography that communicates the organization’s raison d’etre, charity: water invites users to see for themselves how funding is used. Through the “Dollars to Projects” initiative, every dollar raised is publicly tracked; contributors can even receive a detailed report of the specific project they helped fund. Tweet This

Employee Profiles

Organizations connect with audiences by lifting the curtain on their own employees, effectively taking the anonymity out of their operations. Increasingly, people want to connect more deeply with the brands they support – we’re naturally curious about the people behind the products, services and causes we are drawn to. Tweet This

Storyteller Empowerment

The power of your brand is demonstrated by giving third parties – writers, artists, photo journalists, et al – free reign to tell your story for you. Mercedes Benz, for example, endorsed five talented Instagram photographers by inviting them to document their adventures in a Mercedes CLA. The Mercedes PR team ceded complete control to the “guest storytellers” – and the campaign was a wild success. Tweet This

Data Manipulation

The “story” of raw data is brought to life by creating responsive charts and diagrams. Users can manipulate certain inputs to see how a story might change in real time. As part of a project called the “Federal Budget Challenge,” Next 10 invited users to make choices about how they would reduce the federal deficit through a number of avenues. Once a user accepts or rejects a particular policy, the program reflects how that decision would alter the projected 10-year budget deficit. Tweet This

Crowdsourcing Stories

A mosaic of user-generated content propels the story forward. Like Storyteller Empowerment, supporters are invited to share their experience with a brand – but the crowdsourcing approach means that the opportunity is not limited to a select few. Residents of Columbus, Ohio were invited to partake of the #lifeincbus campaign, which aggregates a variety of rich content related to the city’s culture on a central portal. This smorgasbord of text, images, video and more gives external audiences a taste of Columbus’ unique way of life. Tweet This