SOURCE: Free Range Studios

Free Range Studios

July 11, 2012 10:26 ET

A Hidden Battle Is Shaping the Future of Marketing, and the World

In an Age of Media Overload, Empowering Stories Are the Weapons That Determine Which Communicators and Ideas Will Prevail, According to Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs

OAKLAND, CA--(Marketwire - Jul 11, 2012) - Brands, ideas and causes fight to capture the hearts and minds of audiences, but few prevail. Those that do are the ones that tell stories worth spreading, stories that appeal to long-cherished, affirmative human values. Welcome to the Story Wars.

Today, everyone and anyone can weigh in, tune out, embrace, or reject a brand's story. People are now demanding much more of the messages they choose to spread. But when they do find messages they love, they turn those campaigns into iconic breakthroughs, rallying armies of evangelists.

In Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell - and Live - the Best Stories Will Rule the Future (Harvard Business Review Press, July 2012), Jonah Sachs, internationally recognized story analyst and co-founder of Free Range Studios, shows why only the strongest stories -- those built on "empowerment" messages -- will survive this war. Whether consumer brand managers or political activists, readers of Winning the Story Wars will be able to understand and master the rapidly evolving storytelling -- and marketing -- landscape. (Sachs' work on viral videos like "The Meatrix," "Grocery Store Wars," and "The Story of Stuff" series has brought social issues to the attention of more than 60 million viewers.)

"Throughout the ages, great stories are the only things that have reliably changed people's minds and behavior," says Sachs. "And today, where traditional cultural stories have crumbled, marketers have stepped in to fill the void. Unfortunately for most campaigns, marketers have yet to learn the secrets of great storytelling. Those that do will win the future and not only drive commerce but also drive development of our culture."

In the "Digitoral Era," Conventional Marketing Approaches Are Likely Losers

This is a time of peril for marketers, but also a time of tremendous opportunity. The old approaches of "inadequacy" marketing are starting to backfire. "Inadequacy" marketing creates a sense of urgent need and then sells an easy fix. People are less likely to engage with negative messages that play on their fears, insecurities, and weaknesses; they are also less likely to share and celebrate negative "inadequacy" stories.

One of the earliest examples of "inadequacy" marketing came from Listerine, which featured "Sad Edna," a young woman who would never find a man because of her bad breath. Since then, marketers have used inadequacy messages to sell everything from Cadillacs to soap to Presidential candidates.

"In a digital world focused on peer-to-peer sharing, you can't be successful if people are not sharing your message," says Sachs. "And if your message isn't delivered in the form of a positive empowering story, people will be less motivated to share it."

Tell Powerful, Authentic Stories or Risk Backlash from Target Audiences

Today's "Digitoral Era" is much like the storytelling traditions of old -- in which great stories are shared across an entire community. In an environment where mass communication relies on shared stories, a message with affirmative human values has the greatest potential to engage the audience and create a movement behind the message.

Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign is emblematic of empowerment marketing: using real women, and delivering a strong, positive message that every woman is beautiful in her own skin. It is a direct attack on the inadequacy marketing of most beauty products companies (i.e., that you can't be beautiful as you are, you need a product to make you beautiful).

In addition, communicators who rely on outdated "broadcast" traditions -- i.e., talking at the audience using traditional one-way mass-market tactics -- will get lost in the overloaded background noise of media static. And poor brand messages are likely to be trampled, even dismantled, by a skeptical public, creating the potential for negative backlash.

For example, Kenneth Cole infuriated his customers by sending out a tweet that seemed to belittle the importance of historic political events in Egypt. Fiji Water's "green" claims were quickly and angrily debunked in a very public way. And Pepsi's customer-driven charitable giving campaign backfired: though 85 million people voted on where to donate, soda sales dropped amid controversy over the product's "values" -- i.e., whether they were truly aligned with the values of the audience in areas like health and the environment.

A Manual for Winning the Story Wars

The most successful branding campaigns engage and activate people's innate quest for meaning, values, and ritual -- taking them on a journey toward their higher purpose. Winning the Story Wars delivers practical guidance for how to engage and activate that innate quest.

Sachs offers real-world examples of stories and campaigns that work, and those that don't. He outlines the essential elements of great storytelling, and gives readers the chance to test their own marketing messages and stories to see how they stack up. He also defines the worst storytelling sins that marketers and communicators should avoid.

"To triumph in the Story Wars, marketers first need to clearly see the battlefield that is reshaping not only the world of commerce, but the rest of our world. They must understand the 'crowdsourcing' dimension of digital communications. In this world, those who master great storytelling will achieve the greatest triumph: people will continue to spread the story -- whether it's about an idea, movement, brand or product -- long after the message has been delivered," he says.

To speak with Jonah Sachs, or to receive a copy of Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell - and Live - the Best Stories Will Rule the Future, please contact Katarina Wenk-Bodenmiller of Sommerfield Communications, Inc. at (212) 255-8386 or More information and a video illustrating the Story Wars can be found at

Jonah Sachs is an internationally recognized storyteller, author, designer and entrepreneur. As the co-founder and creative director of Free Range Studios, Jonah has helped hundreds of social brands and causes break through the media with campaigns built on sound storytelling strategies. His work on legendary viral videos like "The Meatrix," "Grocery Store Wars," and "The Story of Stuff" series has brought key social issues to the attention of more than 60 million viewers and his interactive work has been honored with "Best Of" awards three times at the standard-setting South By Southwest interactive culture festival. Jonah and his work have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, FOX News, Sundance Film Festival, NPR, The Colbert Report, and in Fast Company Magazine, which named him one of the 50 most influential social innovators. Follow him on Twitter @jonahsachs.

Free Range Studios works with visionary companies and organizations to create story-based brands, transforming clients' visions for a better future into emotionally compelling media -- from interactive and mobile to print and video. The company has offices in Washington, DC and Oakland, CA. For more information, visit Follow them on Twitter @freerangestudio

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