A brilliant new marketing book destined to become a classic

A review of Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Live — and Tell — the Best Stories Will Rule the Future, by Jonah Sachs

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

If you’ve never seen the wildly popular online videos The Story of Stuff and The Meatrix, do yourself a favor and check them out. These two outstanding examples of the marketer’s craft embody the insights revealed in Jonah Sachs’ outstanding new book, Winning the Story Wars.

For years now, everyone involved in marketing, fundraising, communications, social media, or any related field has been intensely aware that the key to successful messaging is a story. In this beautifully written book, Jonah Sachs explains why that is so, what’s needed for a successful story, and how to construct one, step by step.

As Sachs writes, “the oral tradition that dominated human experience for all but the last few hundred years is returning with a vengeance. It’s a monumental, epoch-making, totally unforeseen turn of events.” If these statements strike you as hyperbolic, consider this: the nearly universal distrust of institutional authority (whether governmental, corporate, or religious) that has become a distinguishing feature of our society over the past five decades, combined with the atomization of our information sources (500 TV channels, one billion Facebook users, 500 million Tweeters), makes it absolutely essential that anyone who needs to deliver a message to a very large number of people must couch it in the form of a story with broad appeal across all the lines that divide us (and define us). As Sachs explains, “Great brands and campaigns are sensitive to the preferences of different types of audiences, but the core stories and the values they represent can be appreciated by anyone. Universality is the opposite of insincerity.”

Winning the Story Wars is, simultaneously, an honest and occasionally embarrassing tale of Sachs’ own halting progress toward understanding the craft of story-making, an exploration of the cultural and anthropological roots of the archetypal stories that live on in our consciousness, and, ultimately, a lucid, practical guidebook to building your own stories.

Sachs has done his homework. He has read Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung as well as the Bible, delved deeply into the history of marketing and advertising, and explored contemporary advertising, as exemplified by the Marlboro Man, the rule-breaking 1960s campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle (“Think Small.”), and Apple’s more recent “1984” and “Think Different” campaigns. He manages to tie together all these disparate sources and examples within the framework of an entirelly original analysis. Along the way, Sachs reveals how three men — Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, and “the father of public relations,” Joseph Bernays — transformed the American economy by shifting  public consciousness from the values of our Puritan heritage to the dictates of the marketplace, enshrining consumerism as the dominant feature in our ethos. It’s truly brilliant.

Sachs bases his analysis on ‘the ‘three commandments’ laid out in 1895 by marketing’s first great storyteller, John Powers: Tell the Truth, Be Interesting, and Live the Truth.” Sachs emphasizes the importance of avoiding “Marketing’s five deadly sins: vanity, authority, insincerity, puffery, and gimmickry.”

If you’re engaged in marketing, advertising, fundraising, or anything even reasonably related to them, you must read this book.

1 Comment

Filed under Business, Nonfiction

One response to “A brilliant new marketing book destined to become a classic

  1. There are three key components to using storytelling as a marketing technique. Sachs spends the most time on telling the truth because there are so many components to this. For example, Sachs notes that we have shifted away from “This product will make you feel whole” to “Participating in this community that is striving to improve the world will make you feel whole.” This is called empowerment marketing, and one of the companies that does the best at this is Nike. By showing people accomplishing amazing things and then saying, “Just do it,” Nike is telling you that you too can do amazing things. Of course, buying Nike products will help you, it’s implied, but the emphasis still rests on you becoming empowered to do amazing things.

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