Once upon a time: How stories contribute to great advertising.

Written by: Mat Garbutt

I recently took a trip to New York and Boston to learn about storytelling for business. So what can telling tales contribute to the commercial world? Allow me to explain with a story.

One frosty Sunday morning, my wife and I were enjoying a rare lie-in and cup of tea in bed. Suddenly a blood-curdling scream erupted from upstairs, exploding the serenity. I jumped up to investigate and discovered our 11-year-old son, Connor, staring into his sister’s room, horror spread across his face. Then I saw the cause of his distress—her pet rabbit, Ghibli, lay cold and stiff on the floor.

My daughter had gone away for the weekend and left Connor in charge of looking after Ghibli, a job he’d fulfilled with great care. This was simply a cruel act of the rabbit gods. Once I’d calmed and consoled Connor somewhat, I knew what had to be done. I gently gathered up the small corpse, fetched a shovel, and headed to our backyard.

 The soil where we live is dense and dark, and digging the grave was more difficult than I’d anticipated. After toiling for minute or two, I stopped and turned to find our two dogs sitting watching proceedings. Licking their lips, they glanced from me, to the shallow grave, to Ghibli’s body, and then back to me. Now I’m no dog whisperer, but it was clear that unless action was taken, Ghibli wouldn’t remain buried for very long.

Losing her beloved bunny was bad enough, but then having it dug up and paraded around the backyard by two triumphant ‘oodles was a spectacle I needed to spare Abbey from. I looked around for a solution, and then I spotted it—a big rock! I quickly covered Ghibli over, then hefted the boulder on top of the grave. Winnie and Peppa would need dynamite to reach Ghibli now.

Pleased with my ingenuity, I was heading back inside to my cup of tea when a thought hit me. There was no way I could tell Abbey that I’d dumped a huge rock on her dead rabbit to stop the dogs from clawing their way to its corpse. Far too blunt. But then I had an idea.

When Abbey got home, I broke the news gently and led her to the backyard to show her the “monument” I’d created. I then explained that whenever she was feeling sad, she could come out and spend time at the newly christened “Ghibli Rock”. There were still tears of course, but the sense of ceremony definitely helped ease the pain.

Thinking about it later, I realised that what I’d done was find a highly practical solution—the rock—and then imbued it with meaning via a story. By creating “Ghibli Rock”, I’d transformed a dog-proof barrier into a talisman blessed with the power to summon fond memories and heal grief. And, at its best, that’s what advertising does, too: takes a client’s logical solution and then uses story to inject it with emotion and magic.

The end.