MEC Wavemaker

We're all still cavemen at heart

While the way we tell stories has changed, the reason for doing so - to bring people together - is no different from when our prehistoric ancestors painted on walls

Davies...“Successful storytelling is about providing a glue that resonates with people and bonds them together”
Davies...“Successful storytelling is about providing a glue that resonates with people and bonds them together”

Apes don’t groom to look pretty, they do it to bond. Equally, humans don’t tell stories for aesthetic reasons – we do it to bond and create connections with those around us. Since we stopped picking fleas from each other’s arses and started to bond by telling stories through art or words, you would have thought the corresponding thousands of years of human development and evolution would have completely changed storytelling. They haven’t, they shouldn’t and they won’t.

I don’t think that "the art" of delivering a narrative from a storyteller – be that a "professional" from today or a prehistoric cave artist decorating the caves of Lascaux – has altered much at all. They abide to the one golden rule to the art of story-telling: stories are there to act as social glue.

However, the places where we tell and consume stories have, of course, followed an evolutionary path. Simplistically, cave art led to the oral tradition, which itself led to musical storytelling. Johannes Gutenburg’s printing press meant that stories could be distributed to a wider audience still, and the evolution continued with radio, film and TV. All of these media gave us the opportunity to bond with an increasing number of people through a shared experience.

The past 15 years have seen technology advances that have changed the way we live our lives beyond recognition, much as Gutenburg’s innovation did in 1439. These advances have also enabled us to be truer to ourselves, providing a bigger platform and better opportunities to tell stories, connect and bond.

Social media sites are called that for a reason and we went on the early iterations, such as Friends Reunited, for the simple pleasures of being able to discuss and rekindle our common interests, beliefs or just the needs we have. The stories we told on these platforms were as simple as the platforms themselves to begin with – status updates and pictures that we could comment on or share if we liked them. 

The next phase of platforms then allowed us to express ourselves and tell stories even better. Blogs, vlogs and gifs all enabled us to become broadcasters in our own right, while mobile allowed us to share and consume and bond throughout the day.

It’s important to remember in a world where the word "content" has been bandied around so much to become almost meaningless that our networks and the platforms we use are made up of people and not content – content is just the means to an end, as it always has been. 

The real art is in crafting the story – something that people want to indulge in, to share, to discuss and to bond over. To do that, we must draw on the same things that inspired those cave artists and understand the people, the landscape and the culture in which they exist.

Much as the travelling bard in medieval England would tell a story and adapt it depending on the context of where he was telling it to make it relevant, successful contemporary storytellers are able to draw on resources, insights and, yes, data to make their stories relevant and create the bond they are looking for.

So while the means may have changed, the art really hasn’t. Successful storytelling isn’t just about the aesthetic – nice as that sometimes is. It’s about providing a glue that resonates with people and bonds them together. Otherwise, you might as well just be picking your arse.

If you could get anyone to write (or direct) your story, who would it be? Shane Meadows.
Which section of the bookshop do you find yourself browsing in? Graphic novels.
Best storyline you’ve seen in recent years? True Detective.
What’s the most compelling brand narrative you’ve seen in your life? Google.
What story makes you cry? A sad one.
Which fictional character would you hire? Q – from Bond.
Who would narrate your story? Patrick Stewart.
What’s your nemesis? The unadventurous.

by Matt Davies, UK managing director, MEC Wavemaker

Matt leads the evolution of MEC’s content offering, to ensure it delivers brand experiences at the points on the customer journey where they can have most business impact for clients

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