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Kurt Vonnegut: Why Stories Appeal

In a post from last year, Derek Sivers writes about a talk he attended in which Kurt Vonnegut explained why stories appeal to people. Check it out here. Vonnegut drew up a few common story arcs like this one, for Cinderella:

 

 

Note the dramatic ups and downs. This is what makes a story interesting. The twists and turns pull at our emotions and make us pay attention. Then Vonnegut sketched out the story arc of our lives:

 

 

And so it goes. Most people’s lives are pretty boring. We do the same stuff day in and day out. Normal things like answering emails, grocery shopping, and picking up the kids from soccer. Very few of us outsmart our wicked step sisters and dance with the prince at the ball. That’s partly why stories are so gripping.

That’s also why people are drawn to brands with great stories (or brands that tell great stories). Very few of us see ourselves as creative. But if I buy an iPhone (or even better, an iPad), I can borrow Apple’s story for my own use. Now my story is more creative and hip, because I have an iPad.

If I drive a Mini Cooper, I borrow Mini’s story and I perceive that my life is more fun, because now I don’t just drive, I “motor.” Even a brand of peanut butter can signal that one mom is “choosier,” and therefore more caring, than another.

Consumers use brand stories to say something about their own stories. Often to improve them.

Is your brand story good enough to inspire people to add it to their own?

UPDATE (4/29/10): I stumbled across another version of Kurt Vonnegut’s speech on story arcs, this one is written by Vonnegut himself. Just as interesting as Sivers’ take, though a little different. Check it out here.

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