Going as far back into the annals of human history as we can, storytelling has always been an important part of our social structures.
Before television, radio and even print, communication still needed to happen, people still wanted to be entertained, and communities needed a way to pass information on from one generation to the next; teaching them, informing them, and helping them to conform to societal norms that contributed to a cohesive way of life.
This has, for as far back as we could form sentences and words, been chiefly delivered through storytelling, and every age with its particular set of media, has used different channels to tell stories for a great many reasons.
Oral Storytelling, Remembering History and Educating the Tribe
Let’s begin with the oldest known method of storytelling, acting and oral communication. It is a form that has stood the test of time since time first started being measured by people, and despite being the oldest form, it is arguably the most captivating.
It is widely used, as it was when we were tribesmen sitting around a campfire, to serve as many important functions as it did hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.
Every culture in the world has a history, its own interpretation of events, and by and large we can attribute our understanding of the past to the means through which it was delivered from one generation to the next; orally.
Stories told by community leaders were a means of not only passing on history, but remembering it as well, as these leaders were expected to remember, word-for-word, every event in their community’s history.
How did they remember this? Through the various tools and tropes often used in poetry, such as rhyme schemes and syllable patterns, entire corpuses of information and events could be accurately documented and remembered by using these patterns that made them simple to retain.
This means of storytelling was also used to pass on important lessons to the younger tribe members. How to survive, find food, protect yourself and spot dangers were all taught through oral storytelling.
In fact, many of the nursery rhymes that we know and love today, started out as a lesson being told to a community around a campfire; as is the case with community classics like Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel.
Didactics and the Art of Storytelling
Didactics, the art of visual storytelling, became a popular form of education and entertainment during the Renaissance period, largely thanks to the Catholic Church, though it was used to document events, praise people and gods, and to educate the masses long before that.
These forms of instruction were so effective, that we are still learning about ancient civilisations through the artworks that were created within them. In fact, most of what we know about the Greek and Roman empires comes from interpretations of their art-works.
Visual storytelling is as strong today as it has ever been, and is published on a far wider scale. No longer does an artwork take years of perfection to be completed, storytellers on the street can simply snap an image using their phones, apply the appropriate filter and upload it to a platform such as Instagram or Facebook and have their story seen by thousands, if not millions of people.
This is significant to our communities whether representing individuals, companies, groups or many other entities, and will likely have the same importance in the future as it does now, and has in the past.
Analogue Media, Print, Radio and Television
Print, radio and television all emerged in their own time periods, under their own conditions and with varying consequences, but all of them have one thing in common, they are forms of mass communication, a means of sending a single message out to a massive audience all over the world. Our newer generations that grew up alongside the internet may not fully appreciate the significance of this since they are all media which are everything but redundant by now; I say that because they still have their own place in society, especially where they have evolved to keep up with the interactivity of the internet.
Let’s start with print, the first form of mass media which had a profound effect on the way that the world creates and consumes information and stories.
Prints were around long before they could mass produce a text to be distributed. The first known form, a Chinese method called xylography used wood blocks to create prints as early on as 868AD. One such example of a work printed through this method was entitled the Diamond Sutra, which documented the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. However it wasn’t until the industrial revolution called for a need for a largely literate public that print came into its own. The printing press was invented somewhere around 1450 and could, for the first time ever, be consumed by all members of society, and not just the literate elite. In this way there was a new era of literature, stories were being created, published, shipped out and consumed on mass, as were instructive pamphlets and manifestos, such as Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, which arguably may never have seen the light of day without the help of print media.
Radio was next, and the use of sound-effects to embolden a story while delivering it far and wide in an entertaining and engaging format took the world by storm. The radio became the centre of the home much in the way that television eventually would. Families would gather around clunky boxes in their sitting rooms, enjoying fantastical stories, listening to the progress of the war or listening to history as it unfurled around them. Shows like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and War of the Worlds were aired all over the planet, the latter of which actually resulted in widespread public panic when listeners assumed the show to be a news clipping, having not yet acquainted themselves with this type of story on the radio.
Television arrived and developed rapidly, killing the radio-star, as it was said, though rather forcing the other media to specialise and adapt to find its niche in the market. Still, eyes were glued to screens for generations after that, and as time went television sets got bigger, crisper and flatter. Shows became more canonical, intricate and engaging, choices between networks gave rise to consumer preferences, and before we knew it, there was a television in every home.
Having always been around TV, we may not appreciate the significance of this mode of storytelling. For the first time, all other means of storytelling (namely audio, visual and oral) became wrapped up in a single package, changing the way, once more, that we consume and enjoy stories. Though through all of these changes something remained the same. Stories were still used to inform, drive trust, educate and entertain, just as they had in the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans, just as they will hundreds of years from now.
Digital Media: Who’s Story is it Anyway?
Digital media, particularly the internet, turned all media that came before it on their heads. While essentially fulfilling the same storytelling functions as the other media, digital ones offered consumers and producers so much more in terms of engagement, excitement and quantity. Though the true power of the internet has never lied in its abovementioned qualities, but in something far more subtle, though unbelievably substantial; the upsetting of gatekeeper roles in society at large.
Gatekeepers have been around for as long as media has, which is a long, long time. They are those individuals and institutions responsible for deciding what gets seen by whom, and what doesn’t. In the past (before digital media), getting these privileges required a staggering amount of money and power, and so only a select few could get them. Digital media, with its easily and affordably publishable content completely changed this, taking the power of information out of the hands of the elite minority and putting it into the public that consumed it on mass.
Though while we are all telling stories now, and not just our ‘tribal leaders’, the function of storytelling has still remained the same. We use them to share experiences, build a reputation, inform those around us, to educate and to entertain them. The method of delivery, the frequency at which stories can be shared, and even the tropes which make them up, are still largely intact, if not enhanced.
Contact Right Click Media to Have Your Brand’s Story Told
This has made storytelling an important part of marketing, and in a world where everybody can publish their own stories at any time, consumers are looking to their favourite brands to do the same. They are looking for a way to connect with them, to build trust with them and to see the value in them. This means that marketers need to become, if they wish to succeed, excellent storytellers. They need a means of connecting with their consumers that is deeply rooted in what it is that makes us human and social. Remember that storytelling has been guiding our communities for hundreds, nay thousands of years, making stories a core part of who we are. Now imagine being able to leverage the deeply-seeded power of that when communicating your brand.
Looking for a unique and effective way to get your brand out there? Contact a representative from Right Click Media today to have your brand’s story heard by the right people.