Stories That Stick

BY: Bob Minihan | Chief Creative Officer

PUBLISHED: 12/7/2020

Storytelling and technology are our two core competencies at MERGE. They are art and science, left brain and right brain, yin and yang. But while we can measure our technology’s effects down to a customer sneezing today, storytelling remains more of a mystery. Why does a guy skateboarding to an old Fleetwood Mac tune holding a bottle of Ocean Spray on Tik Tok become so popular the actual Fleetwood Mac guy parodies it, Ocean Spray gives him a new pickup truck filled with their products, and Tik Tok uses the footage in their brand advertising? Why indeed?


Surprise and authenticity: the emotional epoxy of sticky storytelling.


I grew up in grade school reading my older sister’s college psychology texts (I know – strange kid) and have been reading the literature and publications of my wife’s job (psychiatry) for the last 30 years. Turns out the best thing I ever learned about effective storytelling came from a therapist’s technique:


“Surprise creates a momentary rupture in the thought process. The mind, momentarily confused, is thrown off balance, and in that rare moment, the opportunity arises to introduce a new thought. (It is) a means of disrupting a pattern of thinking and creating a moment of attention in which I can introduce a new idea.”


Disrupting thinking. Creating attention. Introducing ideas. Sound like any business you know?


A sticky story surprises, slipping past the human BS detector and wall of indifference. If you understand the concept of “Person bites dog” in a world of “Dog bites person” stories, you get the idea. And you understand the sticky story behind the skateboard guy (low-paying job that’s miles away, his old pickup breaks down, but unlike 99% of us feeling despair, he then happily rides his skateboard to work!) He unknowingly tapped into the quintessentially American Horatio Alger myth, and reaped the rewards.


Sticky stories are also authentic. Authentically human. They capture a human truth and a human reality. It’s the difference between a person thinking thoughts and an actor saying scripts. No matter what your story, authenticity makes it stickier. Use both together, and you’ve created a powerful emotional bond. Use neither, and you’re spending your money sending out modern-day messages marked “occupant”.


Recently, health-insurance provider Florida Blue reached out and asked us to revisit a couple of stories we started for them two years ago. Surprising and authentic stories that remain sticky today.