Fischer’s Narrative Theory, as described by Edgar and Volkman in Using Communication Theory for Health Promotion: Practical Guidance on Message Design and Strategy, reflects the fundamental premise of The Storytelling Animal: We are all storytellers; we all relate to story. Edgar and Volkman write:
“… people are essentially storytellers and that we live in a world full of stories. When people hear another’s story, it helps provide an understanding about the world.”
In Mediated communication of ‘sustainable consumption’ in the alternative media: a case study exploring a message framing strategy, Kolandai-Matchett describe a sustainable consumption mediated communications campaign in Christchurch, New Zealand, as having an “emotional appeal,” which was influenced by the notion of caring. The campaign featured workers in developing countries and other negative effects of consumerism. In essence, the campaign told a story – providing context for the need for sustainable consumption.
Stories provide the context for ideas and are an effective means of communications, particularly with regard for advocating change. Tips from a Smoker, an anti-smoking campaign featuring Terrie Hall, a woman whose voice box was removed as part of her cancer recovery treatment, is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have influenced about 100,000 Americans to quit smoking. The ads featured Hall’s morning routine: putting in her teeth, inserting her hand-operated voice control device and putting on her wig – all the while talking about how she used to be a smoker.
I do think, however, that narrative and/or story as a means of persuasive communication needs to be used judiciously. While the story and the storyteller need to be compelling, there is the potential for one or both to overshadow the message. For example, remember the YouTube video of the woman sitting on the toilet. There was certainly a story involved there – but none of us could remember the name of the product being promoted. Yes, we were prompted to look it up, but the goal of narrative theory-based communication should be instant recall of the message and the story.