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The Power of Personal Stories

May 17, 2007

Charities have always done a great job of using personal stories to motivate people to act.  Now marketers and advocacy groups have embraced this tactic. A Washington Post article reports on how marketers are engaging customers to promote their products through personal stories.  For example, major companies are asking customers to develop their own ads to explain why they purchase particular cars or deodorant. This is a sign that Madison Avenue recognizes that consumers are now in control of brands and the messages.

"Grant McCracken, a cultural anthropologist affiliated with MIT, says participatory advertising represents a "revolution" in thinking. It means marketers are actually ‘inviting’ consumers ‘into the production of meaning,’ he says. ‘Just a few years ago people were still talking about trying to find and push the hot button inside the consumer.’”

Fresh_airThis shift is also occurring in the advocacy realm.  Fresh Air Minnesota was created to reframe the debate around a state-wide smoking ban in Minnesota.  Initially, media coverage focused on how the proposed smoking ban may put some small bar and restaurant owners out of business.  The personal stories of these owners comprised a large part of the coverage.

In the face of these pressing personal stories, Fresh Air Minnesota recognized that the debate needed to focus on the health reason for supporting a smoking ban.  Bar and restaurant employees were being impacted by the negative health consequences of secondhand smoke.  The Fresh Air web site captured the personal stories on this side of the debate and helped distribute those stories out to the public.  In the end, this effort successfully reframed the debate and put a personal face on the health impacts of secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants and bars, which served as an effective counterpoint to the financial impacts first reported by the media.

This shows that personal stories can have a large impact in shifting public perception and elected officials’ opinions.  Collecting personal stories can effectively demonstrate how your issue impacts “people like me.”  And that is one of the most persuasive ways to make your argument.

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