This is the last article in the “Six PR Tactics that Grab Attention Like ‘Orange is the New Black’” series.

This post examines the use of storytelling to inspire a great idea for a communications campaign.

“Orange is the New Black” is centered on the idea of storytelling (as mentioned in the article about simplicity). This is apparent from the show’s tagline: “Every sentence is a story.”

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Storytelling is a tool used mainly to trigger emotion in the audience. That emotion is what makes people care, but the story is what makes people act.

In OITNB, the main character, Piper, goes to prison for trafficking drug money. Why should you care?

  • Because she was young, rebellious and impulsive when she committed the crime.
  • Because who didn’t break the law in their youth? Underage drinking, speeding in your first car, maybe even smoking illegal substances. We’ve all committed at least one crime.
  • Because someone she loved influenced Piper to make those poor decisions out of desperation.
  • Because after all was said and done, she knew she had made a mistake, turned her life around to be the average, law-abiding citizen, then got caught for her youthful mistakes almost a decade later.

I care because I don’t think my tax dollars should be used to ruin the lives of nonviolent men and women like Piper. I can relate to Piper. I empathize with Piper. I could have been Piper if I had been dealt her circumstances. 

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Caring is the first step to inspiring action, which is why the elements of emotions and storytelling are so tightly knit. The stories behind OITNB make me want to change the criminal justice system, because the stories in OITNB clearly show the system can be unjust.

The character Poussey points out in one episode that most of the women in the prison are serving 15 years for letting their boyfriends conduct drug deals in their kitchens because they were too afraid they’d get beaten if they said no. There are many underlying problems in this world that cause people to commit crimes. 

Watching OITNB inspires me to make a difference in our criminal justice system, but the show doesn’t tell me how I can take action. OITNB is simply a television show made for entertainment and is not intended to promote political action. 

However, imagine what you could do with a communications campaign that told a story and did asked the audience to take specific action? You could move mountains!

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently launched a series of commercials titled “Tips From Formers Smokers.” One commercial shows people who are living with tracheotomies as a result of smoking cigarettes. They give advice on how to do day-to-day activities, such as taking a shower and bending over. It demonstrates how difficult it is to live with a tracheotomy. The stories seem to be effective in convincing people to quit a smoking habit.

Stories show how your product or service will influence lives. A story communicates the benefit of your product. It turns the abstract into the concrete. 

Evoke emotion to make your audience care, then tell a story to inspire action. If you do, your campaign will be made to stick.

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