It seems everyone in advertising is desperate to call themselves a storyteller.

They write articles about storytelling, they give lectures, make videos, even offer courses on storytelling.

They must be seen to have mastered the ancient craft of storytelling.

They want everyone to know they can keep an entire village spellbound around the fire, with their tales.

Well, unlike everyone else in advertising, I’m not a storyteller.

I’ve always been a creative director.

And I never had a storyteller in any of my departments.

I never hired storytellers, I hired thinkers, creative people.

The change from copywriters and art directors to storytellers is part of the artisanal trend.

Everything must be stone ground, or made by hand, or traced back to some pre-industrial roots.

So storytelling harks back to the days before video games and mobile phones.

Before television, before electricity.

When we’d sit around the fire and drink mead and eat venison.

Listening to the skilled weaver of tales who held the yokels spellbound.

That’s all very well.

But the storyteller never had to actually sell a product.

Beowulf wasn’t sponsored by anyone.

It was just a story.

And also the storyteller was guaranteed the full attention of his audience.

There was no competition.

It was his story or nothing.

But today there’s £20 billion spent on advertising in the UK.

And 89% of it is not noticed or remembered.

That’s roughly £18 billion ignored, because it’s all wallpaper.

So nine out of ten storytellers are talking to themselves.

Of course what everyone loves about being called a ‘storyteller’ is that it can be defined as whatever you like.

So anyone can claim to do it.

Wherever job you do, you can make it sound like telling a story.

Whether you’re a ‘marketing storyteller’, a ‘digital storyteller’, a ‘financial storyteller’, a brand ‘storyteller’, or a ‘management storyteller’.

All you have to do is add storyteller to the end of your job title to make it sound more creative.

Which is why I find it patronising to be called a storyteller.

It demeans the real job of advertising.

The job I’m supposed to be doing.

Which is getting my message noticed and remembered.

In the old days, storytellers got noticed simply by telling a story.

They were the only one in their village doing it.

Nowadays everyone, everywhere is doing it all the time.

So being a storyteller just means being exactly like everyone else.

Being part of the wallpaper.

Which guarantees you won’t get noticed or remembered.

Just like the other £18 billion of storytellers all telling similar stories.

The £2 billion that gets noticed are the ones concentrating on making themselves different from everyone else.

Concentrating on standing out from the wallpaper.


The ones who aren’t storytellers.