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Why Your Story Doesn’t Have To Be 100% True


Sometimes a story doesn’t have to be true, as long as an audience finds it compelling.

Then again, isn’t authenticity going to triumph over pure fiction?

Lets look at it this way; it’s marketing at the end of the day.

A story is presented to entertain people. The question is how far do you spin it from the truth, before you get found out? As consumers we feel more cynical about the behaviour of corporations since the world turned upside down a few years ago.

Hollister’s Fake History

In the past week clothing label Hollister has come out, held their hands up and stated that the company back story was a complete fabrication.

The label was launched in 2000 by Abercrombie & Fitch, but the story started with a man called John F.Hollister who settled in Laguna Beach around 100 years ago.

John left the city life behind and sailed around the South Pacific with his girlfriend Meta. They opened a store in Laguna Beach and sold what they discovered during their journey around the South Pacific. Eventually the store started selling surf wear and this is where the Hollister brand had its routes. A story of adventure, spirit, romance and true independence.

In reality, this was a completely made up narrative to sell clothes.

Robert Rose stated in a Talking Content Marketing interview that the best content is not necessarily telling a true story but by being real (meaning true to the brand). The emotion is real that an audience buys into a story whether it is true or not.

This is an important facet of when content marketing works. It is when an emotional chord has been struck.

It is when a piece of work that has been created elevates from being informative to being engaging. This becomes the seed that is implanted in someone else, so they can make an association with a brand.

In Hollister’s case a man was inspired from what he saw in the South Pacific with his girlfriend and wanted to share this with others via a shop that he had complete control of. Generations later, people can make that association with a story that represents drive, belief and determination.

Do We Want The Truth?

Making an emotional connection will always trump hard facts and figures. In the words of 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “ Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

I couldn’t agree more with this statement.

My Marriage Proposal

Let me put this into context of my engagement to my (now) wife. I asked my then girlfriend to marry me in July 2010, one evening in a beach hut on Sandbanks (here in Poole). The sun was setting, I looked around to make sure no one was watching and I got down on one knee.

All that was in front of us was the sea and a couple of yachts in the distance. She looked at me and said, ‘yes.’ We hugged and both shed a tear.

Well, this is the story we tell everyone who asks ‘how did you propose?’

In reality, it worked out like this. I had arrived home late from London, that meant the plan for fish and chips down the beach had to be shelved. My mum had the beach hut key, so had to drive round her house first to pick up. When we arrived at the beach it was 9.30pm and was getting dark. I put the kettle on in the beach hut and as my girlfriend put a row of Dairy Milk in her mouth. She turned round and I asked her to marry me.

She said yes, but I had to get the torch from my phone, to pick up the ring that I had dropped (plus seeing a woman cry eating Dairy Milk isn’t an emotionally charging sight).

The moral of why I am sharing this is that you tailor a story for your audience. This is how we hold someone’s attention. In the famous words of Mark Twain, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Authenticity Is Paramount Today

A story helps us make an association. It also needs to have an element of authenticity.

This comes to the other side of the coin, if a brand is to win today by showcasing its story to make an association with an audience; it has to have that element of honesty. If it doesn’t, the multitude of channels that are available today will eventually worm you out and you become exposed, just like Hollister.

Imagine if the Hollister fake story reveal was made 12 months after it’s launch (and not 15 years ago, before the days when the term #followback was used), would the brand still be here today? Would the social world have poured scorn onto a new brand?

According to a study (in 2013) by communications and public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe a tiny 3% of Brits, American, Brits, French, Italians, Spanish and Swedes say they believe “big businesses are very honest and transparent.” If we can’t tell the truth, lets be a bit more open about it.

A story is imperative, but I believe that today it needs to have that element of authenticity. We are more cynical as consumers and more sceptical of brands than we have ever been.

The Saltrock Story – Authentic Roots

Let me share with you a British brand and a clothing retailer in a similar vein to Hollister (but on the other side of the scale in terms of a back story). The brand is Saltrock.

The past few months I have got to know Richie Jones (Head of Digital and Marketing), at Saltrock.

The Hollister story came to me from Richie and then had to double-check the back-story to Saltrock.

Saltrock is currently going through a transitional stage. An aggressive strategy to open more stores (they are known for coastal location retailer outlet) and their whole digital footprint is currently being revamped from Richie and his team. However, you trace back to where the brand started and it represents an original and honest story.

The Saltrock story started back in the 1980s when two South African brothers arrived in the UK and to see what surfing had to offer in England. They arrived in Cornwall and this set the foundations, before heading to North Devon and Croyde.

The two brothers (Angus and Ross) originally started making T-shirts and selling them with the name of their favourite place for surfing back in South Africa. They still represent the faces of the company and the values today are still that of when they first began their commercial venture of creativity, adventure, soul and believing that anything is possible.

Lets Round Up

A story helps others understand what we stand for. It helps put you in another place that is beyond the rational. In the words of Robert Rose and Carla Johnson in Experiences: The 7th Era Of Marketing, “Facts are boring. Facts are commodities. Facts are not differentiating.”

If a story doesn’t have to be 100% true today, at least lets make it authentic and have a degree of honesty for what we believe in. As businesses we are here to create a demand. If we can keep others engaged by representing a spirit and not a total fallacy, investing in your storytelling approach can become a differentiating approach.

Image at the top of the article courtesy of Andrew Higgins



The importance of storytelling is explained and a common theme throughout my book, The Content Revolution.

To find out more and to download a free section of the book (no email needed, just download the pdf), click here.

If you want to go straight to Amazon and purchase click here.

If you prefer the electronic version, well that’s all here for you too, click here.

Love to hear what you think of the book and how you are applying a content mindset to your business.

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