Stories We Loved: 2016

WE Communications Blog: Consumer

— Bill Schultz, EVP 

I’m a voracious reader of “Best of” lists – films, music, books and, of course, stories.  At WE Communications, we thrive on stories that are in motion – stories that live, breathe and pulse with the same energy as their audience.  So, it is fitting that we begin the year taking a look at the stories WE loved in 2016 and that will shape our approach for the stories we will tell in 2017.

Many “best stories” lists  are compiled based on factors such as the most read, the most liked, the most shared and so on.  Our list is a little different. We deconstructed the most compelling story elements. The indelible characters and memorable visuals. The impactful data that creates conversations across channels.   Here’s a look at what will influence us in the year ahead.

Indelible Characters. The heart and soul of any good story is its characters.  They are what drive us to swipe the screen.  They also, hopefully, leave us with lessons we can draw from.

One of the most enduring characters this year was President Obama. His final year focused on cementing his legacy and we saw that in a bevy of stories designed to capture the essence of Barack. WIRED’s November “Frontiers” issue, which Obama guest edited, was a stand out. Guest editors are nothing new to WIRED. But it is the first time a sitting President edited a magazine. The content, along with the act of collaborating with WIRED, is emblematic of Obama’s passion and optimism for the future. Scott Dadich, editor in chief of WIRED, said in his opening: “[Obama’s] job (and ours) is to keep chasing frontiers.” We couldn’t think of a better pairing! 

Obama Wired

Memorable visuals. The old idiom – a picture is worth a thousand words –  has never been more true in today’s fragmented media environment. Now, more so than ever, image-first stories create an emotional connection and propel people to share and talk about them.  In our Stories in Motion research, 20 percent of respondents said an image would drive them to share branded stories. So, what images made a lasting impression in 2016?

We learned about the history of African American culture via the New York Times photo essay and story on the opening of The National Museum of African American History and Culture. We laughed along with Chewbacca Mom and smiled as she was rewarded for her authenticity. We loved photos and videos of sports, fashion and food. Yet, perhaps the most enduring visuals evoked the challenges we faced in the US and around the world.

In the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality, one image captured them all: the photo of Ieshia Evans standing alone and silent to face two heavily-armed officers in Baton Rouge.  The image itself became a story, taking the Internet by storm and creating a wave of coverage. As she said so eloquently in her interview with CBS This Morning, “sometimes, silence speaks volumes.”  It did.  Similarly, the photo of Omran Daqneesh – a 5-year-old boy from Aleppo – spurred action in the form of calls to European governments to open the doors to more refugees and an increase in donations to humanitarian organizations.

Aleppo and Baton Rouge

Impactful Data. The best stories leave us with something – a lasting memory, a lesson learned. I personally love a story that teaches me something new.  The age of Big Data has popularized the data-rich -- and, typically, digitally interactive – story. 

So many to choose from. The New York Times asked “Is sushi really healthy?”  The Wall Street Journal visually represented just what the odds of winning the lottery (1 in 292 million) look like.  Brands even got in on the game. Spotify one-upped its data-inspired ad campaign and rewarded fans who streamed featured artists the most with custom gifts, creating a viral, shareable story. 

New York Times Sushi Data

Conversation starters. What were some of the stories that got us talking in 2016? A favorite at WE was Neal Gabler’s Atlantic Monthly cover story: The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans

The Atlantic

This personal, unfiltered essay became one of the buzziest pieces of the year, generating its own coverage, thousands of comments online and over 250K shares across social media.  A great deal of that talk examined whether Neal could credibly serve as the poster child for Middle America’s economic woes, being a highly paid journalist living in New York.  Regardless of your opinion– and your own bank account balance – we could all relate to the story in some way because it got us talking about a subject many of us consider to be taboo: money.  At WE, this story inspired us so much that we invited Neal Gabler to take part in Open Account with SuChin Pak, a podcast produced by our client, Umpqua Bank, long a champion of having a direct conversation with consumers about money. It was a privilege to participate in the dialogue Neal created.

In 2017, we predict even more forward motion in storytelling – stories that are real-time reactors and architected to be amplified. Stay tuned for a look into the trends in storytelling and influence we see in the year ahead.


To connect with the author Bill Schultz, click here for his Twitter and LinkedIn