Winning the Story Wars

Book review: Jonah Sachs, co-founder of the Free Range creative agency, preaches a model of "empowerment marketing."


(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future
(Harvard Business Review)
Jonah Sachs

More than a hundred years ago, a New York copywriter named John E. Powers laid down three commandments for advertising: be interesting, tell the truth and live the truth. Powers’s plain, honest work—sample copy for a line of neckties: “They’re not as good as they look, but they’re good enough”—inspired a generation of copywriters. But according to Jonah Sachs, co-founder of the Free Range creative agency, today’s advertisers exploit our fear, greed and vanity to push their products. Sachs believes this approach has led to a “broken” world grappling with ecological, economic and spiritual crises. Building on Powers’s principles, he preaches a model of “empowerment marketing” that makes people feel better about themselves. The case studies he cites are well-known: Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, Apple’s 1984 ad, and Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” mantra. Sachs argues that not only is empowerment more effective, it can actually inspire people to tackle society’s biggest problems. The feel-good message will surely appeal to today’s breed of social entrepreneurs. But pinning one’s hopes on marketing to improve the world is almost as implausible as blaming it for society’s problems in the first place.