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Ceramic poppies, festive TV ads and great storytelling

Posted on Thursday, 11 December 2014

Ceramic poppies, festive TV ads and great storytelling

This year, I’ve been amazed at how the centenary commemorations for World War 1 have captured the imagination of people, both young and old alike. 

Look, for example, at the huge interest shown in the display of 888,246 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, with each one representing a fallen serviceman from the war. It’s estimated that five million people visited this amazing piece of art.

Storytelling at its best

There is also the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, which depicts the famous meeting between the British and German armies in no man’s land on Christmas Day 1914. In the ad, the soldiers lay down their weapons and one British serviceman gives his German counterpart a bar of chocolate in the spirit of Christmas. The ad had eight million views online in its first week. Sainsbury’s even brought out a commemorative chocolate bar, which has been selling at a rate of 5,000 bars per hour – with some of the proceeds donated to the Royal British Legion.

A treasure trove of memories

ink penI’ve always been fascinated by WW1 – partly due to my grandfather’s involvement as a fighter pilot. He died when I was young but left us a treasure trove of mementoes with war diaries, written almost daily from 1914 to 1918, alongside family letters and photographs. 

My grandfather’s diaries, in particular, provide a personal and historical narrative of the time. He recounts enlisting, his fears about being sent abroad, his military training, his relief when the armistice was announced and even his great sadness at the death of his mother during the 1918 flu epidemic. I recognise that I am very lucky to have such personal histories and, through these stories, I feel a very personal connection to the time.

Connecting with your audience

On a professional note, I am a great believer in using storytelling to connect with an audience. That’s why I encourage clients to tell their own personal stories – say, about the launch of their company or their personal success, to help connect with their audience.

I found a great example of storytelling when I visited Stourhead, a local National Trust site, recently. The estate was opened up to wounded soldiers who were recuperating during WW1 and the then owner’s son was also killed in the conflict in 1917. Personal recollections and diary entries from the time are used to guide younger visitors around the site, helping to educate them about the Great War in a dynamic and lively manner.

It’s a great way to bring the past to life – and keep the memories alive of people who gave and risked their lives for us all.