Turning Your Cause into Compelling Content -- Jonah Sachs, Free Range Graphics

Submitted by Matt Thompson on Thu, 2006-09-21 14:16.

Keys to successful story-telling:

Focus your story where people already are.

Where is your audience at? Start from there, instead of trying to push them somewhere else.

e.g., Free Range Graphics’ Garth Brooks Wal-Mart movie

Wanted to make a point about labor issues, but the audience wasn’t already there

So instead they started where the audience already was: they knew about Garth Brooks, who had just signed a high-profile exclusivity deal with Wal-Mart

FRG’s spoof re-wrote the lyrics to a Brooks’ song people already knew: “I’ve got friends with low wages”

800,000 viewers and still growing



Leverage the power of archetypal stories and characters

Certain story aspects are engrained in our collective consciousness

These “great stories” help capture attention and leverage popular cultural memory

Joseph Campbell, Hero With a Thousand Faces

Great resource:



Who is the hero in your story?

Make that a real person and character (whether it’s a pig, cucumber, etc.)

Take that character on a journey


The hero should be clearly up against some identifiable villain

Choose a villain that’s readily simplifiable

Be cautious of the “fat cat” bad guy; the standard corporate bad guy in a cloud of black smoke tends not to work that well.


Alternate universe

Put your characters in a plausible / funny universe

e.g., Meatrix, created a more approachable and palatable universe, instead of bashing audiences over the head with overly graphic, harsh reality of factory farming.


Let your audience make the connections to the real world themselves

Let them transpose your alternate reality into real life – you don’t have to draw them a map or make the connections overly literal. Trust that your audience is smart enough to make those connections themselves.



Three minutes is ideal – more than that hurts audience.

Borrowing from existing pop culture and using immediately recognizable cultural icons helps you work within those time constraints.


The importance of simplification

Allow for and insist on simplification!

Boil your story down to its most basic parts

One of the unique strengths of the web is that people can constantly drill deeper and click to learn more. Pique their interest with a tight, boiled down story – and let them seek more detail if and when they want it.


How do you convert viewers into activists / evangelists?

Two keys:

1) Arming the choir

Don’t preach to the choir – “arm the choir.”

Give them a meme or message that they can easily transport.
Help them feel validated.

Only a small portion of your overall audience is going to become active. Get to know that audience. Find out what they care about – then give them tools they can use to spread.


2) Use a simple, readily understandable analogy

“This is like that.”

Take something big and scary and hard to talk about, and give your audience a familiar frame of reference.

e.g., The Meatrix

The point that had the most emotional impact about factory farming was: what’s going on in factory farms is so bad, we can’t even be honest and tell ourselves what’s happening.

Question: Where else have we seen something like that? Answer: The Matrix.


Upcoming content from Free Range Graphics:

FRG’s upcoming movie: The Diversity Code

Spoof of The Davinci Code

Debunks the belief that human beings exist outside the natural / biological world


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