Stories connect. Stories educate. Stories inspire. Stories, great stories, told really well, are remembered forever.
Voltaire, back in his day (technically known as “the olden days”, or “yore”) was the most famous storyteller in Europe. He was a witty, intelligent Frenchman, known and loved by all.
He was particularly gifted (as all great storytellers are) in the art of simplifying. He was a master of taking difficult material — such as philosophical essays or scientific theories — and popularising them. He would use simple, catchy imagery to grab the attention of his audience.
Another man from “the olden days” was Isaac Newton. We all know who he is — even primary school kids know who he is. He’s the guy who sat under that apple tree and got hit by that apple and discovered gravity and stuff.
And yet, back in the days of “yore”, not everyone did know him. In fact, in France very few people had a clue who the hell he was.
Newton had spent his entire life working on his explanation of the force of gravity, but Newton was not a great storyteller. His skills lay in the art of discovering, not telling. His papers were long, technical, difficult things to understand. Voltaire had read them, but Voltaire was a highly educated man with a distinct interest in science.
Voltaire wanted Newton to receive the global recognition he deserved and he wanted his fellow countrymen, the whole of France, to know and learn from Newton too.
Voltaire, the great storyteller he was, knew that if he wanted Newton’s ideas to resonate with the general public he would need an image that was short, simple and direct, yet conveyed the very essence of Newton’s theory.
Then he met Newton’s niece, and she told him a little anecdote about her uncle:
As a young man, Newton was forced by the Great Plague of London to retire from his home in Cambridge to his mothers home in Lincolnshire. Newton was frustrated to leave behind his lab and equipment and his work. He would pace around the grounds and fret over his ideas. One day, sitting pensively under the apple tree in his mothers garden, he watched an apple as it fell to earth. Eureka! All his vague ideas came together in one beautiful moment and resulted in a complete theory: Gravity.
Voltaire wrote the story down in his Letters concerning the English nation. Everyone in France read it, everyone across Europe heard about it, and the rest, as they say, is history.
When Voltaire heard the story, Newton was already dead. It had occurred decades earlier, and was almost certainly only loosely based in reality. Newton knew how to approximate the roots of a function and disprove the heliocentric model of the Solar System. He knew how to calculate the laws of motion and universal gravitation. But Voltaire knew how to make people listen.
And it is entirely thanks to Voltaire that the story of Newton and the apple is still told today, and why Isaac Newton is known by pretty much everyone above the age of five.
Storytelling is not just about invention and craft; it is about recognising something great, when it is right there in front of you. Voltaire was an expert not just in telling a perfect story, but in spotting one.
Every company has a story to tell. A story that will create a connection between themselves and their clients. A story that will educate their audience about what they do and how they do it. A story that will inspire people to believe in their brand.
Every company has a story to tell, a great branding agency knows how to tell it.