To Make Your Narrative Work, Name It - Part 1

In the US, bars are reopening. Who will be your designated driver?

The narrative

The term “designated driver” is common for most Americans, but it wasn’t the case until 1988.

In the 1980s, the rate of deaths caused by drunk driving was at an all-time high in the US. After learning about the death of TV reporter Dennis Kauff in a car crash caused by a drunk driver, Harvard professor Jay Winsten looked at what other countries were doing about drunk driving.

He found that Sweden had much better numbers because they had the concept of the designated driver - a person able to get you safely home after drinking.

Winsten decided to import the idea to the US. He managed to work with the media and Hollywood to spread the word by having it written into the scripts of popular TV shows. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published a case study available here.

Through these stories, Winsten exposed almost 30 million people to the narrative of the “designated driver”.

It changed their behavior.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the share of alcohol-related traffic fatalities decreased by 30% in the following 6 years.

The learnings

This story is a great example of how narratives gain traction if they feel familiar and accessible.

Naming a narrative helps spreads the word. It makes it easy for people to familiarize themselves with a new concept. It makes the narrative easier to remember.

Instead of launching a government campaign telling people what to do with a policy, Winsten slyly inserted it into popular channels.

But just like for Jay Winsten, the name of your narrative is worthless by itself.

You need to bring it to life. What makes a narrative powerful is everything associated with the idea and everyone using the idea by its name. Making this happen requires repetition. I wrote a practical piece about repetition a while ago.

All of this isn’t just true for institutions trying to impact social issues, but for all organizations, including businesses like yours.

The hook

I will expand more in a follow-up article about the importance and the principles of a good narrative name.

For now, think about who that driver will be for you.




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To Make Your Narrative Work, Name It - Part 2