Go Ahead & Bury the Lede

“Don’t bury the lede.” That’s what everyone always says to writers. Get to the point. Just give us the information we need.

It’s great advice for journalists. Horrible advice for marketers.

“Don’t bury the lede” is a phrase for reporters who write crime blurbs and short local interest pieces. It’s for articles that start with “Mayor So & So announced yesterday that he was going to do X, Y, Z” and then go on to tell you in forensic detail what happened, who was involved, where, why, how, etc. The news world is based on unbiased facts and conveying information efficiently. “Don’t bury the lede” is for journalists and their editors, not storytellers.

Imagine if the first scene of The Lord of the Rings was the council meeting where Frodo volunteers to carry the ring, or imagine ripping out the first 50-100 pages of your favorite novel. Imagine if every blog entry you read told you everything you needed to know in the first sentence. How boring would that be?

The lede is designed to pique your interest, but also be enough that you pretty much get the gist of the piece without reading on. A story is engineered to hook you emotionally so that you MUST continue. It poses unanswered questions that you need to see resolved. The lede is a polite “Would you like to know more?” where a great story grabs you and won’t let you go.

“Don’t bury the lede” thinking would have turned the Dove Real Beauty campaign into a video of a man in a suit saying something like “Over 60% of women see themselves as less beautiful than as described by strangers.” Then it would go on to explain the methodology, but why would you stick around? By not “burying the lede”, they’ve spoiled the ending.

To work, a story needs a proper beginning. It needs a set up where you establish the context and the stakes for what’s to come.

So, in broader terms, your brand story can’t be “Our widgets save you time.” That’s Don’t Bury the Lede thinking. Storyteller thinking says you have to first show your audience that you understand them and their challenges. You have to establish the context and the stakes. You might assure your audience that you know how busy they are and how that makes them feel distant from their families, for example. Being stressed or overworked can tear even the closest families apart, so wouldn’t it be great if your users were less overwhelmed and they could spend more time with their loved ones? Well, that’s what your brand is all about. Your brand is about bringing families together by making their lives a little easier, and you use your Widgets to do just that.

That’s a story that engages emotionally. It’s not a straight-shootin’ sidebar on page C26 of a newspaper.

Remember, we’re marketers, not journalists. We’re not writing research papers or police reports. We’re storytellers. So, if it serves the needs of your story, go ahead and bury that lede. Bury it and make people really feel something.

Written by Evan Porter on November 19, 2013


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Joe says:

It's ironic that you didn't bury the lede of your article encouraging people to bury the lede.

Written by
Evan Porter