Data Storytelling: How One Viral Video Triggered a Movement

We want to introduce a change in our organisation, we put together a powerpoint with charts, graphs, reasons and benefits. When we finished our presentation everyone in the room has all the information and knowledge. They might even agree but would they change? Perhaps not.

Carmine Gallo in his Forbes article elaborates this point,  Big numbers rarely spark action, but a sea turtle with a straw in its nose can trigger a movement.

By now you’ve probably heard that Starbucks has announced it will eliminate plastic straws globally by 2020. The straws will be replaced with recyclable lids or straws made out of environmentally-friendly materials. The move is intended to do away with one billion plastic straws every year across Starbucks’ 28,000 stores.

One billion straws. It’s a big number. Here’s another one: 275 million metric tons of plastic waste finds its way into our oceans in a year. Surely, these numbers must have sparked corporations like Starbucks to take action to reduce waste. Yes, and no. The statistics were important; but emotional context was even more critical. It’s well-established in communication theory that big numbers don’t move people to action because they lack a critical element of persuasion—emotion. Without emotion, it’s nearly impossible to convince people to take action. A sea turtle gave the movement the emotion it needed.

The Sea Turtle That Sparked a Social Movement. The social movement to scrap single-use plastic straws took off after a video of a sea turtle was posted on YouTube in August of 2015. It wasn’t just any sea turtle. In the graphic video, we watch as marine biologists remove a straw that had become lodged in its nose. The video attracted more than 8 million views. An online petition calling on Starbucks to stop using plastic straws drew more than 150,000 signatures using—you guessed it—the turtle as its poster animal. A growing number of companies have made similar pledges including: McDonald’s, Alaska Airlines and the food service company Bon Appetit.

The video is bloody, gross and disturbing. Then again, that’s exactly why the video was uploaded to YouTube. The video served as a catalyst for individuals and corporations to take action. Your data alone is not enough because it doesn’t have an emotional connect.

Data storytelling is the best way to get your numbers to spark a movement. Imagine the power of communication when you combine your data with story of the sea turtle

If you want to know why emotion is the fastest path to brain, click here.


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