Snowden and Oliver confirm that a relatable story is a winning story

Brett Kobie

“The US government may have nude pictures of you or your loved ones. Do you mind?”

On Sunday, US television network HBO aired John Oliver’s interview with Edward Snowden, the man who in 2013, blew the whistle on the extent of the US government’s mass surveillance capabilities.

Oliver explained to Snowden that most Americans didn’t care about what he had done and cheekily challenged him to cut through his jargon and tell a simple, relatable story to make clear why his revelations were important. Snowden and his team of collaborating journalists, Oliver pointed out, have gone about telling the story of the NSA saga in a complex and detached way – in a way that just hasn’t hit home for the 300+ million Americans whose privacy is at stake.

“Nobody cares about you”

Adding insult to injury, Oliver showed Snowden a series of “man on the street” interviews in which people either confused him with Wikileaks frontman Julian Assange or recognized his name as the “man who illegally revealed sensitive information that put US national security at risk.” In the best case scenario, it seemed that Oliver’s sample had internalized the straightforward narrative pushed by Snowden’s detractors—clearly team Snowden was losing the communications war.

Then Oliver flipped the script. Literally.

He asked those same people on the street what they thought about the US government having access to nude photos of them or loved ones. Indifference and ignorance about Snowden had quickly turned to outrage and confusion about the relationship the NSA might have with their…um…with their “d*** pics.”

Clearing away the noise around your narrative

We all know that telling a simple story that your audience can relate to is the foundation of a successful communications strategy, but most of us can’t help but sabotage ourselves. So when you find yourself with a communications challenge or when you’re challenged by communications, spend some time with this video and ask yourself the question “will my audience actually relate to this story?” and get the reality check that will make your effort a success.

Call it the Oliver test.