The Power of Storytelling – Neal Baer of Law and Order SVU

Kavitha and I had an opportunity to listen to Neal Baer ( Producer of Law & Order SVU) at IDEO recently. You may already know this but every week 58 million people watch one or the other episodes of Law and Order SVU.

Nael talked about many things but the highlight of the talk was the power of storytelling ( especially on the mainstream media ). Neal used several examples and one that I made some notes was an episode about HPV (Human Papillomavirus). The focus area of the episode was to educate that the persistent HPV infections was the leading cause of cervical cancer.

Neal explained how they extended the project in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente by surveying people about HPV before and after the show. The surveys were conducted before the show, 1 week after the show and 6 weeks after the show.

The focus was to find out whether
1. the person had heard about HPV
2. the person could define HPV
3. the person knew that HPV was the leading cause of cervical cancer

As you can see from the interactive chart ( from iCharts) below, the show had made a significant impact on people’s knowledge about HPV. You can also see that the level of awareness about this topic was the highest within the week the show was aired. Six weeks later there was a big dip but compared to the awareness before the show, it was a significant jump.

That is the power of storytelling right there.

Also looking at the dip after a few weeks, you can also see the need to tell the same story again and again.

Data can tell powerful stories too. You can check out a few stories here:

1. How scientists use your travel photos for research

2. The United States has the most expensive and lowest quality health insurance

3. The 15 largest oil spills in history

Note 1: Disclosure: I am a co-founder of iCharts.

Note 2: Thanks to Jackie Antig at iCharts for the chart