Content Sutra, Ep. 6: Con Men and the Dark Side of Storytelling

At Contently, we talk a lot about the power of storytelling to build relationships, but what about the dark side of storytelling? What about when people use stories as a tool for deception? Or downright evil?

In this week’s podcast, Shane and I talk to Maria Konnikova, a frequent New Yorker contributor and author of The Confidence Game: The Psychology of the Con and Why We Fall for It Every Time, to learn about the art of the con and the impact it’s having on the media world, from catfishing on Facebook to advertising that crosses the line.

Listen below or download it on iTunes here.


(4:35) Are writers just secret con artists? We craft narratives to drive change, affect how people think, and make readers experience new things. Ultimately, Konnikova explains, writers and con artists use the same tools—tools that can be used for good or evil.

(5:00) If you think your intelligence will shield you from getting conned, you’re wrong. According to Konnikova, studies have shown that different kinds of cons have different kinds of victims. For example, intelligence makes you more susceptible to investment fraud.

(10:00) Are advertisers con artists? Their techniques are often similar, but the difference ultimately comes down to a question of intent. Do you have nefarious intentions, or do you believe what you’re doing? Like with many aspects of business, there are 50 shades of gray.

(18:40) Is social media enabling con artists? The MTV show Catfish would certainly make us think so. Maria tells the story of how she recently discovered a con herself in the form of a fake Politico journalist who had befriended 80 of her media friends.

(28:30) The big question: What does this all mean for the Super Bowl? Konnikova reveals that psychologists have been able to predict which Super Bowl ads would perform the best based on storytelling. Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” ad, for instance, outperformed ads with naked chicks and cool guys because it told a compelling, emotional story.

Image by Shutterstock

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