From Cave Writing to Cave Diving: The Story that Lasts

We love a good story.

All people do. Most recognize this as a universal human truth—but those of us who work in advertising consider it a particularly critical truth that transcends time and place. As General Electric’s Beth Comstock once said, “You can’t sell anything if you can’t tell anything.”

But what is a good story? If we look to the ones which have endured through time, think: The Bible, The Koran, The Odyssey, The Iliad, Shakespeare, Star Wars, and Harry Potter, we find that the greatest stories speak to us on a universal level, telling tales of woe, heroism, hope, triumph, and yes, sometimes tragedy. And this month, while most of the world’s attention was fixated on turf fields in Russia, a story combining each of these elements emerged from a flooded cave in Thailand.

The short story: 12 young members of a soccer team and their 25-year-old coach became trapped in a cave after flash floods made it impossible to exit. After eleven days of searching and an additional week of rescue efforts, every team member was extracted from the cave alive. One heroic Thai Navy SEAL drowned in the process.

The rescue was complex, and the world watched as it unfolded in real time. As reported by The New York Times, the operation “assembled from an amalgam of muscle and brainpower from around the world: 10,000 people participated, including 2,000 soldiers, 200 divers and representatives from 100 government agencies.”

Look at the sheer number of international people and organizations that got involved. This story didn’t just move people…it literally moved people. The BBC reports that among the group of rescue divers were 17 Australians, 36 U.S. military Pacific Command personnel, six from Beijing, and one from Israel.

Global companies also offered their equipment and expertise. Whether or not you find Elon Musk’s efforts commendable, they are certainly notable in that they demonstrate just how mobilizing this story has been. Musk, like many of us, was pulled towards the story and felt an impulse to act. He also seems to be unable to let the story go…but that topic is for another day.

The huge number of articles that continued to be published in Western news sources tells us that although the story was not necessarily the most trending headline (data sadly indicates that the story was overshadowed by news of Justin Bieber’s engagement and the birth of Cardi B’s child), it was one that audiences seemed most reluctant to dismiss. From July 10-13, approximately 738 news stories were published in top U.S. and European news outlets. And even more rare than a story which captivates (and holds) the attention of the world, is one that also has a happy ending.

This week, I came across another moving story about which you probably haven’t heard or read much. On July 13th, a suicide bomber killed 128 people gathered at a political rally, including two political candidates participating in local elections. Few outside of Pakistan engaged with the story, likely due to its grim nature, our apathy towards such tragic stories, which now seem commonplace, and finally, because the bombing took place in a terror-torn region. The truth is that we treat stories differently based on such factors…and we crave a story that differentiates itself among the achingly tragic ones which get lost in the shuffle—no matter how important they are.

Attention spans are short, but it is our job to ensure that good stories last—and if not the stories themselves, then their lessons. Humans as far back as 40,000 years took to cave walls to do this. We have it easy. Let this cave story story of great heroes endure as long as the ancient cave drawings. Do good in the world and use your talents and resources to lift others.


History isn’t just the story of bad people doing bad things. It’s quite as much a story of people trying to do good things—C. S. Lewis

By the way, it was reported on July 12th that the site of the rescue will become a museum. There have also been multiple studios announce plans to produce films based on the story. My guess is that books are in the works as well. This story isn’t just worth telling, but worth preserving—and I am glad it will be.

What do you think?

Related posts: