Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

A Homeless Man’s Radio Voice and the Power of Storytelling

Homeless-Man-Golden-Radio-VoiceWe often overlook value because we can’t see past a rough exterior. We miss out on opportunities because our perception of the superficial becomes reality.  Stories, however, have the power to alter perception, and ultimately value, as is the case of the homeless man with the golden radio voice.

On the surface, Ted Williams (yes, that’s his name) is a homeless man, standing on the corner of I-71 in Columbus, OH, looking like life has gotten the best of him so far. He’s holding a handwritten sign made from cardboard – standard issue for the homeless. His hygiene is questionable. The average driver would make sure their door is locked and pretend to be looking at their cell phone until the light turns green, as to avoid his pleas for help.

Then, this happened…

Once Mr. Williams opens his mouth, everything changes. When I saw this, my jaw dropped, literally. I showed this to my friend – her jaw dropped. I saw it when it was at about 5,000 views and as of posting it has over 4,000,000. It’s viral, and there’s a reason…

What was amazing to me was NOT just his voice. That video wouldn’t have spread like wildfire and tugged on our collective heartstrings if it had ended at the 40 second mark as the driver drove away. It would have been good, but not great. It became amazing when he told his story, so eloquently and genuinely. He told his story, honestly and openly admitting his faults. He made me a believer.

That’s what storytelling can do for your brand. You can engage audiences. You can reach them on an emotional level. You can change their perceptions and you can inspire them to act.

Taken at face value, he’s just another homeless man on the street with a unique voice. But great stories spread, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. His story and the way he delivers it has made people share this video all over the world, and this story has a happy ending. Just two days after the video was posted, this “homeless man with the golden voice” has not only been offered a job by the Cleveland Cavaliers and the NFL, but given a house to live in. The Reddit community has taken up his cause, outlining in detail what continues to transpire.

Mr. Williams was redefined by his story. That’s the power of storytelling. That’s the future of advertising.

UPDATE 1/6/11: Ted has been hired by Kraft to voice their upcoming Kraft Macaroni & Cheese commercial which will premiere on ESPN during the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, the culmination of Kraft’s Huddle To Fight Hunger Campaign.  Spokeswoman Lynne Galia told, “Like many others, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and our ad agency was moved by Ted Williams’s story.”

UPDATE 1/5/11: Mr. Williams was interviewed on the CBS Early Show, and has a number of other interviews lined up.  Take a look: