Heroes & Villains the plot for great brand story telling.


Have you ever wondered why advertising exists? Well it’s because deep down, people really don’t care about brands all that much. Sure we like to kid ourselves about brand loyalty and engagement, but none of that is real. Its just buzzwords we use to try and make ourselves feel better about the fact that for the most part, people really don’t care about us and will happily migrate between brands for lots of different reasons.

Once we allow ourselves to accept that fact, we can start to do something about it. One of the most popular buzzwords in the marketing world at the moment is Brand Story Telling. But this is just a reinvention of something the advertising world has known for generations.

From the dawn of time, people have loved stories. Every culture, every civilization has passed on stories and they are engrained in society. If you actually think about it, the entire Disney Empire is built on the fact that people love a good story.

So if we want to find a way to make our brands relevant to people, we need to understand how to tell a good and authentic story. None of this is new, but somehow the ability to tell a good story has become lost over recent years with much more focus being given to channels used.

The point I’m making is this. If you want to create a great brand story, you can’t do it in a vacuum. You need to have a plot that people can understand and one of the most popular and effective ways of doing this is to juxtapose your hero brand against a villain.

Take for example one of the most famous hero and villain brand relationships ever created – the 1984 inspired campaign by Apple. Set against a backdrop of global strife and uncertainty in which IBM dominated the computer market, Apple presented itself as the liberator challenging that dominance.

The campaign itself almost never ran after members of the board announced they hated the ad and wanted to pull it. Despite the board’s dislike of the ad, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak showed copies of the ad to friends and confident that it worked, offered to pay for airing the ad themselves. In the end, the board saw sense and the ad ran. The rest as they say is history.

Fear is without doubt one of the biggest issues facing a brand that wants to build its strategy on good story telling. I refer you back to the fear shown by Apple’s board of directors. Let’s be honest, most brands actively try to avoid anything that will rock the boat and simply content themselves with fitting-in with the herd.

But for the brave few, those Steve Jobs sorts – fitting in is not an option. They know that if you want to make your brand stand for something, that generally means taking a stand against something else – hero v. villain.

The villain in your brand story does not necessarily have to be a competitor, although that has been the route employed lately by many of the large supermarkets who are battling it out in a brutal price war. A much more intelligent route to exploring the hero and villain relationship is to identify with a problem your audience have and turn that into the villain. Take for example he Red Bull. They made tiredness the enemy and Red Bull the stimulating hero that gives you wings. Mars famously made hunger the villain and came to your rescue, helping you to work, rest and play.

There are numerous examples of great hero and villain relationships in the marketing archives – but we need to make sure the art of brand story telling is not lost to the archives. Smart marketing directors know that a good brand story is a strategy that just keeps on giving.

Mission Accomplished! 


One comment

  1. Abi Cocks

    Very interesting that the hero/villain thing has been around for yonks – ‘Bazooka that Verruca’ sticks in my mind – but I never really saw it that way. Now that I do, my head is buzzing with heroes and villains and slogans!

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