I remember the days when my dad brought me to see Jackie Chan’s movies in the eighties. Without fail, I would exit the cinema each time all pumped up and eager to try out some of the moves. As I replayed the story in my mind, I would imagine myself to be the hero and “role played’ my own variation of the story for days… with the whole ensemble made up of I, me and myself. 😂
Haven’t you had similar experiences watching movies? For the movies that we love, we would inevitably put ourselves in the shoes of the main character or hero. This is projection. Projection is key in the concept of Story Inception as only when the audience enters our story world can we seed ideas into their minds (see Part 1 of this series for introduction to Story Inception).
Hollywood has made it very easy for us to know who is the hero and project ourselves onto him/her because most stories follow “the Hero’s Journey” story structure.
While a good story will ensure that the audience can identify with the hero, it is ultimately the journey that draws the crowd. I only wanted to be like Jackie Chan’s character because I wanted to have the adventure that he had. I wanted to have the same outcomes (eg., kicking bad guys’ butt and saving the day).
So what makes a hero’s journey appealing? In a gist:
Relatable conflict x Relatable personality = Attractive Story
Notice that it is not an addition of “conflict” and “personality”. It is the interaction between the personality and the conflict or how the hero deals with the conflict that creates the chemistry.
Conflicts can be in the form of “Man vs self”, “Man vs society”, “Man vs man”, “Man vs nature” or “Man vs supernatural”. However, regardless of the types of conflict, for it to be relatable to our target audience, it must have relatable desired outcomes.
Frustrations and Fears
Is the hero facing similar obstacles or fears as I am? Frustrations and fears are strong motivators of action as all of us desire to remove these “mountains or monsters” as soon as we can. Understanding the psychological pain points of our audience and the struggles they go through allows us to use them to make the journey relatable.
Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” was a huge success because it centred around the pain of ladies having to beautify themselves to live up to certain beauty benchmarks of society. Every woman could identify with it.
In this case, the “hero” is “women in general” represented by the different subjects. It strengthens the bond further by making the target viewer feels that she is one of many against the “monster”.
Wants and Aspirations
On the other hand, our desires can also be strong motivators of action. Is the goal or prize that is dangled in front of the hero something that I have also dreamed of? Similarly, it is not literal or physical items that are important but the psychological need, when capitalised on, that is more powerful in making the conflicts relatable. Hence it is not the handsome guy or pretty girl, but the romance with him or her that is the dream.
One of my all time favourite commercial is the Solvil et Titus commercial by the legendary Mike Chu starring Chow Yun Fat and Wu Chien Lien:
We may not be able to relate to the setting of war, but we can relate to the bitter sweet romance and the cruel fate of separation. It is love that we desire and the copy of the ad sums it up beautifully: “Concern not whether your love is for eternity but that you once loved…”. You can read my commentary on this ad here.
Personalities and Character Archetypes
To complete the picture, the ease for the audience to project themselves onto the hero is also dependent on whether they share similar personality or character traits. ie., are their attitudes toward the conflict similar?
In order to create a hero that is easy for people to recognise, most writers rely on a set of 12 “Jungian” character archetypes. These archetypes are developed based on Carl Jung’s psychological profiling of man.
By attributing a character archetype to our desired customer or buyer persona, we can have a guide to the possible reactions and responses they will display towards the conflicts in our story, thus allowing us to design a hero that relates better with our audience.
Notice that the video talked about “Brand Archetypes”? Brand strategists have also suggested attributing “personality” to a brand. As such, the same character archetypes that describe the customers (or our character) are also used to create corresponding personalities for the brands in order to appeal to the respective customer types.
By now it should be crystal clear that the hero in our story must never be the brand. When the hero of a piece of branded content is the brand, it is like a corporate annual report. There is no place for the audience/customer and hence does not pull the audience into the story.
Where then is our brand featured in the story? Or specifically, what role should the brand play?
The most common type of story is the “Overcoming the Monster” story. This is where all the problems are attributed to a single “monster” and the slaying of it will bring transformational change. The “monster” is either the cause of the frustrations/fears or it is standing in the way of the hero’s wants/aspirations.
In such a case, the role of the brand will be the weapon that the hero can use to kill off the monster or the sidekick that supports the hero in his monster slaying battle. For example, in the Solvil et Titus ad above, the watch is “the inspiration of love” (tagline by Mike Chu). It helped the two lovebirds to mark (engrave) their love for each other, overcoming even death and separation. It then hands over the story to the audience to go create your own love story using the watch as the symbol… potentially challenging the market for rings! Unfortunately, back in those days, campaigns are essentially just ad campaigns. There is no expansion of the story world.
Something we will explore in the next post in Part 3.
Part 1: Storytelling is NOT for Content Marketing
Part 2: Pulling the audience into your story
- Relevance is key and your brand is not the hero
Part 3: Building a Story World
- Establishing the brand’s “true north”
Part 4: Co-creating the Story World
- It is no longer a hero’s journey but a collective journey