The formula for a good story is pretty simple. You just need a hero, an adversary, some dramatic clashes, a climax and an ending that resolves those clashes. You can throw in a love interest if you like. And some cool cars, too. Like the Batmobile.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. There’s Luke Skywalker, Robin Hood, Lara Croft, Columbo, Indiana Jones, the Green Hornet, Hermione Granger…
A hero can be a dog. (Lassie)
It can be a horse. (Seabiscuit)
It can be a robot. (WALL-E)
Heroes can even be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Of course, we normally associate stories with movies and TV and novels and comic books. But stories are all around us, influencing us daily, particularly through marketing efforts such as commercials.
These are stories that are sometimes no longer than a sentence, but still contain the elements of storytelling. They can compel you. They can make you take action. And, make you the hero. Appealing, yes?
So, yes, it is possible for just about any public agency or business to incorporate this strategy without writing the Great American Novel or coming up with the budget to shoot a major motion picture.
Think of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. That’s a story. The hero? Why that’s you. You’re the one who’s wearing the Nike gear, trying to convince yourself to get off the couch and hit the gym. The bad guy? That’s inactivity or inertia. It gnaws at you. You say to yourself, “I just worked out three days ago.” Or “my knee kind of aches.” Or, “I could get some pizza instead.”
But you think, “Just Do It.” You see the athletes in the commercials running up stadium steps and hoisting weights. And by getting off the couch – it’s a battle no question (I’ve been there) – you slay the dragon of negativity and then hit the treadmill and work up a sweat. You just did it. You won. Cue the credits.
Snappy and funny lines back up this claim. Such as, “His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards.”
“He has won the lifetime achievement award…twice.”
“Sharks have a week dedicated to him.”
The bad guy? That would be conventionalism. This guy won’t stand for it. He’s represents the exact opposite. So when you think of Dos Equis, you think you are on the cutting edge. You are living. You have a connection with “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Indeed, you want to be like him.
Storytelling through commercials can be quite elaborate. Take the recent ongoing campaign by Miracle Whip. One is a take-off on a witch hunt from the 17th century (it’s titled “Witch Hunt“). The settings, the costume designs, the lighting and the acting are all top-notch. They were even shot in Romania, not in a Hollywood back shop.
The heroes are the people who dare to eat this strange thing called Miracle Whip. They are being hounded by mobs who believe the Miracle Whip is an evil – or at least foul-tasting – concoction.
But they are asked if they ever even tasted it. (Come to think of it, I haven’t.) In this case, ignorance loses. The people who use Miracle Whip win. The catch phrase: “Keep an open mouth.”
This storytelling structure works to market actions we can take for the public good, too. How about an oldie but goodie? This one from the Peace Corps enticed people to join by stressing how hard the work would be with the phrase, “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.”
What a story!
It challenges you to be up for a much more than a trip to an interesting destination. You’re the hero, of course. But you’re no ordinary hero. You’re taking on a task that few others would dare. The job itself is the adversary. And this story is a classic one. It promises you adventure in faraway places with few creature comforts. And the reward? Well, you help people who truly need your help and perhaps even find love in the work that at first seemed like the adversary.
Telling a story captures the imagination and helps us understand and even experience feats that are usually beyond an easy understanding. For that reason, stories reel us in. True, landing on the moon was a technological feat. But, it was a larger story that all of us participated in. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (The hero: Neil Armstrong, of course, but a step we heroically as a nation took together.)
Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.