Let’s talk about some of the greatest heroes and villains of all time.
There are heroes and villains in every great movie: Godfather, Schindler’s List, Lawrence of Arabia, Citizen Kane, Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Titanic, and Rocky. They all had magnetic heroes and equally alluring villains. Many of the villains were multi-dimensional and full of contradictions. Some of the villains even garnered some sympathy from the audience.
What about the classic fairytales you read as a child? Heroes and villains were the backbone of stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, The Princess and the Pea, Peter Rabbit, and The Ugly Duckling to name a few. The villains were often scary as hell. I remember having terrible nightmares about Witchy Poo in ‘Puffnstuff’.
From an early age we learn language, communicate and make sense of the world through story structure.
History and science have proven that the most engaging, memorable and shared stories are the ones that follow the pattern of a hero (protagonist) on a quest / journey who encounters trouble along the way, a villain/s (antagonists) who try to hinder their progress, and a mentor who comes along at the right moment to provide the right advice, tools or a touch of magic to help the hero complete their journey. Mythologist Joseph Campbell expressed this as “The Hero’s Journey” in his same-titled book in 1990.
So heroes and villains provide the conflict at the heart of a great story, creating the tension to move the story forward.
This is why drama is called drama. The reason why we all love a good murder mystery and crime drama. And the reason why most of us prefer to watch sport over science documentaries. A great game of sport is a compelling story played out over a couple of hours. You’ve got the heroes (your team) and the villains (the opposing team) going head to head, creating tension, and keeping you on the edge of your seat if the game is tight.
Movies need villains, fairytales need villains, sport needs villains.
In fact life, language and communication needs villains.
Our predisposition to the classic hero / villain story structure means that we simply don’t connect with flatline stories like this.
I think one of the reasons many businesses shy away from identifying villains is that we have a natural aversion to conflict and tension. Yet these two elements are a vital part of life and story architecture.
In business Richard Branson uses this strategy cleverly. He always tells an underdog story about fighting the “big bad wolves” in the industry who are ripping off everyday people. Steve Jobs vilified IBM as the “Big Brother” in Apple’s famous 1984 commercial. The free-range chicken farmers built their market position successfully by vilifying battery hen farmers. Dove’s ground breaking “Real Beauty” campaign vilified the shallowness of judging women by their external appearance and heroed inner beauty.
So how can you introduce a villain into your brand story?
Given that your customer is the hero of your story, a good place to start is thinking about all the obstacles that are standing in their way to reach their ideal destination. In business stories it’s not normally a person. It could be a company that’s your main competitor, the disease your product is trying to heal, or an attitude like procrastination. Nike’s famous “Just Do It” tag line has declared war on procrastination, fear and inactivity.
If you have a natural beauty range your villain could be the artificial ingredients in other cosmetic products. If you have a small law practice your villain could be customers who try to DIY their own documents and get into trouble.
If your business is a brick and mortar shop, your villain is probably overseas online stores selling the same product for less. You can vilify them by dialling up your local service and real people in customer service.
If you want to give your brand story more drama and need help identifying your villain, call me on 021 744 960.
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