Every story is unique, right? Right. But there are certain templates most stories follow. These seven types of stories form archetypes that have engaged human attention for centuries.
These kinds of stories can appear in a marketing piece (such as a single TV spot) or become part of a larger narrative that tells the story of your company. Adopting one of these meta-narratives can yield a powerful branding tool that builds your company’s profile amongst your stakeholders. The types of stories you tell send a distinctive message to your customers, whether it’s one that you carefully crafted or not.
So. Which of these seven types of stories are you telling? And which ones should you be telling?
Overcoming the Monster
The quintessential example of this story type: David and Goliath. The basic narrative: plucky underdogs buck the status quo despite apparently insurmountable odds. Think Erin Brockovich and every sports movie you’ve ever seen.
A brand that does a great job of using this narrative is Apple. Even as it has become a behemoth, its brand purpose of disrupting norms has proved remarkably durable. Its iconic 1984 ad is also a classic example of the “overcoming the monster” narrative. One of Walmart’s most successful ads also works with the Overcoming the Monster narrative.
Rags to Riches
This narrative often works best to develop a brand’s reputation as a provider of quality. It also can exploit the vulnerability inherent in the story to make a formidable brand seem open, friendly and approachable. (Think Oprah.)
Johnnie Walker has used this narrative to amplify its brand of resilience and ambition. The Man Who Walked Around the World commercial makes much of Johnnie Walker’s humble origins and marks the exact moment that the brand moved from “farmboy to Edwardian dandy,” complete with top hat.
Quest narratives abound, with their central metaphor being that the journey is worth more than the destination. Think of The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, or even The Catcher in the Rye. This can be particularly useful for a young brand that is still developing and is in the process of building the origin story of its brand, or defining its why in the mind of the consumer.
TOMS, the shoe manufacturer that gives a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair of its shoes purchased, emphasizes the quest narrative through its advertising. Its commercials underline the ‘why’ of the company – and actually say very little about the product.
Voyage and Return
Voyage and Return is a close cousin of The Quest, but they are differentiated by “the return.” A notable business example is Howard Schulz’s return to the helm of Starbucks after a time spent away. When brands are returning to prior ways of doing business, they are participating in a Voyage and Return narrative. This can be useful for rebranding purposes, or working to restore a brand in crisis.
Bud Light used this trope during a Superbowl spot in 2017, with an ad that played with the return of a friend in a zombie-riddled world.
Many brands effectively use humour to entertain and engage their customers. Classic example: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like. (Well played, Old Spice.)
Tragedy is mostly off-brand. However, emotional connection is always valuable, and for some organizations, their major function. Many NGOs and charities use tragic stories to help engage deeply with those who may volunteer or donate to their cause.
The Canadian charity Covenant House works to house homeless youth. Their campaigns, designed by TAXI, invert standard expectations to maximize emotional impact.
Things always go wrong. The Rebirth narrative is one of the most inspiring, combining vulnerability and success into one powerful package. Chrysler effectively used a Rebirth narrative after the 2008 financial crisis to rehabilitate its brand and image. The 2012 Super Bowl ad Halftime in America was an inspirational, highly patriotic pitch to the rebirth of American industry and manufacturing. (Plus it had Clint Eastwood. They had their bases covered.)
Which story are you telling? And who is listening?
Want more? Try our guide to fixing a bad brand story, or how your employees’ job titles could be costing you business.