"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." - Joseph Campbell
Anyone who has watched Star Wars (and if you haven't you should be ashamed) - knows that this classic film is an example of a "monomyth" - the belief that all narratives follow a common pattern.
Joseph Campbell famously referred to this concept as the "hero's journey." From Hercules to Luke Skywalker, from Humphrey Bogart to Harry Potter, this pattern can be found throughout literature and film. We are in fact hard wired as humans to follow the Hero's Journey; it is the bedrock of all great storytelling.
The traditional hero's journey is essentially as follows:
· Leaving the "known" world for some unknown challenge or experience
· A test or tests of character and resolve
· Triumph or resolution that benefits a greater good and changes the hero for the better
This pattern has stood the test of time. But like any organism, the pattern also evolves. It adapts.
And it it happening again.
The brand storytelling "hero's journey"
Upon reviewing dozens of successful brand storytelling efforts I found another pattern: a hero's journey for the post-modern media age.
Following are the four main steps in this new narrative approach to storytelling. I'll dive deeper into these steps in subsequent posts, as well as provide more brand storytelling examples. For now I'll use a brilliant piece of storytelling by TrueMove, a Thai communications company, titled "Giving."
The story begins with a common frame of reference, a "universal truth" or situation that transcends culture or language. Often there is little or no dialogue, the truth being so honest and relatable that words would merely get in the way.
A child steals medicine for his sick mother; a shopkeeper shows the boy compassion and sympathy
Emotion - not "logic" - is the raw material that paves the story's path. Embodied by people, brands or circumstances, the emotional hero is a construct of feelings over logic, of humanity over "messaging."
Shopkeeper has heart attack 30 years later; daughter can’t pay medical bills
Twist of fate
Here the journey takes on an element of surprise, an unexpected turn in the narrative. This is more than just a standard "plot twist," but rather a truly unanticipated event that can take the entire narrative in a new direction.
Revised bill shows all expenses paid; the doctor was the little boy that the shopkeeper helped 30 years earlier
The journey concludes with a form of transformation - a problem is resolved, the main character or circumstances (the emotional hero) are changed, a new "universal truth" is revealed. The conclusion can also be a call to action or a reminder to refocus or do things in a different way.
The boy becomes a man who dedicates his life to helping others; we see a new truth that giving is not just a one-time act but rather has ripples across time
A Hero's Journey back to Narrative
We need a new hero's journey to guide us through our overloaded media environment. We need a shift back to narrative, to story, to real emotion that we can trust. People don't want to connect with marketing messages - they want to connect with their innate human nature.
Of course, merely following these steps is no guarantee of success. For every Star Wars there is also a Krull. Storytelling requires more than a good formula, it requires a good story.
But for brands that have something real, emotional and powerful to say, the brand storytelling hero's journey is a path worth exploring.
In the next installment we will take a closer look at how the universal truth begins the brand storytelling hero's journey.
Gary Goldhammer is Hill+Knowlton Strategies' U.S. Digital Strategist and is based in our Costa Mesa, CA office.