Universal Truth: Step One of the Brand Storytelling Hero’s Journey
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Universal Truth: Step One of the Brand Storytelling Hero’s Journey

The “universal truth” establishes a common frame of reference for the story. Like the classic myths, this “truth” also transcends culture and language.

Holmes Report

In my first post, I briefly described the 'brand storytelling hero’s journey', a new model based on the original hero’s journey developed by Joseph Campbell. It’s a pattern rooted in mythology which has stood the test of time – and now brands can use a similar approach to tell stories that move people as well as products.

This new Hero’s Journey has four main steps: Universal truth, emotional hero, twist of fate and transformation. I reviewed dozens of well-performing brand stories and found the same pattern. While there are always exceptions, the basic pattern nevertheless persists.

Each of these stories follows a linear narrative. They are a quiet repudiation of our hyperlink generation and a validation that, when stripped to an emotional core, people respond to narratives and order, to patterns and familiarity. We can’t change our past no matter how hard we try.

Step one: Universal truth

The 'universal truth' establishes a common frame of reference for the story. Like the classic myths, this 'truth' also transcends culture and language. We recognize it instantly – we relate to it deeply.

dying parent who needs medical attention. A holiday gathering. A social issue. The Universal Truth can be anything that grounds the story along familiar lines.

This first step on the journey also speaks to the predominance of and predilection toward visual communication today, spurred by mobile devices and services like Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat. Often there is little or no dialogue, the truth being so honest and relatable that words would merely get in the way. 

For example, Kohl’s created a compelling holiday story with “Christmas Surprise,” establishing right away the universal truth of the holiday spirit and giving to others. Not a word was spoken or needed. 

Similarly, Chipotle tackled the controversial issue of factory farming with an engaging long-form video and game. Using a familiar song and simple, emotionally powerful imagery, Chipotle quickly communicates a Universal Truth about food. 

The universal truth sets the framework and often the tone for the story. It’s a foundation and entry point for the next and what some might say is the most important step in the brand storytelling hero’s journey – the 'emotional hero' itself.

Coming next: Step two, the 'emotional hero.”

Gary Goldhammer is Hill+Knowlton Strategies' U.S. Digital Strategist and is based in our Costa Mesa, CA office. 

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