Where’s The Conflict In Your Brand Story?

A few weeks back I mentioned I was re-reading Robert McKee’s tome “Story” in hopes of finding some fresh insights to tap into as we wrap our minds around the notion of Brand Stories.  Happily, two smart guys–Doug and George–posted thoughtful comments that helped sharpen my thinking…

First, Doug cited how Brand Stories rarely have a beginning, middle and end.  In the one-way world of the old push advertising model, that was not a problem–we told stories as closed loops.  But today’s social storytelling has no set story entry point nor any guidelines to keep stories consistent.  Doug also mentioned ‘listening’ as critical to making the story human and authentic–our ultimate goal for Brand Stories.

George was a bit more pointed–he wondered if I ever actually did plow through McKee’s voluminous tome.  Truth be told?  Nope, not this time.  In the end, McKee focuses too heavily on screenwriting for my purposes.  Still, he makes some salient points, most regarding the critical aspects of motivation and character: issues our industry all too often ignores.

Something Tells Me There's More To This Story Conflict Too
Something Tells Me There's More To This Story Conflict Too

So I dug deeper into my closet, checking out old writing books and eventually turning up a copy of Linda Seger’s Making A Good Script Great.   Her book has two advantages: it’s shorter and it’s paperback. Plus, it focuses on conflict–the key element to any story.

Linda wants her students to find the conflict in their stories, and to do so, she helpfully breaks them down into five types: inner, relational, social, situational, and cosmic.

Practically speaking, I didn’t get a lot out of her list–aside from thinking that ‘Cosmic Conflict’ would make a pretty cool band name.  Still, I like her challenge to identify your story conflict, and so I started applying it to some of our clients.  Not surprisingly, the client brands that consistently inspire our best work have easily-identified conflicts.  For Harris Bank, the source of conflict would be impersonal, disengaged banks.  For Cricket Wireless, the conflict is a cellular version of “The Man”–uncaring, disdainful, gouging to our customers.  And for Amway–a company that had never really advertised and became an all-too-easy punchline–the conflict is misperception.  These conflicts underpin each brand’s respective tagline: “We’re Here to Help,” “Respekt for You,” and “Now You Know.”

You can have great variety among the brand stories you and your audience generate, as long as you have a well-defined conflict rooting them to a similar theme.  And if you know the conflict, it really doesn’t matter where people enter along your story path–if the conflict stays consistent, story beginnings, middles and ends don’t really matter.

The conflict for the advertising industry’s story right now is convergence.  Interestingly, that’s also the answer.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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