The hero's journey, or monomyth, is a well-known template for story design. Popularized by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, it is a collection of stages that a hero goes through in order to obtain a goal, and hopefully transform in the process… The hero's journey is an analytical expression of what we often see as "just good storytelling," so it makes sense that elements of it would appear in the most engaging or award-winning ads produced today, even if creators are using it unintentionally.
As someone who works in advertising during the day and writes fiction at night, I'm often struck by the crossover potential of so many tools and techniques to strengthen my work in both fields. Creative fiction and brand campaigns are both different kinds of stories, and there are some concepts in advertising that I've realized can also be utilized to create compelling fiction.
There is a Y&R consultancy, the Brand Asset Valuator® (BAV®) Group, that tracks how brands are perceived by the public and how those perceptions shift over time. They've discovered that the most successful brands have an inherent tension which makes them interesting, memorable, and irresistible. They defined this as Brand Tensity®.
Brand Tensity: The convergence of two or more contradictory forces, resulting in excitement, anticipation, and a palpable energy.
At the highest level, advertising needs to give people a reason to love a brand even if they never intend to buy the product. In other words, they need to not only entertain viewers, they need to make them believe in something, just as all good stories do.
Well-crafted ad campaigns have deeply human themes about belonging, self expression, and the capacity for human kindness. They have messages which transcend commerce, and most importantly that evoke intense emotion in the audience. When I examined some of the world's most iconic brands through this lens, it proved true.
Today, on demand has usurped cable's throne. "Channels" such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are now publishers as well as distributors, producing original shows in addition to serving up other publishers' media. And as the volume of these titles grows, we can see how the new format has changed the way these stories are told.
A story is an account of something that changes.
In its simplest form, that's all that it is. Some define stories as entertainment, but that merely skims the surface of why people crave, devour, and want to share them. A story is about the world or people who change around us, and the subsequent effect; whether it's through a lesson learned, a moral told, or even a cautionary warning (tragedies are usually about something or someone who needs to change, but fails).
There's a reason why works of art are called compositions. They are by definition composed, with a structure that the creator felt best represented that work.
While I doubt anyone would fault a painter who sketches out her subject beforehand, or a songwriter who includes a chorus between his stanzas, the term "formula" has a negative connotation in storytelling. All formulae have the same purpose: to ensure clarity of message. Yet for other mediums they are considered tools of the craft, while for stories they are considered unscrupulous.