7 basic storytelling plots and how to use them in your video content

27th February 2016

From fairy tales to Oscar-nominated movies, many of the stories we tell each other revolve around a finite number of plots or conventions. Christopher Booker narrowed these down to seven basic plots in his book on why we tell stories (which took him over 34 years to write).

Just as brands can use archetypes as a shortcut to their values, which can then be conveyed easily to their audiences, these plots can help to create brand stories. The basics can then be transformed, turned on their heads and developed into a wide array of narratives that grab the attention of the reader or viewers. We thought that these frameworks would be a good starting point to help your video marketing campaigns tell your brand story.

Video marketing: overcoming the monster

First up is the classic “overcoming the monster” plot where an underdog shows courage and tenacity to overcome some kind of demon.

The Freeview ad below shows a dystopian future (drawing on Orwell’s 1984 and Pink Floyd’s The Wall) where an army of TVs march the streets broadcasting the same content. The ad sets up Freeview as the hero with subscription-based models as evil and standardised. One woman with her dog, manages to the kill the “monster” and frees her TV.

The “monster” in your brand story can be a problem that your product or service solves. As marketing professionals, we are always seeking to sell the benefits rather than the features.

Vodaphone’s “Power for You” campaign stresses that their networks and technology give their customers the power to solve the day to day problems we all face.

In the video below, a crying child on the bus is entertained by another passengers’ phone. It’s not a literal monster, but Vodaphone comes in as the solution.

The advert below for Cancer Research shows a twist on the “battle with the cancer” narrative. Real people are used in the video campaign to show how cancer is happening right now, but research is also happening.

The use of real people gives the video authenticity and combines the emotional with the logical to tell the story. It’s a fresh approach which focuses on the way that ordinary people are dealing with the disease and Cancer Research is getting on with helping them. Scientific research is humanised effectively through these real stories.

Rags to Riches plot in advertising

In the rags to riches plot, the poor hero acquires wealth or power, loses it and gets it back growing as a person as a result.

This plot can help to position your brand’s heritage. The recent advertising campaign for Grey Goose vodka uses this motif. In the story, the creator of the drink was dismissed by his country, which felt that vodka countered their values. He battled against this view, even when riots occurred, and now this brand is valued around the world. At the end, he returns to his home town where he is welcomed – from rags to riches.

How can your brand use the quest story?

In the quest narrative, the hero sets off on a mission to meet his goal. The memorable John Lewis Chrismas ad from 2012 is a good example, featuring a snowman heading off on a quest to get the perfect gift.

The automotive video below shows a different form of this plot where an investigative team are on a quest to find art thieves.

In this heist movie take-off, Mercedes neatly manages to introduce many of their automotive models into the same creative.

Brands can use the quest narrative to show how they are on a “quest” for perfection to create the best product for their customers.

Voyage and Return in video marketing

With the “voyage and return” plot, think Alice in Wonderland; the character heads to an unfamiliar land, overcomes the threats which confront him/her and then returns to tell the tale.

For video marketing, this narrative allows brands to stress the power of imagination and key into childlike daydreams.

We admire GE’s campaigns, and the one below is no exception. In this video, a girl imagines what her mother does at GE. It helps the brand bring the technical and scientific work that they do to life.

Comedy

Comedy can be difficult to get right, but it you do there can be rewards (as we found with this viral video for Barclaycard). People will share things that make them laugh.

The Specsavers ads with the tagline “Should’ve gone to Specsavers” is another good example of a light-hearted series that reinforces the brand message. In this example, comedian John Cleese returns to his signature character, Basil Fawlty recreating the famous scene where the bad-tempered hotelier attacks his car with a tree branch. This sitcom’s theme tune will be evocative for the target audience.

We worked with our agency partners, Immediate Media, to create this humorous social video campaign for Cineworld, which played on a teenagers’ embarrassment at his parents. In each segment, the parents are seen recreating a scene from an upcoming movie, with the trapped teen sharing his feelings via social media.

Tragedy

An example of tragedy would be Macbeth where the protagonist has one major character flaw which ultimately is their undoing. This evokes some sympathy in the viewer as they were fundamentally good but chose the wrong path – and are almost fated to do so.

This is a tricky one for video marketers, unless in a fund-raising film where we want to tug at the heartstrings to encourage a donation. So, let’s look at ways brands rework it. In Snickers series “You’re not you when you’re hungry”, a character flaw is emphasised which the brand can solve. Here’s the latest campaign:

In the ad for Chevrolet by Evil Dead director, Sam Raimi, the tragic horror film story, where the usually female actor is lured into a haunted house, is turned around. It plays on the fact that we all shout at the movie screen when the protagonist opens that door when we know she should run…

Rebirth

In the rebirth story something happens to make the person re-evaluate their life and as a result, change their ways. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign follows this plot in their content marketing campaigns by encouraging women to re-evaluate perceptions of beauty.

In the video below, women from around the world are given the choice to walk through a door marketing “Beautiful”, the other “Average”.  At the end the women who chose the average door, evaluate why they did this and decide that they would now walk through the beautiful entrance.

Now that you’ve seen all seven basic plots and examples from recent video campaigns, which would be most effective for your brand?

If you’re looking for help with telling your brand stories, get in touch for a chat.

 

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