Heroes and Brands

By christinewatson / / Check out part 1 of Bernard’s series on the hero Just before the holidays, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Joe Lazauskas, the Editor of The New York Egotist, to chat about Gigantic, branded content and the role of “narrative” and “story” in advertising. One point of discussion was a post I had just made on Gigantic’s blog about brands and heroes. Joe asked me if I would consider using this post as a starting point for a series of posts here about narrative, storytelling and advertising. My intention is a series of short articles to hit on different aspects of these ideas and share some observations and maybe a little inspiration. Heroes and Brands. Benefits and Flaws. Every good story needs a hero. Or an antihero. As I pointed out in my into post on heroes and brands, sometimes the natural instinct is to position the brand or product as the hero. It doesn’t always come off in the most believable fashion. Here’s a few thoughts on why: Believable heroes have shortcomings. That’s what makes them heroic: they overcome their limitations to get what they want. When a person sees that struggle in a film or a story they try to relate. And the easier it is to empathize with a hero, the more we want to cheer him or her on. Flaws make us human. Flaws make us real. Even Superman has kryptonite. Brands have benefits; that’s what ultimately makes them desirable. And benefits are usually a positive. That’s not a bad thing at all. Advertising is about telling the story of the benefit. And you need a benefit to help a brand shape its identity. But when you cast a brand as a hero, well, brands don’t like to point out flaws, so you often end up with a heroic brand that’s hard to empathize with. And you often get an advertising story that easy to ignore; one that just feels like hype, with no emotional connection. Ever see a good example of a brand making a benefit seem like a flaw? There are more than a few, but one example that immediately leaps to my mind is “Lemon” by DDB for Volkswagen. Maybe that’s why after all this time it’s still considered by many as one of the greatest ads ever. It does an amazing job of taking flaw in the product and twisting it into a heroic attribute. And it also humanizes Volkswagen as a brand. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment with a one word headline and a hero shot of the product. -Bernard Urban