What’s a story without a villain? Most storytelling experts will tell you that though not every hero necessitates a villain, a great story will include an anti-hero or bad guy because these characters instigate conflict – and tension typically tends to make the narrative more exciting.
If your brand story has a hero (your customer) and sidekick (your brand), it makes sense to have an opposing or complementing character actively working to create obstacles and challenges that the hero needs to overcome in order to win. The struggle that villains or antagonists provide in the narrative add an extra layer of empathy from the audience towards the hero and sidekick. The more conflict heroes and sidekicks experience brought on by opposing characters, the more enthralled the audience becomes with foreshadowing the outcome and story ending.
The brand story content can include – but is certainly not limited to – your brand’s history, mission, purpose and core values. Sharing bygone accounts to create nostalgia is a great way to entice your audience and can likewise serve as an opportunity to introduce those contending characters that are very much a part of the narrative. What challenges did the brand face in the beginning? Which competitors gained market share in the industry that propelled a complete rebrand or product extension?
Nevertheless, villains and adversaries are not narrowly reserved to condemning the actual storyline. These rival characters can and will be found in the unlikeliest of places, anywhere there might be an opportunity for negative outcome to the brand, brand story and the entire process of storytelling, including its design. Even you as a storyteller unknowingly may become an anti-hero to the narrative. So in the interest of landing a well-told account, we must leave nothing to chance when exploring the challenges and obstacles your brand and brand story have and may continue to encounter throughout their life journey.
Why Brand Villains And Antagonists?
The purpose of bringing these bad guys to light is not to coerce you into including them as part of your brand story (although you may very well do so if you see fit), but to bring awareness to existing opposing forces that may want to tear apart the careful weaving of the narrative you’ve constructed.
Villains and antagonists give context to the plot in a way that no other character can do, because they make us see the level of evil or opposition through the eyes of the protagonist.
In the brand storytelling context, villains can range anywhere from competing brands to siloed internal systems and processes that disrupt the brand equity goals and unified brand voice and message. When thinking about your brand story villains and antagonists, it’s important to identify the amount of impact and opposition each of these characters affords so that you can decide if they should be given a starring role in the brand narrative, if any role at all.
Lastly and fundamentally, it’s important to understand the unique differences between villains and antagonists.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a villain as:
- a character in a story or play who opposes the hero.
- a deliberate scoundrel or criminal
- one blamed for a particular evil or difficulty
While an antagonist is ‘one that contends or opposes another’. In many cases, an antagonist is not necessarily a villain, or even a character. It can be a force that brings conflict and opposition to the protagonist, even within himself.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Miri Rodriguez. Excerpted from her book Brand Storytelling: Put Customers At The Heart Of Your Brand Story (Kogan-Page)
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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education