What brands and marketers can learn from film theory

Film theory states that stories can be fit into two broad categories: a stranger comes to town, or a hero goes on a journey. Here, Mike Chmielewski argues brands should be doing less of one and way more of the other.

I vividly remember sitting in one of my first film theory classes at university when my mind was blown. “There are only two types of stories: a stranger comes to town, or a hero goes on a journey.”

Every film you’ve ever watched, every story you have ever seen, can be distilled down to one of those two story structures. A stranger comes to town. A hero goes on a journey. This is a fundamental literary truth that applies to books, films, television and in fact any form of storytelling – including marketing and strategy.

Film theory mainstay Jean-Luc Godard

And don’t think for a moment that marketing and strategy, be it content strategy, media strategy, digital strategy, creative strategy, comms strategy, social strategy, <insert latest trend here> strategy, isn’t about story telling. It is. It’s all about the story.

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin

But here’s the thing – most brands, marketers, publishers and strategists focus on only one of those two principles, and that’s: “a stranger comes to town.”

The stranger in this case is a new brand, a new product, or even product attribute that a consumer isn’t aware of. “Oh look, our car now has 27 cup holders, here’s what it can do for you and why you should care (buy our car).”

That’s the general premise of marketing a product to a potential customer, right? Well, it has been traditionally. You see, a stranger comes to town is generally a one way value exchange, the brand giving you information, talking at you, not with you.

And we as strategists should be working out ways to ensure that value exchange is always a two way street.

The future is about empowering the consumer to be the hero and facilitating their own personal journey. One step is brands and publishers embracing user generated content in their over all strategies. But more importantly, it is about developing solutions that put story and journey first, publishers embracing that they need to listen as well as talk, and companies investing in technology that helps facilitate self-driven engaged personal storytelling.

And this means having a holistic approach to everything and developing new platforms for telling stories, bringing web and app developers into the conversation, with creative agencies, marketing departments, content creators, publishers, and most importantly, the consumers.

The question is, in such a multilayered toolbox-dependent industry that’s trying to turn every service into a product of its own, who develops that overarching all-encompassing strategy? Who puts the power in the hero’s hands? Who paves the road their story takes them on? That’s the trillion dollar question. And that’s a journey I can’t wait to go on.

Mike Chmielewski is a strategist.


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