What would Batman be without the Joker?
Harry Potter without Voldemort?
Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill without Bill to kill?
In stories, a dastardly villain is a critical character. They’re the force that ultimately catalyzes our hero to take action and overcome the problem.
And as the audience, we love a great villain. They deepen our love for the hero. They amplify the stakes of the story. They draw us in and keep us watching because we want to see our hero take the bad guy down.
Your brand story needs a villain, too.
In other words, you need to pick a fight!
What’s the “villain” your products and services fight against? When you clearly define this enemy for your customers, you invite them to join you in that fight. You position your products and services as tools that equip them to defeat that villain.
Examples of Brands that Have a Clearly Defined Villain
Of course, unlike the movies, the villain in your story usually won’t be an actual person. But you can vilify practically anything: a concept, an inconvenience, or an injustice in the world.
For example, at StoryBrand, our villain is noise. It’s the clutter and confusion in your marketing that keeps your business from growing.
In our marketing, we unpack the devastation noise can cause. We highlight how pervasive it is. We talk about what it takes to defeat it. Ultimately, we want our customers to win the day by using our framework, overcoming noise, and finding clarity in their messaging.
Allstate’s “Mayhem” Campaign
One of my favorite villains in advertising is the Allstate Mayhem guy, played by actor Dean Winters.
He personifies all the forces of mayhem in the world that your insurance should protect you against: bad drivers, that creaky tree by your house, and even dryer lint.
In these commercials, he acts out each force, cackling as he causes car accidents and wrecks homes. It captures our imaginations and reminds us (in a funny, non-threatening way) of how easily accidents can happen.
And the closing copy ties it all together and shows you how to defeat the villain: “Mayhem is everywhere, so get an Allstate agent.”
Like Allstate, Mucinex personifies their villain. Their villain is the common cold, and they bring it to life with a talking mucus blob. (Can I just pause and say how gross it is to even type that out?)
As you pinpoint your villain, make sure your customers will recognize and identify with the havoc it wreaks.
They do a great job of making the villain relatable. We’ve all been in a situation where a bad cold has taken us away from an important event, like a kid’s birthday party. As you pinpoint your villain, make sure your customers will recognize and identify with the havoc it wreaks.
This commercial is a rallying cry to fight the villain, and they actually show the villain being defeated. The bottle of medicine literally squashes the mucus blob as the copy rallies us to join the fight: “Start the Relief. Ditch the Misery. Let’s End This.”
Outdoor gear company REI turned holiday consumerism into a villain with a campaign called “Opt Outside.”
It seems like every year, the holiday season gets more commercialized. Themes of thankfulness and goodwill get increasingly lost in all the Black Friday deals and holiday shopping hustle.
So on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, REI closed their retail stores and encouraged people to head outside for an adventure instead of hitting the post-Thanksgiving sales.
In an article for AdWeek about the success of the campaign, the team who developed the idea strategically timed it to coincide with Black Friday. For the campaign to succeed, it needed the “villain” of consumerism in the Black Friday narrative to position itself against.
By naming a villain, REI found that millions of people wanted to be a part of rallying against it.
And what surprised them most was how the public responded. Customers took up the fight themselves, claiming their adventures with the #OptOutside hashtag. They made REI’s mission their own. By naming a villain, REI found that millions of people wanted to be a part of rallying against it.
Today the hashtag is thriving long after the campaign, with over 5.3 million posts on Instagram alone. And the goodwill and brand affinity customers feel for REI now makes them all the more likely to do business there the other 364 days of the year.
Southwest Airlines “Transfarency”
Southwest Airlines’ entire pricing model is built around the villain of competitors’ fees.
While other low-cost airlines nickel-and-dime you for seat choices, checked bags, and even water, Southwest doesn’t. In fact, they even built out a campaign around it and made up a punny word for their no-hidden-fees pricing strategy: “transfarency.”
They go after this villain in their marketing all the time. Check out this clear and compelling one-two punch against competitors’ fees:
Like Southwest does here, make your villain specific. For example, clients will often start by saying that “frustration” is a villain. It’s not. Frustration is what a villain makes us feel. Yes, we feel frustration when we get nickel and dimed by an airline. But this campaign doesn’t vilify frustration. It goes straight to the root source: competitors’ fees.
Is there a villain in your customer’s story? Is there a force your brand rallies against? Don’t be afraid to define and discuss that villain. You’ll find your customers are more than ready to join you on your fight against it — and they’ll do business with you as a result.