Storytelling Techniques for Content Marketers: The Hero’s Journey
Even before language took written form, stories were told of heroes called to quests during which they overcame obstacles to reach an ultimate goal. Today these stories are told in books, movies and even in branding. In a world full of content fighting for our attention, those that tell a story stand out and are remembered long after other content is forgotten. An example of this hero motif is this year’s Budweiser Super Bowl commercial, which told the story of a lost puppy through the steps of a traditional Hero’s Journey. This type of storytelling demonstrates the steps an ad must follow to conform to this style of story that immediately resonates with viewers. Here are the seven successful steps Budweiser used to tell the Hero’s Tale of the lost puppy:
1) The Call (0:00-0:11)
This first step of the Hero’s tale shows our hero, the puppy, and establishes his friendship with the horse. As the horse is taken away in the trailer, the puppy is called to journey outside of his home to a new place. The puppy’s life shifts, and the viewer knows that things are now going to be different for him when the trailer door closes.
2) The Threshold (0:11-0:19)
The puppy has been called to his adventure, and only when the trailer busts open and he runs out has he crossed the threshold to begin to face the challenges ahead. The threshold serves as a visual clue that the puppy has left safety, and things will be more difficult for him now.
3) The Challenges (0:20-0:30)
With the puppy now lost, he begins his journey into the unknown and faces several challenges. By showing his owner looking for him while he sits under a box in the rain or runs through a muddy field, the commercial shows that the hero has many challenges which he must overcome by himself. Because of this, the viewer instinctively roots for the hero as he overcomes the odds. Tension builds as the puppy approaches his greatest challenge.
4) Into the Abyss (0:31-0:38)
After traveling a long way, the puppy faces his toughest challenge as a wolf approaches him just before he reaches home. This is the moment of greatest tension, and makes the viewer wonder how the puppy will complete his journey when all hope seems lost. Even though the puppy had made it all this way by himself, it seems like it will not be enough to get home.
5) Transformation and Revelation (0:39-0:46)
In the moment of greatest tension, the commercial provides the great revelation that the puppy is not alone, and that his horse friend will come to help him. This revelation allows the puppy to overcome his greatest challenge and make it out of his encounter with the wolf safely. This moment allows for celebration by the viewer, who can see the hero come out of the trials victorious.
6) The Atonement (0:47-0:54)
After surviving his great journey, the puppy makes it home to his owner where he can be brought back to how he was before his journey. He is washed which shows his return to normalcy after making it through the many trials he had overcome. This stage provides a peace of mind to see the hero recovering from the challenges faced.
7) The Return (0:55-1:00)
The final shot shows a return of the puppy to his two friends and his life from before the journey. This provides closure that after a successful journey, the hero is rewarded with a happy homecoming and is reunited with his friends. Without this step, the journey would not be complete and the viewer would be left wondering what happened to the puppy after making it home.
This piece of content marketing genius uses storytelling so well that it had millions of people talking about it long after the Super Bowl finished. The commercial utilized many tropes such as pitting David versus Goliath in the wolf encounter, which is well-known to be an effective tool in storytelling. By marketing the brand through a compelling story, Budweiser succeeded in creating value through entertainment, and not simple advertisement. As a result, the commercial was heavily shared and discussed. Of the many marketing lessons of the 2015 Super Bowl, the one that seems to stand out is that great content marketing simply tells a great story.
Matthew Janowski—Content Creator