Conflict Is The Driving Force Of A Good Story

Last week we delved into Message which is the first element of Storytelling

Today we look closely as to why Conflict becomes the driving force of a good story. Imagine Jaws without a hungry white shark, Superman without kryptonite or Little Red Riding Hood without a ferocious wolf: the teenagers would have a great summer at the beach, Superman would not have a worry in the world, and Little red Riding Hood would visit Grandma and then go home. Boring and predictable spring to mind!

In other words, too much harmony and not enough conflict makes a story that is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Conflict is the driving force of a good story. The answer lies in human nature. As humans we instinctively look for balance and harmony in our lives. So, as soon as harmony is disrupted we do whatever we can restore it. When faced with a conflict we instinctively seek to find a solution. Conflict forces us to act. As storytellers we get our message across through conflict and its resolution. The greater the conflict the more dramatic the story will be. There is no set recipe for the right balance. But in order to judge if a conflict will work or not, you can try ‘measuring’ your story on the Conflict Barometer.

Through this conflict, your brand can make its stand while expressing its core values at the same time. Effectively, it is a question of building contrasts and opposites just like the battle between good and evil, sweet and sour, or fun versus boring. In the case of branding, a conflict is not necessarily a negative rather the catalyst for creating a distinct brand. Often it is easier to explain what you do not represent , rather than trying to explain what you do.

Without conflict, it is incredibly difficult to build and maintain a strong brand story. If what your brand is fighting for constitutes customer needs that have already been met, there is no strong adversary to drive the story forward. You could say, that if we were all born winners, what would we need Nike for?

Dreams also make a goo driver in a brand story. It may be far fetched to claim that Harley Davidson is fighting for a cause, but there can be little doubt that the renowned American motorcycle manufacturer is selling a dream. Harley Davidson’s concept of freedom is contrasted by the norms that society places on us, and the obligations that follow. This is where the Harley Davidson conflict lies. Life on the open road versus the ‘straightjacket’ of normal life. The conflict lies in the tension rich field between freedom and prison, and appeals to all who believe in the American Dream. Harley Davidson is as much a symbol of Americana as Coca-Cola.

Which longing or desire does your brand provide customers with the opportunity to pursue? This is another means by which you can identify the conflict in your brand story, as well as the outline of the cause or dream that your brand fights to achieve. The old saying still holds true: trying to please everybody makes nobody really happy.

CMO Perspective – BMW

In the advertising industry it is part of the creative game to borrow themes, styles and codes from traditional storytelling universes and apply it in commercials. In recent years, this approach has been taken even further by car manufacturers, attempting to enter the realm of feature films as a means to build the right thrill and excitement around their products.

BMW contemplated what they could do as a leader in luxury performance cars so instead of rolling out a traditional advertising campaign, they decided to let people discover and interact with the brand in the digital world. BMW set out on an advertising quest that would ultimately blur the zone between films, entertainment and adverting. By merging the best of BMW with the best of Hollywood, they created a truly innovative storytelling universe.

The solution was radical – and expensive. BMW teamed up with some of the best directors in the world to create a collection of original short films about a mythical driver and his adventures in his BMW. Costs for filming were covered by BMW and while each film featured one of the company’s vehicles, the filmmakers were given complete creative control. Research had shown that 85% of BMW consumers first went online to scope out the company’s portfolio., before purchasing vehicles. Therefore, the concept was not to create a mainstream film release for theatres, but rather bring the power and quality of feature-length movies to a format designed for the Internet.

The campaign entitled The Hire was launched as a collection of five to seven minute films featuring famous faces, sexy cars and high-speed action. Directors included David Fincher, Ang Lee, Ridley Scott, John Woo & Guy Ritchie. The constant main character in each short film was actor Clive Owen who features as the mysterious, unnamed driver for hire. On his quest he is accompanied by a star studded supporting cast including among others Ray Liotta, Gary Oldman, James Brown and Madonna. Besides creative plot twists, the films of course feature thrilling car chases and nail-biting stunts that display the myriad ability of various BMW models. Sales in The US went up 17.4% compared to the same period the year before.

The success of the BMW filmmaking project inspired their backyard rivals at Mercedes to enter into the world of storytelling too, only this time in a slightly different direction. Mercedes spent vast sums of money on a celebrity cast that included Benicio Del Toro and Oscar-nominated director Michael Mann. This time the plot centred on a professional gambler Mr H who worked the big casinos, eventually attracting the attention of government agents. The key difference in Mercedes approach to this world of advertainment, was that their campaign film was presented as a two and a half minute trailer for the upcoming movie Lucky Star. What appeared to be a movie trailer was in fact a commercial for the Mercedes SL-Class sports car. The link to the Mercedes brand was never obvious to the unknowing audience and the trailer generated plenty of hype before people realized that Mercedes was behind the hoax.

Storytelling can take on a variety of forms in the universe of advertising. Largely, it simply comes down to creating a recognizable and relevant universe where the company or its products take on a natural role in the story. But it is the characters and their actions, and the conflicts they try to resolve that drive the story forward.

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