How to convey a brand message using rags to riches storyline

July 24, 2021 10:23 AM

When there are too many choices, people don't buy products, they buy brands that provoke the right emotions

Stories generate emotions and stay for long in people’s memory

By Harsh Pamnani

We all know that to gain market share, a brand should have a product different from the competitors’ products. However, as the competition increases, a brand’s ability to practically differentiate its product diminishes. When it becomes difficult to differentiate products practically, brands try to differentiate themselves emotionally. In such a situation, differentiation is about how people feel about one brand compared to another brand. Recall recent advertisements of leading brands in any crowded category such as washing powder, toothpaste, soft drinks, chocolates, etc., and you will realize what I am talking about.

When there are too many choices, people don’t buy products, they buy brands that provoke the right emotions. Maybe that’s why a brand that is perceived as a symbol of success, inspiration, and happiness leads in the market.

Effective communication is all about establishing the positive image of a brand in people’s minds. Undoubtedly, stories generate emotions and stay for long in people’s memory. Therefore, by incorporating storytelling tactics, marketers can make their brand communication engaging and memorable.

Interestingly, rags to riches is among the most popular storylines. When people hear rags to riches stories of achievers who overcame challenges and became successful, people feel that they can also achieve their impossible-looking goals. Additionally, people not only consume such stories but also share them extensively to motivate others. Let’s look at how rags to riches stories can help a brand to stand out in a crowded category.

When we think about sporting goods, one of the first products that comes to our minds is shoes. If you start counting the number of brands selling sports shoes, you will get tired. There are too many of them. But if I ask you to name one, the possible answer would be Nike. If I ask you how Nike’s shoes differ from the shoes of other leading brands such as Adidas and Puma, you might struggle to come up with an answer. But, if I ask you how Nike makes you feel, the possible answer would be – motivated.

In most of its communication, Nike tells transformational stories of athletes who started small but became inspirations for millions. I don’t know how many people would be interested in a particular kind of sports shoe, available only with Nike and not with its competitors, but I am confident that many people want to become better versions of themselves. When people think about Nike, they don’t just think about sports shoes, they feel about an aspirational identity.

Let me share with you a highly competitive scenario in which Nike surpassed its competition with its communication. World Cup is probably the most popular sporting event in the world. The 2014 World Cup, hosted by Brazil, was viewed by over 1 billion people worldwide. In such large-scale events, not only athletes battle for supremacy but also brands fight for visibility. Let’s see how Nike dominated the visibility game during this World Cup.

Nike launched the ‘Risk Everything’ campaign with a series of films, including a short animated film ‘The Last Game,’ which shows how some of the greatest players succeed despite immense pressure through their fearless risk-taking. From an article with comments from Davide Grasso, then Nike’s CMO, I anticipate that the brand message is ‘If you are prepared to risk everything, there’s no telling what you can do.’ Now, I will explain the formula of the rags to riches storyline by breaking down ‘The Last Game’ film.

Beginning: A rags to riches story starts with a hero shown as an ordinary, insignificant person living under challenging circumstances. He is ambitious but regarded as of little worth by others. In the opening, the film shows a few children playing football on streets. The film highlights that these children have great focus and risk-taking abilities, but they don’t have resources such as a playground and sports apparel. Through this, you can relate that some of the world’s top football players came from difficult backgrounds.

Trigger for an unconventional journey: Something inspires the hero to go on an uncommon journey. This film highlights children’s passion for football as a trigger.

Unconventional journey: The hero encounters multiple problems, but he achieves success with his persistence and guidance from the right mentors. The film shows children who were playing on the streets become celebrated footballers. Now, they have a lot of visibility and a responsibility to meet their fans’ expectations.

Massive problem: When the audience feels the hero has got or is about to get enormous success, the hero’s life goes in the wrong direction. This primarily happens because of the entry of some villainous circumstance or person. In the film, a scientist appears who had analyzed the game thoroughly. He introduces clones, which are programmed for perfect football and guaranteed results. Unfortunately, these clones defeat the real players. This defeat leads to real players’ reputation loss and disappearance from the game.

Sad phase: Here, the hero feels helpless and frustrated. The film shows the real players leading normal lives and doing odd jobs.

Trigger for comeback journey: When the audience thinks the hero has failed or is about to fail, the seeds of the hero’s comeback are sown. In the film, retired Brazilian football legend Ronaldo watches an interview in which the scientist said who cares where the real players are and what they are doing. The scientist’s statement acts as a trigger to move Ronaldo on a mission to save football.

Transformational comeback: This is a self-discovery phase in which the hero understands his real strengths and achieves maturity to deal with the challenging circumstances. To get onto this comeback journey, the hero needs a push. In the film, Ronaldo acts as that push. He re-assembles the world’s brilliant football players and convinces them with an inspiring speech to beat the clones. The players challenge the clones to play a football match. The film shows the enthusiasm of the world for this match. Here, you can imagine the kind of pressure top players face when they have the responsibility to meet their fans’ expectations and defeat their most substantial competition.

Ending: The hero achieves significant success and status in society, and becomes an inspiration for others. In the film, the real players showcase their risk-taking abilities and defeat the clones. Eventually, the world celebrates the comeback of the real players.

According to Wieden+Kennedy, The Last Game film became Facebook’s most-shared video ever. Overall, the Risk Everything campaign achieved over 400 million views on digital video platforms. Around 23 million people engaged with the campaign content by liking, re-tweeting, or commenting. Interestingly, Nike saw a 21% YOY increase in revenue.

Marketing guru Seth Godin said, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories, you tell.” So, next time you plan to gift a brand message to your audience, think about whether you can use this structure as a gift wrap.

The writer is the author of the book ‘Booming Brands.’ (Views expressed are personal and don’t necessarily represent any company’s opinions.)

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