News Your brand story is being told (whether it’s you telling it or not)

3rd July 2018

In his 2004 book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories author Christopher Booker tells us that every storyline in the world follows one of seven plots. It’s a big idea that feeds our human desire for understanding and neat endings, but is it true? Is it useful? And what’s it got to do with marketing?

Here are the seven basic plots:

Overcoming the Monster: Where the hero goes on a journey that culminates in defeating a monster. Star Wars, Jaws, James Bond.

Rags to Riches: From humble beginnings the hero comes out on top and gets everything they’ve ever dreamed of. Aladdin, Cinderella, Happy Gilmore.

The Quest: The hero is spurred into action and goes on a quest to find something or someone. Lord of the Rings, Dumb and Dumber, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Voyage and Return: After being thrust into a voyage, the hero experiences all kinds of people and events, then returns home with a new outlook on life. The Wizard of Oz, Castaway, Forrest Gump.

Comedies: A storyline with two or more heroes that usually can’t get along at the beginning but, through a series of comedic scrapes, learn to become friends. When Harry Met Sally, Zoolander, Blades of Glory.

Tragedies: Essentially a riches to rags story, where our hero loses everything by the end of the story. Titanic, No Country for Old Men, The Shining.­

Rebirth: Follows a similar path to a tragedy, but the hero realises just in time that they are in danger (physical, emotional, of failing…) and changes their ways. A Christmas Carol, Trainspotting, Beauty and the Beast.

To explore how the seven plot line premise can add value to a brand, we also need a little background on the Jungian philosophy on which it’s built. Jung believed there are just 12 types of people (archetypes) in the world, and that each one has its own motivations, weaknesses, values and so on.

The theory goes that our unconscious recognises them all and, depending on what archetype we are ourselves, we either seek out or repel different archetypes. Therefore, a knowledge of them is a valuable tool in understanding ourselves and those around us.

Here are Jung’s archetypes and their mottoes, and a brand for each that I think fits the archetype:

  1. The Innocent. Motto: Free to be you and me (Coke)
  2. The Orphan/Regular Guy or Gal. Motto: All men and women are created equal (Target)
  3. The Hero. Motto: Where there’s a will, there’s a way (Nike)
  4. The Caregiver. Motto: Love your neighbour as yourself (World Vision)
  5. The Explorer. Motto: Don’t fence me in (Tesla)
  6. The Rebel. Motto: Rules are made to be broken (Uber)
  7. The Lover. Motto: You’re the only one (Tiffany’s)
  8. The Creator. Motto: If you can imagine it, it can be done (Lego)
  9. The Jester. Motto: You only live once (M&M’s)
  10. The Sage. Motto: The truth will set you free (Wikileaks)
  11. The Magician. Motto: I make things happen (Bunnings)
  12. The Ruler. Motto: Power isn’t everything, it’s the only thing (Microsoft)

Looking closer at Tesla, its dominant archetype is ‘The Explorer’. They are exploring the outer limits of what’s possible in transport and energy. That’s who they are.

But what is Tesla’s story?

It could be Voyage and Return (out to the future and back again with radical products) or The Quest (for the perfect car or fuel source).

Ultimately, though, the Tesla story is Overcoming the Monster.

The Monster in Tesla’s story is the accepted ways of transport and powering modern life (petrol cars and coal power) and the governmental and societal systems that support them. Everything Tesla does is designed to overthrow the monster that stands in their way.

Apart from the Tesla flamethrower, of course, that’s just goofy.

And consumers clearly love this story – Tesla cannot keep up with demand for their cars and growing solar energy product sales are making the world less reliant on fossil fuels.

Tesla recently gambled with the Monster in the form of the South Australian government, betting that they could build a solar farm and battery capable of eliminating that state’s ongoing power shortage woes. And that they’d build it in 100 days or it would be free. They succeeded, and the system is exceeding all expectations. Tesla is battling its monster and winning.

It’s a story that speaks to our unconscious understanding of archetypes and plot lines. The Explorer is overcoming the monster, and who wouldn’t cheer on The Explorer (or want to buy his car?)

If your brand story isn’t so clear, then the 12 archetypes and 7 plot lines are a good place to start working it out, because to know your brand and the story it’s telling brings clarity and focus to your marketing.

And everyone loves a good story, including customers.


By Andrew Hunting, a Strategic Planner at Zinc and an advocate for good storytelling.