Why brands must embrace conflicts

McDonald´s “Signs” campaign from Leo Burnett

By Antonio Nunez*

DO YOU FANCY STORYTELLING to promote your brand? Are you craving for a brilliant transmedia storytelling strategy for your media budget? Are you coveting the ideal branded content?

Well, first you need to find the right story.

A story captures your audience´s attention, engages the mind and ignites collective debate because its full of emotions, sensorial details and, most importantly, has an entertaining factor. Stories are a key element to the one-on-one real-time communication chain, as word of mouth is the most credible way to communicate in today´s cynical world. A brand story, easy to remember and re-tell in a personal way, told through a social media network or in a real-life real pub, is the most powerful tool to link your brand to.

But finding the right story is not a job for risk-averse marketing professionals.

A story is a communication tool made up of a sequence of events that appeal to our senses and emotions. By dealing with a conflict, it reveals a truth which gives meaning to our lives. A story is not a joke, not an anecdote, not a children’s fairytale. It isn´t even a legend. If you try to create your brand storytelling without a resonating story, the maximum you will get is a joke “sponsored by”.

There is a sacred element about a story, whether they be fiction or non-fiction because they contain a cultural or moral universal truth. And as a universal truth, a story is able to give our lives meaning, shed light on the mysteries of the world around us and even explain unknown facets of ourselves to us.

Proud Whopper Campaign by David Agency

Does the orgy of information we read daily on Google News talk about our lives? Are our lives enriched by watching Anderson Cooper or listening to Oprah Winfrey? Does the new Globo soap give us a better understanding of others or of ourselves? If the answers are resounding NOs, then well soon stop lending them our valuable attention time.

Stories are relevant because, as beings in a permanent search for meaning, we tend to stockpile the events we experience from day to day in order to build our own identity. Until recently, “the classics” provided us with ingredients rich in vital meaning. But in today’s fragmented and ever-changing world, the original great stories, rooted in religion, politics or the working life, have all been worn out. The stories fed to us by the mass media and by our peers have become our main source of vital meaning.

If you want to mean for your brand or company, you should dare to embrace conflict.

“Conflict”. Scary word. We are so reluctant about using conflicts in our campaigns that we even avoid the term. We prefer to talk about “debates”, “discussions”, “polemics” and “tension”, and this last one only if we are brave. But storytelling industries crave for “conflict”. Good conflict is the first indicator of a good story; it´s what HBO, Konami, and Bollywood look for to find their success stories. If we are hungry for word of mouth, viral campaigns and catchy messages, if we need to compete against or be allies of Game of Thrones, Metal Gear or Bodyguard to get citizen´s attention, as professional storytellers we need to find the right conflict for our brand. Our messages and campaigns cannot be more predictable, dull or politically correct than the platforms, channels, and contents in which they swim and try to stay afloat in.

Conflict is the new brand idea. Stories are the new creative campaigns.

No conflict? No story. Conflict is the story´s cognitive hook. Neuroscience has proven it. Conflict in the plot captivates our brains and sets it in “projective attention” mode. We think: “What would I do if I was the character? What do I have to learn in case this happens to me in real life? Is that social norm or value still ruling? What are the rewards or punishments for defying that cultural norm?”

“Applause”, Anheuser-Busch´s Commercial by DDB Chicago

In order to create effective storytelling strategies, brands must resist their habitual tendency ​​of wanting the general consensus of the total population. They need dare to be bold and put down roots in conflict. It is not about being conflictive just for the sake of conflict itself, it is about illustrating a polarizing interpretation of cultural truth. This narrative conflict potential should be the new definition for “consumer insight”, not the old “simple universal recognizable truth”. If your consumer insight is universally considered as a truth, then it lacks the potential for narrative conflict. The challenge is to find that conflict which the brand can be identified with and go to town with it.

If the conflict is the new brand idea, then stories are the new creative campaigns.

In today´s cynical world, authentic stories are the kings of the jungle in the narrative ecosystem. Any content that starts with the “based on a true story” line grabs our attention. Look at Apple´s success spreading the stories about the roles iPhone apps played in the aftermath of Haití´s earthquake. Evaluate Facebook´s or Twitter's success at collecting inspiring stories from its users. See how real stories triumph in TV, movies, literature and video games.

True personal stories work better. This is why marketing and advertising professionals in charge of finding stories should learn from research journalists, an occupation profile that needs to be incorporated into our line of work.

McDonald's “Signs” campaign from Leo Burnett

The search for inspiring stories about consumers that synthesize the brand’s conflict will be the primary activity focus of communication agencies in the future. Advertising agencies will be a hybrid between a mythology lab, able to understand conflicts, a newspaper editorial room, able to find the perfect story, and a content producer, capable of making the narration of each and every story spectacular.

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*About the author:

Antonio Nunez is an author, speaker and brand strategist specialized in Storytelling. For ideas and tips on storytelling and communication, you can join his free newsletter at antonionunez.com or follow his Twitter @AntonNunez

Communication Strategy Consultant, Author, and Storytelling Teacher at Domestika.com. More at antonionunez.com

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