Whether you followed the Marvel Cinematic Universe craze, or even if you haven’t, you will know that the blockbuster, Avengers: Endgame, recently brought to a “close” eleven years of build-up to the “Infinity Saga” storyline. It all began with Iron Man 1 in 2008 and spans a whopping 23 movies portrayed in 3 phases, each gaining its own cult status. But rather than ending a story, Endgame started one. It ignited a love for the Marvel franchise that will be the stuff of brand storytelling legends for years to come.
Specialist brand storytelling is about creating heartfelt characters that connect with customers. The way Marvel crafted this epic story gives us some great insights into what it takes to create characters that outlive the story and customers that are loyal to the brand.
The Infinity Saga itself is based on an iconic comic book series dating back to the 1990’s including the Infinity Gauntlet (1991), Infinity War (1992) and Infinity Crusade (1993) which had fans talking and Marvel reimagining the storyline for decades since.
The success of the storytelling in Marvel’s case, lies in 5 key lessons:
1. No character is unimportant
Stories are everywhere. In the movie we meet a somewhat comical character called Rocket Raccoon and his sidekick (a tree) Groot. A bounty hunter of sorts and the product of genetic modification, the anthropomorphic anti-hero is the epitome of great storytelling. Contained in this expertly written character is the embodiment of all the elements of ‘bad turned good’, bravery and courage…albeit reluctant. Some of the most tender moments in the Marvel movies consist of Rocket revealing a little bit of what he has suffered and what he has gained through friendship.
Takeaway: Your customers are looking for a hero. People need heroes and they are everywhere. It is the 90-year old tavern owner that still gets up early every morning to walk the township’s children to school safely. Find those stories. Speak to your customers who are just “ordinary” mothers, fathers, teachers, mine workers, and, yes, tavern owners.
2. Take your time to create characters that count
The Infinity Saga could possibly have been told in two to three movies, but it could just as easily have bombed at the box office trying to fit all in. By taking the time to painstakingly tell the stories and the back-stories of those characters that are not well known, Marvel is now left with one to two generations of people who are loyal to the franchise. Characters like Ant-Man, Peter Quill and Drax are now household names to more than just comic book fans.
Takeaway: Don’t rush the story. If it is a 14-minute video instead of the popular 4.4 minute video YouTube requires, do it. If you take the care to tell your brand’s story in the right place at the right time so that it creates an emotional connection, your ideal audience will come.
3. Stories can be powerful to create socio-economic change
The multiple award-winning Black Panther opened during President’s weekend in America in 2018 and smashed numerous records including the best President’s Day weekend opening, best opening weekend for a black director and predominately black cast and in its 25th week it became the third ever to surpass $700 million in ticket sales.
The movie depicts the Marvel character of the same name: T’Challa – ruler of the advanced hidden African civilisation, Wakanda. T’Challa’s authority to rule is challenged by an adversary and his deceased father’s past comes back to haunt him.
The movie portrayed a number of unapologetically strong black characters that young people could look up to. T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, is the highly intelligent 16-year old who designs the country’s advanced technology and sparked a move for young women in tech.
The choice of director, the location and even the way the language and dialect was treated was true to the essence of what it was meant to be: “Proud to be African”.
Takeaway: By leaving out a portion of your consumer base, you stand to lose more than you gain from focussing on your usual market. Which part of the market haven’t you considered yet?
4. Good (still) overcomes evil
Even when all seems lost, people still hold onto (and need) hope. Without spoiling too much of the plot if you are still planning to watch it, Infinity War, the movie straight before End Game, ended in utter devastation and hopelessness. Little clues throughout the previous movies hinted at what was to come in End Game to try to unravel the destruction, even though all is not restored to a “conventional” happy ending.
Takeaway: Find and tell stories of hope.
5. Even ‘bad’ characters have a story and even ‘good’ characters have a past
It is that exact tension that creates characters people love and what keeps them makes them coming back for more.
Takeaway: If you messed up as a brand, tell the story… the good and the bad. Be honest and transparent.
Portraying the perfect image does not always help people connect to you. Showing your flaws and (more importantly) your learnings, makes for an endearing character and brand.
Great brand storytelling leaves the customer wanting more. It takes the audience on a journey into the detail, building trust as it goes along. It challenges thinking and creates real characters, real people love.