A good story needs a hero, a conflict and a monster
There is nothing like a little darkness to give definition to light.
Monsters have a number of important values in stories.
They raise the stakes; they create drama, emotion, and conflict. They throw up a hero (oh, look, that’s us). They give the hero a very visible adversary and clearly position the hero as being on the side of right. They highlight what his or her virtues are. And, perhaps most important from our point of view, monsters unite the community against them.
This is one of the important differences between a monster and an enemy: An enemy is a threat to you, but a monster is a threat to the larger community. This is what brings the community together. However disparate, divided, or simply indolent the community had been up to that point, the presence of a monster brings them together in unity against it.
In modern storytelling and popular film, the nature of the monster ranges from real monsters (Jaws, Cloverfield) to conceptual monsters like big business and large corporations (much of John Grisham’s oeuvre) to particular people (Dodgeball).
And one of the key narrative arcs in such stories, of course, is the hero’s struggle to communicate the threat to the community and to get them to take it seriously so that they can respond and defeat it.
Some challengers, then, have been very explicit about creating monsters that they then oppose.
Dove was not the first to challenge the beauty industry—Anita Roddick in the 1980s described the beauty business as ‘‘a monster selling unobtainable dreams, one that lies, cheats and exploits women.’’
And the legendary Apple ‘‘1984’’ spot from Chiat/Day is, in fact, as explicit a monster narrative as it is possible to be: A large monster (the dehumanised authority figure on the screen) has the community in slavish thrall, and it takes a hero in white with a single magical weapon to escape her pursuit and defeat it, thereby liberating the community.
And when did Apple and Chiat/Day show this commercial? During the Super Bowl—the one time in the year when all of America sits down and watches TV together as a community. That is to say, Apple and its ad agency looked to unite the community of America against the ‘‘monster’’ through the media plan as much as through the spot itself.
And actually, if we look at three classic challenger examples — Avis, Apple, Virgin Atlantic —they all used monsters, though in different ways.
Apple demonised the threat because it threatened all of us; Avis positioned itself as threatened by a Big Fish, which threat pushed it to serve us better. Virgin Atlantic ingeniously worked the two together: Overall, Virgin looked to make British Airways into, if not a monster, then the Fat Cat, and then championed ‘‘us against them.’’
So, if you choose to be a challenger in your market, then having an enemy, and perhaps going as far as creating a monster will be an important strand of thinking for you.
At least for the internal unity and energy of your ‘‘community’’ and perhaps as a source of clarity and energy for your external challenge, whether you name your enemy or leave it implicit.