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Aligning conflict brand stories with product types

Relevant topics Archive, Advertising

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    An engaging brand story forms positive connections towards the brand.
  • Application:
    Conflict reversal stories in advertising can help consumers understand product benefits. The story presents obstacles and solutions that consumers themselves might identify with.
  • We all know stories that show us a conflict followed by a solution. These are called reversal stories.Conflict reversal stories in advertising can help consumers understand product benefits. The stories present obstacles and solutions that consumers themselves might identify with. → If consumers can connect with the story, they can connect with the brand. However, when the conflict in such a story is for example a hurricane, this has a more positive effect on products like furniture or clothing than it would have on experience products like a pain killer. Want to know why? Then read our latest article!

    People are wired for stories

    This is how we communicate - we ask each other questions to get to know them better, to learn each other’s story. Brands try to do the same. In neuromarketing, telling a unique story helps brands connect with their customers. If consumers can connect with the story, they can connect with the brand.

    For example, Nike is one of the greatest storytellers of our time - from “Just Do It” to their equality campaign “Until We All Win”. Every single marketing campaign tells a story, there is history and there is a purpose. 

    It’s not all peachy  

    An engaging story contains a conflict, a surprising twist and a solution. Consider John Lewis’ Christmas ads. As the narrative unfolds, people react with fear and hope. Stories that begin with a conflict and end with a solution are called reversal stories. Experiencing conflicting forces and emotional satisfaction following the resolution, consumers perceive empathy and emotional resonance, which in turn enhance their positive connections with a brand. 

    Conflict is a key component that keeps people's attention and keeps them involved in the unfolding narrative. There are one or more characters in a story and these characters can be in different types of conflict. However, reversal stories with different types of conflict might influence brand attitudes differently. 

    Everyone faces a different kind of conflict 

    There are different types of conflict a story can revolve around: 

    1. Man (here, man = humankind) against self - the struggle is internal. It revolves around the main character’s personal problem. When a person has an internal conflict, they must initiate a self-maintenance process to make the situation better. For example, a candy bar Snickers ad features a “hangry” character - a character that is hungry is oftentimes a bit angry. Snickers offers a solution to this universal problem. 

    2. Man against man - a main character might want something, but another one is preventing them from getting it. For example, Strepsils, a brand of throat lozenges, playfully illustrates villains that cause your throat to become sore. Do they offer a solution to fight against these pain causing villains? You bet:

      Picture1 2903JPEG

      (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=as7BwdT5U3Y&ab_channel=StrepsilsPhilippines, 2021)

    3. Man against society - this conflict extends to institutions, traditions, laws or culture, such as a struggle against the government, fight for civil rights or push for change. Think of a beauty brand Dove - filling their ads with women of all sizes, shapes and colours to empower women, regardless of where they come from or what their body looks like. Dove is pushing for a change to celebrate women.

    1. Man against nature - a character may confront a life threatening situation, such as a hurricane, fire, drought or a ferocious animal. The relationship between nature and humankind is a fundamental one. People want to believe nature is in harmony and they don’t want their actions to worsen the situation. Achieving a sustainable lifestyle contributes to this cause. Lately, there have been a number of brands telling their own conflicting stories related to plastic pollution.

      Consider Marcel’s Green Soap. The problem is a kitchen cabinet full of aggressive chemical products. There had to be a better way for a clean home and a healthy planet. The solution - Green Soap - is clearly outlined in their advertisement together with its features that provide a solution:

      Picture2 2903JPEG

      (marcelsgreensoap.com, 2021)

    But is it enough to tell a story or is there something we should keep in mind?

    It turns out, there is. An important factor in the success of a reversal story and its impact on a consumer attitude towards a brand depends on a product type. Marketing communication strategies should differ across product categories. 

    Products and services are categorised into either search or experience offerings. With search products, consumers can obtain full information about them before the purchase (e.g. clothing, furniture) whereas experience offerings can only be fully evaluated after some degree of consumption. Think of entertainment or restaurants. 

    Man against man, man against self and man against society conflicts in a reversal brand story relate more to brand attitudes for experience products. Stories present obstacles that its consumers might find themselves in and suggest solutions that might work (e.g. by purchasing the product). 

    In the man against nature scenario, the conflict involves the protagonist struggling against the environment. In this case, the audience might be more concerned with the features that will help the character to solve the case. Therefore, product features and functionalities should be clearly presented. For example, many companies complete their stories by outlining the sustainable features of their packaging. The man against nature stories are more applicable to search products. 

    Depending on a product type, marketeers can pinpoint the most powerful narrative structures in order to maximise the positive connections to their brand. 

    Highlights to remember: 

    • A well-designed reversal brand story can arouse positive emotions, which can imply a solution to consumers' problems and goals and thus create positive brand attitudes
    • Designing different types of conflicts within reversal stories can help marketers create stories that will resonate with the consumers across different product types:
      • The influences of man against self, man against man and man against society conflict reversal stories on brand attitudes are much higher for experience products 
      • The influence of man against nature conflict relates more to search products.
  • Aligning conflict brand stories with product types
  • Reference:

    Yin, C.-C., Chiu, H.-C. and Hsieh, Y.-C. (2020), "Aligning conflict brand stories with product types", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 37 No. 7, pp. 909-919. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCM-09-2019-3428

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