Screenwriting guru Phil Parker, who advises the UK government and Oscar-winning hit factory Aardman Animations, argues that all great films contain one of eight themes. Each is universal, stimulating the same feeling in everyone, regardless of culture or era.
Great films create strong emotional reactions in audiences by presenting insights into the human condition that we have all experienced and recognise to be true. I believe brands do a similar thing when they present emotional benefits and that we can learn from film.
Parker warns that to drive this response, you have to refine the emotional offer. Films create strong, singular, emotional reactions by making every character’s decisions comment upon a specific, universal theme. To succeed, a brand must do the same, by making every choice reveal its take on a universal emotion. If a film suggests more than one theme, it fails to produce any emotional response because we can’t feel two ways at once. Similarly, if you want your brand to have powerful appeal, across cultures and across time, it has to stick to one universal emotion.
So, what are these universal emotive themes and how do television series, films and brands tap into them?
THE DESIRE FOR JUSTICE
Films: Investigative thrillers such as The Wire, and action movies such as The Bourne Identity.
Ads: Recently harnessed by Oxfam, which highlighted the fact that just 62 people own as much as the poorest half of the world’s population.
THE PURSUIT OF LOVE
Films: Romeo and Juliet, Mamma Mia and Casablanca.
Ads: Former Rolo brand owner Mackintosh famously used the theme with: ‘Do you love someone enough to give them your last Rolo?’
THE MORALITY OF INDIVIDUALS
Films: The Searchers, The Fisher King and Seven.
Ads: Consumers who choose to do good choose to shop at the Co-op in ‘Ice’, the brand’s Christmas ad.
THE DESIRE FOR ORDER
Films: With regard to the individual, Trainspotting and Mr Bean. For society: Touch of Evil, Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Rings and most soaps.
Ads: The British Gas proposition ‘Looking after your world’ taps into the strong need to protect the safe place we call home.
THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE
Films: Comedies including The Big Lebowski, Austin Powers and Superbad.
Ads: Coca-Cola’s new ‘Taste the feeling’ is too unfocused an emotion (what feeling?). It is unlikely to connect as well as ‘Open happiness’, which clearly promised the pursuit of pleasure.
THE FEAR OF DEATH
Films: Horror and ghost stories such as The Others.
Ads: In brand land, this is usually expressed in the positive flipside promise: seize the day. Royal Navy’s ‘Made in the Royal Navy’ campaign, and the ‘Life without limits’ promise, call out to those who feel they are letting life drift by.
THE FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN
Films: Horror and ghost stories such as Shaun of the Dead, and sci-fi works such as The X-Files.
Ads: Many insurance brands promise protection from the unexpected in their advertising.
THE DESIRE FOR VALIDATION
Films: Thelma and Louise, Boys from the Blackstuff, American Beauty and Lawrence of Arabia.
Ads: Android’s current strapline, ‘Be together. Not the same’, acknowledges that humans have a desire to be part of a community, but also to express their individuality.
Barnaby Benson is managing director of the tone-of-voice agency that carries his name [email protected] www.barnabybenson.com
This article first appeared in Market Leader. Browse more blogs in our Gym.