Action Comics #1 starts with a baby superman-to-be sent forth from the doomed planet Kryptonite. Sent forth with his father’s desire that he become a force for good on Earth. The Amazing Spider-Man #1 tells how Peter Parker gained super-powers after he was bitten by the radio-active spider and how he became Spider-man in reaction to his uncle Ben’s murder.
In the same way, if you take any superhero movie that’s the first in its franchise, you’ll find a genesis story of that superhero — a tale that tells the audience:
- How the hero came to posses his powers,
- Who the hero is as a person, and
- What his mission is and Why he’s dedicated to it
If you don’t do that, you’re hero won’t be believable. Nor will he be sympathetic. You’ll end up with a character whose super powers will seem too fantastic and “made up,” and who will fail to inspire anyone to care about or root for him.
It’s that simple: no genesis story, no superhero.
Superheros and Advertising
Interestingly, the three tasks of a Genesis story overlay perfectly with Aristotle’s three elements of Ethos — the three things you must establish in order to persuade through an appeal to character. Here’s how they match-up, using Jay Henrich’s modern updates for the Ethos elements of phronesis, eunoia, and arete:
- Craft = Phronesis / Practical Wisdom = Powers
- Caring = Eunoia / Goodwill = Who the hero is as a person
- Cause = Areté / Virtue = Mission
Want to present a business owner as someone prospective customers should like and trust?
Then you need to cover these character elements. You have to convince the audience that the owner is great at what he does, that he cares about his customers, and that, at the end of the day, he’s on a bigger mission than just making money.
And once you understand the superhero angle, it becomes pretty obvious that the most powerful way to communicate these elements is through a Genesis story.
Put more directly, if you’re presenting the business owner as someone with superpowers — whether that’s the power to heroically save the customer from a tough situation, or simply the power to do X better than any other business on the planet — than you’re presenting them as a de facto superhero, and you need to tell the darn genesis story to make that message at all believable.
A Jewelry Superhero Genesis Story
Want an example of an Advertising Genesis story?
Here’s one from my business partner, Roy Williams [paragraphing mine]:
“When I was seven years old, I held my father’s head in my hands as he took his last breath and died. A thing like that stays with you. It helps you understand that relationships – people – are what life’s all about.You gotta tell’em you love’em.
This is J.R. Dunn. So now you know why I became a jeweler. Fine jewelry is one of the ways we tell people we love ’em. When I got older and fell head-over-heals for Ann Marie, the love of my life, I didn’t have enough money to buy her an engagement ring. She married me anyway. Go figure.
But I can promise you this: If you’re thinking of getting engaged to the love of your life, come to J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point. No one in Florida, no one in America, is going to give you a better engagement ring for your money than me. One of the great joys of my life is to make it possible for guys to give the woman they love the diamond she deserves.
There was nobody there for me when I needed an engagement ring. But I promise I’ll be there for you.”
After hearing this ad, you now know, with absolute clarity:
- What kind of person J.R. Dunn is
- How he got his superpowers (along with how those superpowers can help you)
- What mission he’s on and why he’s dedicated to it
Better yet, you not only know these things about him, but you believe them. You believe these things about J.R. Dunn because he told you his genesis story. See how that works?
So what’s YOUR genesis story, and are you bothering to tell it the way it ought to be told?