Spider-biteEvery super­hero fran­chise begins with a Gen­e­sis story.

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:

  1. Craft = Phrone­sis / Prac­ti­cal Wis­dom Pow­ers
  2. Car­ing = Eunoia / Good­will = Who the hero is as a person 
  3. 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?

Comments

  1. Advertising With Heart (and Balls) | Jeff Sexton Writes on 04.16.2014

    […] Telling an audi­ence about your life-defining moment takes guts because you are openly expos­ing your soul. But it’s also one of the only ways we’ll ever believe in your mis­sion and your irra­tional ded­i­ca­tion to it. As I wrote ear­lier, if you want us to believe in your super­pow­ers, you’ve got to tell us abo…. […]

  2. 1 of 11 Marketing Triggers: Ethos | Jeff Sexton Writes on 10.24.2014

    […] my arit­cle on Gen­e­sis Sto­ries, I talk about how Aris­to­tle breaks Ethos down into three component […]

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