Before proper literature even began, storytellers realized their stories needed heroes. Look at Homer, for instance. In his oral tales, he gave us Achilles and Paris, Hector and Ulysses. Certainly, the old man himself didn’t doubt the point of his characters. They were, he proclaimed, “heroes well versed in war” and “foremost among the heroes.”
Modern adaptations of The Iliad have kept these principles close at hand. Whether Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom quite reach the miracles of Greek mythology I leave to you, but their performances in the 2004 blockbuster Troy are certainly heroic: robust, forthright, decisive. You could say the same about countless other adventurers of the silver screen, from James Bond to John Wayne.
That’s hardly surprising: heroes are the perfect way to drive narratives and inspire audiences. And in a less bombastic way, this is just as true of decent copywriting. Businesses offer services that solve a problem—and the audiences they target are their heroes. They have a chance to swoop in, jaw-clenched and windswept, to save the day.
Suppose an edtech startup builds a digital platform to help teachers easily order new equipment for the classroom. In practice, yes, the startup has done the hard slog of coding and organization—but to really get teachers’ attention, you need to make them the protagonists.
It’s no use patronizing them with a turgid spiel about how much they need you. You need to empower them—make them feel like the scholastic universe is balanced on the tip of their nose. “Get your kids the future they deserve” might work as an opening pitch. “You’re here to inspire. We’re here to help” could, too.
Taking direction from Hollywood, the best copywriting shimmers a little stardust onto its protagonists. Perhaps Orlando and Brad really are natural-born heroes, but they’re probably tidied up by the right makeup, lighting, and set design. Just like a skilled makeup artist, meanwhile, the perfect tagline can abruptly transform readers into the champions they never knew they were.
How does this play out in the world of copy? Let’s return to our edtech startup from earlier. Rather than having teachers stumble through reams of text, give them a memorable line to cling onto—condensing their challenges into a single phrase. “Your students expect you to deliver—we deliver, too.”
There’ll be trouble ahead…
That reference to “challenges” is no accident. Every blockbuster—and every hero—flops or thrives by the dangers in their path. Odysseus didn’t just become the premier swashbuckler of the ancient world by lazing about on Ithaca. He got there by escaping the Sirens and outwitting a Cyclops.
In the same vein, the best copywriters will show their heroes the dangers of not signing up for a service. In our startup example, that’s easy. Drawing on the value of early education, tell your audience how much faulty pens or the wrong type of textbook can affect a child’s future. The point isn’t simply to frighten your readers, though. You need to spell out why going with your product matters.
Feel free to tug at emotions here. Since teachers invest huge amounts of time and energy into their students, you could suggest that it’d be a pity for their hard work to be wasted over something as trivial as a lack of materials. That’s especially true if they’ve had bad experiences with ordering equipment in the past. Like the heroes of myth and cinema, your copywriting heroes might be prodded along by a desire to get even—if only with their past selves.
Blessed are the peacemakers
Through all this, it’s useful to remember that heroics come in many forms. Though we’ve focused on the classics—superstars who grasp at destiny before it’s even got out of bed in the morning—some heroes are rather softer in tone. Think of Odysseus’s wife Penelope—or Atticus Finch or Jane Eyre. These heroes didn’t carry shields or fire arrows, but are marked by a captivating charm all the same.
These ideas can be applied to copywriting, too. If transforming your readers into titans works well in our educational example, other campaigns may require a subtler approach. From Ikea to The Economist, a thousand brands have shown the power of witty, clever prose that turns their customers into a less abrasive kind of hero—but a hero nonetheless.
So as dashing as our television heroes might be, don’t be afraid to approach your customers by leaving the marketing equivalent of a flaming longsword at home. Not that either method is necessarily wrong: remember that whatever you choose, you’re following in a tradition that stretches back nearly 3,000 years.
Want to start on your own adventure? Our intrepid copywriting agency will equip you with all the weapons you need for a ferociously good brand story.