Brands Don't Have To Be Perfect

Taking the leap into the less familiar

Even for those who agree with Kahneman on the importance of prioritising emotion in marketing strategies, there are frequently some important gaps in their understanding that impacts the process when briefing brand agencies or internal teams. This can get in the way of great iconic work. We use the narrative from the famous The Shawshank Redemption to exemplify our points. 

Shawshank - Narrative and Brand
The Shawshank Redemption


The perfect is not loveable

Yes, we need people to carry our stories, but who should we choose. Too often the actors chosen in ads spots represent aspirational perfection. While we might respect perfection, we don’t love it. What allows us to love is vulnerability, fear, shyness, hurt, rejection, shame. These can be combined with admirable qualities, but it is these very human emotions that engage and draw us in. When we watch the frightened, vulnerable Andy Dufresne walk into the prison in The Shawshank Redemption we can identify with him, we are engaged. Because of this, we are with him to the end, through every up and down, emotions pulled this way and that. 


The power of oppositions

We identify with Andy. We approve of his burgeoning friendship with the loveable "Red". But it is when the Warden and Hadley turn up that we tie ourselves emotionally to the outcome for Andy. We hate these hypocritical characters so much that our loyalties are immediately tied to Andy. We care what happens to him. We are deeply invested in his future. 

Andy and Red - Narrative and Brand
Andy and Red - Shawshank Redemption


Fear of the dark

What is not always realised is that simply showing positive emotion has no dramatic or narrative value. There is a broad genre of advertising that starts happy, stays happy, ends happy. There is a type of ad research that tells us how the viewer responds to each image in the spot, positive or negative, with the recommendation of cutting out the negative without reversals there is no engagement. Here is a quick video of me talking about the emotions of story.


The powerful scene where Andy plays Italian opera on the loudspeakers from the warden’s office to all the inmates takes its poignancy, beauty and power from what came before, with the attacks and the cruelty of the place. It signals to us the strength of the human spirit, and its ability to rise above such degradation. But it also takes meaning from the punishment that we know must come, with our hero back in solitary confinement.


The positive emotions are given meaning in the context of the negative emotions. Someone who only ever knew wealth has a totally different relationship to money from someone who has known poverty. We only truly know joy when we know sadness, security when we know fear, love when we know loss.

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