Happy Halloween from DMA Solutions! We’re big fans of Halloween around here, and it’s always fun for us to see which costumes will be on-trend. We already know that without fail, we are bound to see multiple Harry Potters, Spider Men, and Wonder Women, among many other favorites. It’s not even uncommon to see whole families coordinate their costumes, with a love of specific characters and stories commonly passing from generation to generation.
For as long as anyone can remember, hero stories have been celebrated, on Halloween and beyond. Marketers seek the “why" and wonder, what is it, really, that separates one-hit-wonders from long-cherished legendary heroes? How can marketers work to understand this phenomenon, and in turn, apply a similar storytelling approach to our own brands?
We wanted to learn more, and in the course of our research, we found the work of Joseph Campbell and the narrative pattern he called the “Hero’s Journey.” Campbell theorized that many of our most treasured narratives follow a simple, relatable 12-step storytelling formula.
Though it often goes undetected unless one knows what to look for, we can trace the Hero’s Journey through many of our favorite films and books, including Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. To become more effective marketers, it’s important that we not only understand each element, but also apply the winning formula to our brand stories. In honor of Halloween, we’ve illustrated these steps with our favorite boy wizard!
The Hero's Journey
1. The Ordinary WorldIn this part of the journey, the hero has not realized his or her power. There is a prevailing sense of normalcy.
Harry Potter lives in the cupboard in the ordinary Muggle—or non-magic—world.
Marketer question: What was your founder’s life like before founding the company?
2. The Call to Adventure
The hero receives a call to action that requires a departure from the ordinary world.
Harry receives (many, many) invitations to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Marketer question: What initially inspired your founder to found the company?
3. Refusal of the CallThe hero is not ready to heed the call and instead wants to remain in the ordinary world, where all is safe and familiar.
Initially, Harry doesn’t even believe that there is a wizarding world and briefly wonders whether his mean-spirited aunt and uncle had planned this all as a joke.
Marketer question: What were some hesitations, doubts, or worries that plagued your founder before the company founding?
4. Meeting with the MentorOnce the hero accepts the calling, he or she meets a mentor, and together they begin gathering the tools they will need to succeed.
Hagrid brings Harry to Diagon Alley to find his required supplies for wizard school (which was no easy feat, considering the hidden magic entryways and other obstacles!). This serves as his first introduction to the wizarding world.
Marketer question: Did your founder meet someone who helped instill confidence in the early days of the company?
5. Crossing the First ThresholdThe hero is now committed to the journey and leaves the ordinary world, never again to view his or her old life the same way.
From Hagrid, Harry had learned the truth about his parents’ deaths and the story behind the scar on his forehead—a story that will shape his entire existence in the magical world. As the summer holiday drew to a close, Harry boarded the Hogwarts Express to enter what had been his parents’ world, the world to which he rightfully belonged.
Marketer question: What was the first big risk your founder took while stepping into the unknown and beginning the business?
6. Tests, Allies and EnemiesNo longer sheltered in the comfort zone, the hero faces the first sets of tests and challenges on the path to refining skills that will prove imperative for success on the journey.
Harry faces his first test at The Sorting Ceremony and chooses to align himself with the House of Gryffindor even though the Sorting Hat said he could rise to greatness through Slytherin (the house that developed the dark wizard who killed his parents). This choice immediately determines Harry’s allies—and enemies—within Hogwarts walls and beyond.
Marketer question: What were some of the first tests, and initial friends and allies, in the company’s early days?
7. Approach to the Innermost CaveJust when the hero is becoming more comfortable in the new world, a challenge is presented.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron decide to go on their first magical adventure together, to keep Professor Snape (who they are convinced has nefarious intentions) from stealing the Sorceror’s Stone, which provides the wielder with unlimited riches and eternal life…including to Lord Voldemort, who had been ripped from his body when his attempt on Harry’s life had failed.
Marketer question: What was one of the biggest challenges your founder or team encountered? How did they strategize to overcome the challenge?
8. The OrdealTo overcome the challenge, the hero must face a crisis to survive.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron overcome the numerous magical obstacles blocking them from retrieving the Sorceror’s Stone: but narrowly! From a three-headed dog (affectionately christened “Fluffy” by none other than Hagrid…) to murderous flora and poisoned vials, the trio faces death at every turn along the way.
Marketer question: What were the major obstacles standing in the way of success? How did your company manage to overcome them?
9. The RewardVictory! The hero has survived and overcome weakness and self-doubt, demonstrating the presence of a previously unbeknownst power.
With Ron and Hermione having risked their lives to get Harry safely through each potentially deadly challenge, Harry dashes into the last chamber just in time to battle for the Stone—with the fate of the entire wizarding world hanging in the balance.
Marketer question: What did your founder and team learn from overcoming this challenge? Did they reap a reward?
10. The RoadblockThe hero is met with one last push before complete victory is certain.
As Harry walks into the final chamber where the Stone is hidden, he encounters Professor Quirrell (not Professor Snape like he had expected) and discovers that Lord Voldemort has possessed the professor’s body in an attempt to steal the Stone and kill Harry. Using Quirrell’s body, Voldemort fights Harry for the Stone, and while he does not succeed, Quirrell’s body is destroyed—and Harry nearly dies in the struggle.
Marketer question: Were there any unforeseen circumstances blocking your company’s success? How were these obstacles tackled head-on?
11. The Resurrection
Depleted, the hero must recover from the ordeal. The hero awakens, rested and in possession of a new sense of self.
Harry wakes up in the hospital days later, where Dumbledore tells Harry more about his parents and explains that he is not alone in the world: he has always had the ancient magic of his mother’s love and sacrifice to protect him.
Marketer question: After reflection, and likely input from a mentor, what did your founder learn from leading the team to overcome great challenges?
12. Return with the ElixirThe hero returns to the ordinary world wiser and stronger than before. He or she has the recognition of peers and a newfound understanding of self.
Harry is publicly recognized by Professor Dumbledore and subsequently awarded house points for his bravery. The semester ends and he returns to the muggle world, armed with the support and love from the wizarding world he now calls home.
Marketer question: How did your founder take lessons learned along the way and apply those to the business? How has your company used this knowledge to help others?
The Hero’s Journey provides a tried-and-true template to help navigate writing a brand story that will resonate with customers for years to come. If you’d like to explore the topic of brand storytelling further, take a look at 4 Ways to Master the Art of Storytelling.
Do you have a hero’s journey built into your brand story? Share it with us on Twitter @TheCoreBlog!
This blog post was co-authored by Core writers Vanessa Jiménez and Lexi Cassidy.