Storytelling Inspiration

Storytelling Lessons from Film: Character Development

Ted Karczewski By Ted Karczewski March 29, 2016

Perhaps more than any marketing role today, the range from which a content marketer must stretch his or her skill sets continues to expand. We have to be both strategic marketers and creative artists, with analytical minds and prolific pens. Yet more and more, these two worlds of thought collide as the art and science of storytelling becomes a unified function within enterprise businesses.

Marketing isn’t just about telling a compelling story through a campaign or strategy, but about embedding story form into the culture and minds of every employee. It’s all one big production these days, and as content leaders pushing the boundaries at our respective stations, we have to become the directors on set; the artists orchestrating all the moving parts.

Customer personas have long been a staple of marketing teams. These profiles help bucket buyers into boxes so that we can align what we create to what we think people want. There’s still value in developing personas at a high level, but when it comes to the creation of new marketing materials, we have to dig deeper as authors to bring out the best in our writing and creativity.

So rather than thinking of our audience in personas, let’s focus on the basics of character development to ensure that every person, place, or thing included in a story plays a specific role. Here’s how to apply the art of character development to your marketing strategy.

4 Examples of Character Development in Action

While we may not be aware of the individual decisions made when developing characters in popular movies and stories, we all can recognize examples in pop culture when we learned the history of a main character, watched as relationships blossomed or dissolved, related to an individual, and spent a few hours in a fictional person’s head.

In business storytelling, it’s harder to recall these moments, but they’re there just below the surface. Here are four examples of when businesses executed proper character development in marketing.

Progressive Gives a Behind-the-Scenes Look at Flo’s Family Life

One-off advertisements rarely provide a canvas big enough for deep character development, but when companies go all in and construct a spokesperson to represent the product or service, true magic happens.

Progressive’s main character Flo isn’t just a deal-wielding Robin Hood of insurance; she’s a person trying to win the praise of her family, just like us. Whether we’re learning about new Progressive products or opportunities to save, the company cleverly weaves in personal narratives that provide historical context into Flo’s personal life. In the clip below, you get a glimpse of her family, and the interactions they have with one another.

Coca-Cola Shows the Power of True Friendship in El SMS

In July 2015, The Coca-Cola Company worked with Academy Award winning director Dustin Lance Black to produce a series of stories that focus on the turning point in childhood friendships. In his breakout spot, “El SMS,” Lance Black tells the story of a friendship between two young boys when one has a secret to hide. What draws the audience into the clip isn’t the stunning videography—it’s the relationship between the two main characters.

You can read my full interview with Lance Black to learn more about his work with Coca-Cola and beyond.

Student-Produced Johnnie Walker Advertisement Defines Empathy in Story

Your main character needs to be relatable–if your audience can’t see itself in your hero, then they can’t make an emotional connection. This student-produced Johnnie Walker ad pulls you into the story of two brothers on an adventure together, and it ends with a surprising (and tear-jerking) conclusion.

LinkedIn Brings Viewers’ Inner Dialogue Out Through Clever Art Direction

LinkedIn isn’t one to spend a lot of TV advertising, but in its “Closer Than You Think” spot, readers become the main character as the narrator delivers a short call to arms about reaching your full potential in life.

Here, the first-person narration gives a look into the mind of a character as he goes about his day-to-day work miles above our heads. While we’re hearing the main character deliver his inner dialogue, recalling advice he got from his father, the delivery quickly brings out our own ambition and puts us at the center of the story.

Why Character Development Matters

Your product or service is, it doesn’t have an interesting history. It doesn’t form relationships with people. It’s not relatable, and it has no inner dialogue. No matter how much you try and humanize what you sell, the true story and impact your offering has is on the people you sell to.

When you tell stories, on whatever channel works best for your brand, remember that your customers are your main characters. The harder you try to tell their stories, the closer you’ll get to being a truly memorable brand storyteller.


About the Author

Ted Karczewski is the Content Marketing Manager at Skyword and the Managing Editor of the Content Standard (TCS). He oversees the editorial direction of TCS, and focuses on engaging readers through compelling stories. Ted has a background in print journalism and B2B content marketing, working both for agency clients and brands. He’s also a contributing writer to Fast Company and The Next Web.

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