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Every Good Story Has a Villain: Using a Philosophical Problem To Sell Your Brand

Every Good Story Has a Villain: Using a Philosophical Problem To Sell Your Brand

Originally posted Oct 2017; Updated Oct 2023

When you think of the components of a great story, what elements come to mind? 

Plot, setting, conflict, resolution...these are all important parts of any story, right? 

But there’s one essential story element that underlies them all: the relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist (aka, the hero and the villain). Without a struggle between these two vital characters, a potentially great story will otherwise fall flat. 

This is equally true when it comes to brand storytelling. Let’s take a look at the role the villain plays in your marketing and how using a philosophical problem to sell your brand can help you inspire your target audience to buy.

Why Does the Villain Matter to Your Story?

First of all, why do we love a villain? 

When we witness the good-vs-evil tension in books or films (a classic storytelling framework), we long to see our hero shine brightly and triumph over their adversary. After all, what is a hero without an adversary to overcome?

good vs evil framework

Donald Miller — author, marketing expert, and creator of the StoryBrand framework — has some thoughts on this. He says villains “deepen our love for the hero. They amplify the stakes of the story. They draw us in and keep us watching because we want to see our hero take the bad guy down.”

Every one of us wants to be part of a story that’s bigger than ourselves. That’s why we become so invested in the problems we see in the world around us. Maybe it’s climate change, feeding the hungry, curing disease…whatever the issue, we want to be part of the solution. We want to have a hand in making the world around us better.

Again, Donald Miller ties this concept to marketing your brand: “Brands that connect their products and services to an ideal of how things should be create greater value for their products.”

In other words, when you incorporate a villain into your marketing efforts, it gives you the opportunity to position your brand as the solution that helps the hero (your customer) save the day. Your product or service is the tool that equips your customer to do battle against the villain of your story. It helps them play their part and align their purchasing decisions with their idea of how things should be. 

What Are You Fighting Against? Naming Your Philosophical Problem 

every good story has a villain

As a business, do you know who (or what) the villain of your story is?

What is it that your brand goes to battle against and triumphs over? Is it a competitor, a nagging problem, a lack of knowledge or expertise? Or maybe it’s poor customer service, a confusing process, or a safety hazard? Whatever it is, naming your villain is an important part of telling your brand’s story.

In the StoryBrand framework, the villain of the story goes by another name: the philosophical problem.

The philosophical problem typically refers to something larger than the story itself. It answers the question, “Why does this matter?” And it’s a crucial part of convincing prospects that what you’re offering is important.

As you develop your brand story, make sure:

  • Your philosophical problem is clear
  • The stakes of not overcoming that problem are evident
  • Your product or service is positioned as a tool your customer can use to solve the philosophical problem

In a marketing campaign, the philosophical problem often takes the form of a “deserves” or “should” statement, such as “Everyone deserves to…” or “(ABC product) helps you return (XYZ thing) to the way it should be.”

Examples of Using a Philosophical Problem To Sell Your Brand

REI's opt outside campaign

REI’s Opt Outside Campaign

One company that has knocked this ball out of the park is REI. In 2015, the outdoor gear giant took a marketing leap with their Opt Outside campaign

They positioned holiday consumerism as the villain, closed the doors to all their retail stores on the biggest shopping day of the year, and encouraged consumers to rally against this big bad villain by spending Black Friday enjoying outdoor adventures and using their #OptOutside hashtag on social media.

In the process, REI discovered there were literally millions of people out there ready to join this fight. Initially conceived as a one-time PR stunt, #OptOutside has become a cultural movement and an annual tradition.

Long after that initial Black Friday campaign, consumers continue to feel a strong sense of brand loyalty to REI by choosing to #OptOutside. From 2015 to 2019, engagement with that hashtag rose 3,000%, from 338K uses in 2015 to 11.6 million in 2019! On Instagram alone, there are now more than 14.2 million uses of the #OptOutside hashtag!



Apple’s “Get a Mac” Campaign

Another example of wielding a philosophical problem in a marketing campaign comes from Apple.

Apple pulled this off successfully in its iconic “Get a Mac” ad campaign, a series of hilarious commercials pitting a Mac against a PC. In these ads, the PC is personified as boring, nerdy, clunky, and irrelevant, casting it alongside Apple’s own hip, progressive image. 

While the villain in this campaign wasn’t inherently evil, Apple portrayed the PC as something many consumers want to rally against: convention for convention’s sake. 

Ultimately, the “Get a Mac” campaign won over countless consumers who wanted to embrace a more progressive, user-friendly personal technology experience, as reflected by Apple’s 39% increase in overall sales in the first year of the campaign.

As these examples show, using a philosophical problem to sell your brand will not only give your audience a villain to rally against (therefore increasing brand loyalty) but will also help your brand stand out from the competition. 


If you’d like help identifying your philosophical problem, developing your brand story, and strengthening your marketing campaigns, the Wild Fig team has your back. Simply schedule a quick exploratory call to get started. 

We look forward to partnering with you to capture your prospects’ attention, draw them in, and, ultimately, grow your business.

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