Caleb receives a notification on his work computer.
He has won something.
Elated, he texts his friends and family about the news. And is flooded with replies like “OMG! Take me, take me!”.
This is the opening sequence of Ex Machina – a movie about artificial intelligence (I’d recommend to any fans of Black Mirror).
In the next shot, Caleb, wearing a suit, is helicoptering over a mountainous paradise (think Jurassic Park, without the soundtrack).
Two lines of dialogue are exchanged between Caleb and the pilot:
“How long until we get to his estate?“
“How long until we get to his estate?”
“We’ve been flying over his estate for the past two hours.”
Aaaaaaand, I’m hooked.
It’s the Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, playing out in front of our eyes (again). Just like we watched in The Matrix and Lord of the Rings (amongst thousands of others).
There are 17 stages in the journey, according to Campbell.
For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on the first three …
Caleb signs the contract – thanks to the persuasion of Nathan.
Neo swallows the red pill – thanks to the persuasion of Morpheus.
Frodo leaves the Shire – thanks to the persuasion of Gandalf.
In marketing terms, I think of these moments as the “conversion” in your customer’s journey.
As the brand, you are Nathan, Gandalf, Morpheus, Obi Wan, Mr. Miagi, Hagrid, the mother of Achilles, Moana’s crazy grandma.
And it’s your job to do the persuading.
Let’s look at how each of our fictional role models manage to do it …
Nathan uses the fear of missing out to convince Caleb:
“What can I tell you, Caleb? You don’t have to sign it. You know, we can spend the next few days just shooting pool, getting drunk together. Bonding. And when you discover what you’ve missed out on, in about a year, you’re gonna regret it for the rest of your life.”
Media credit: Universal Pictures
Morpheus follows suit:
“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
Media credit: Warner Bros.
Further into the first LOTR movie, Gandalf uses a slightly different tactic to convince almost everybody, including Frodo, that the ring must be destroyed – by highlighting the consequences of not taking action:
“Do you not understand? While we bicker among ourselves, Sauron’s power grows. No one will escape it. You will all be destroyed, your homes burnt and your families put to the sword!”
Media credit: New Line Cinema
And just to bring in another example, the mother of Achilles presents two opposing arguments – allowing Achilles to make his own clear decision about going to war or not:
“If you stay in Lrisa, you will find peace. You will find a wonderful woman. You will have sons and daughters, and they will have children. And they will love you. When you are gone, they will remember you. But when your children are dead and their children after them, your name will be lost. If you go to Troy, glory will be yours. They will write stories about your victories for thousands of years. The world will remember your name. But if you go to Troy, you will never come home. For your glory walks hand in hand with your doom. And I shall never see you again.”
Media credit: Warner Bros.
Now, you could ignore this concept altogether, click the back button, and go about your day as normal – never changing.
Or, you could keep reading, learn how to apply this idea of the Hero’s Journey to your marketing, and become known for your ability to increase conversions on any given piece of creative …
Almost every podcast I listen to has an advert, or shout-out, to Squarespace.
Squarespace is a platform that allows anybody to build their own website with ease.
Their ads place you, the customer, as the hero. And they, the brand, as the mentor.
They don’t sell “a website building platform”. They sell the new world ahead of you.
Their homepage copy reads: “Look like an expert from the start”
I loved Ex Machina. I loved The Matrix. I loved Lord of the Rings. Star Wars.
Karate Kid. Harry Potter. Moana.
Yes, they all use the same Hero’s Journey. But every story is unique.
And yours is unique, too.
Copying Squarespace isn’t going to boost your conversions overnight.
So, to get started, pick an important landing page on your website, and try rewriting the copy after asking yourself the following questions:
We only covered a few of the 17 stages to the Hero’s Journey today.
Here’s the full list of other ones for you to explore: