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India has always had a rich mythological heritage, with multifarious myths operating in daily lives. All people have a basic need to share stories. Stories organize experiences and record important happenings. As common forms of discourse, stories are of great interest and significance in language and literacy development, especially when considering the increased linguistic and cultural diversity of our country. This makes it all the more important for the brands to enter into their lives by weaving a tale to engage the consumers.
Advertising is considered to be a dominant narrative in most modern cultures. Advertising reflects societal trends, indicates what is fashionable, 'creates' needs by tapping into the larger social consciousness, and is a good indication of the symbols and metaphors that dominate a particular culture. Advertising in itself, is regarded as a popular new-age myth, by many commentators.
This paper attempts to analyze plots as a means of storytelling. It uses the theoretical framework of the twenty master plots by Ronald Tobias and its application to Indian Television Commercials in FY 2010 using content analysis. It is true with the kind of diversity in India; the truths may not be universal. But through the study the author has tried to explore from the point of view of depiction in the popular media.
The primary research question was that plots exist across product categories. Data from content analysis found this to be true. The concept is also studied from the perspective of the advertisers. This would help them understand what types of plots, the brands in their product category have been associated with and what would work for them. This would focus their line of thought and build unique brand associations and at the same time reduce the risk of a failed campaign. These are a few spaces within the Indian advertising world, which the author has attempted to explore with the help of this study.
"The best ad comes when you first tell a story and then see how the brand will fit into the story."
-- R Balakrishnan, National Creative Director, Lowe India
Stories are powerful. As readers, listeners and viewers, we almost compulsively seek the experience of leaving our own reality to travel along with the story and feel somehow altered when we return.
As we absorb a story, we unconsciously play out the reality of our own life in a different context. We use the stories as a means to interpret life in a new way. So we don't just find stories entertaining or uplifting or exciting or frightening at a subconscious level we find them helpful.
On an intellectual level, television commercials work by telling us what we are supposed to think about a product or service, but on another level they work by showing us how we are supposed to feel about a brand. Good storytelling, which unites ideas with emotions, lies at the heart of advertising effectiveness. For television, that means constructing a visually compelling story with moving pictures. (Holt, Davies, Simmons, & Williams, 2005)
Myth making and storytelling are universal elements present in all human societies, from the most primitive to the most advanced. Throughout the course of human history, stories have been used for every social function from inspiring the creative to framing law and order. (Mathews & Wacker, 2008)
Stories have been an integral part of mankind for a long time. We loved listening to stories as children and even though we have grown up, we still love listening to stories. Stories give us a chance to experience the emotional highs and lows, the nail biting mystery, the explosive action, the puzzling secret, the dreamy world and the thrill of an exciting adventure. Stories fascinate us. As kids, we loved fairy tales. As grown adults, we read novels. Stories give us an opportunity to know and learn from what others did or didn't do.
Stories resonate powerfully within our subconscious. Each one of us has engaged in some form of storytelling at some point in our lives. We do it all the time. Whether at the office water cooler, the college snacks hangout, with our grandparents, while travelling, chatting with friends, etc. Stories have been the backbone of history creation. Stories give a meaning to life. Everyday narratives are a way of expressing one's experiences and making it a part of others lives as well. Stories are a means for interpreting life in general.
We live our stories every day, beginning, middle and end. Our life is a journey of survival from childhood through adolescence to adulthood, when we can reproduce and ensure the continuation of our own species. As Carl Jung says, stories could be archetypes: role models that guide us through this journey. (Flowers, 1988)
Stories form a social and cultural link to the culture of the land that we come from. Joseph Campbell believes that stories began as myths propagated by our ancestors. People tell stories in an attempt to come to terms with the world and harmonize their lives with reality.
Connecting with the audience is an important aspect of storytelling. Seth Godin in his book All Marketers are liars says that marketing is about storytelling. Products are converted into brands by the stories marketers (and largely advertising agencies) weave around them. (Madhukar Sabnavis: Storytelling 2.0, 2009)
Feelings and emotions are the driving force in an Indian's life. This makes it all the more important for the brands to enter into their lives by making an emotional bond with the consumers. The best way for a brand to have an association with its consumers is to become a reflection of the consumer's personality and becoming an integral part of his lifestyle. Narrating a story the consumer can connect with is the best way to do this. Indian ads have been using the emotional appeal extensively to build strong brands for a long time. The brands no longer differentiate on the basis of product benefits alone. The best advertising tells a story we want to share with others. Great ads spark conversation. Or to put it another way, the true power of terrific ads lies less in the telling and more in the retelling. We converse by telling stories that connect us to others. Information is not unimportant, but information alone does not inform. Information has to tell a story to be understood. (Smith, 2007)
In order to increase engagement with the customers advertisers are now making use of elements of entertainment techniques such as storytelling as a clutter breaking instrument to help influence evaluations of brands or products
Gabriel says , " The human being among creatures on the earth is a storytelling animal: humans see the present rising out of the past, heading into a future; perceives reality in a narrative form. Stories emerged as helping to create meaning in people's lives and making sense of their experiences." (Gabriel, 2000)
"What people hate are boring 30-second commercials. Great 30-second commercials, they love. That's why there are whole TV shows that play nothing but commercials. And why do people love them? Because they tell stories. And people love being told a story."
-- Kevin Roberts, Chief Executive Officer Worldwide of the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi
Every Brand has a story. Advertising uses this very story and the art of storytelling and plots to engage its customer. It is this use of the different plots that the study has tried to explore. However, the scope of this study is limited to the Indian advertising only.
If the television commercial could be shown to be drama, it would be among the most ubiquitous and the most influential of its forms and hence deserve the attention of the serious critics and theoreticians of that art. A comprehensive theory, morphology, and typology of drama is urgently needed. (Esslin, 1974)
The presence of drama-one of the three major literary genres used to classify fictional works-has been noted and discussed in a variety of marketing, consumer, and advertising phenomena. When ads themselves have been examined as dramas, the research has followed the dichotomy between drama and lecture. Differentiation is based on attributes such as narration, plot, and character, and drama has been associated with consumer effects such as increased empathy, heightened emotion, diminished counterargument, and increased inference. (Stern)
Findings from research on ads that tell a story indicate that well-developed stories are better able to hook ad viewers into the commercial, as well as elicit higher levels of positive emotions, compared to poorly developed stories. One of the advantages of comedies and dramas is that they tell interesting stories about everyday consumer trials. As Kelly's attribution theory would have it, when the same product solves the same problem across actors and situations, consumers are likely to conclude that the magic will work for them. (Wells, 1994)
Plots and Storylines
In order for some text to be a story it must describe or otherwise depict some event that is or could be happening. In other words, the narrated story cannot be constructed out of static, purely descriptive sequences, but must contain some minimal narration of happenings. Thus, a narrated story must contain some narrative sequence that depicts or unfolds some dynamicity or change.
In order to be a story, a narrated story must contain at least one narrative sequence that depicts or narrates some event or action that functions so as to bring us from one situation to a new one.
Continued discussion of classification factors requires a clear distinction between "plot" and "story. Far from being synonymous, plot and story are, respectively, the dominant features of different drama types. E. M. Forster's statement of the difference is a succinct summary (1954, p. 86): "Let us define a plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. The king died and then the queen died' is a story. 'The king died, and then the queen died of grief is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say 'and then?' If it is in a plot we ask 'why?' "
Story refers to the unfolding of events in a chronologically linear time sequence; plot adds causal relationships internal to the sequence and emphasizes change in the life of a character as the focal point of the final resolution. Story thus contains a string of chronological events and answers the question. What happened? Plot adds an answer to the question .Why did it happen? (Stern)
Numerous definitions and books exist on the various kinds of plots that exist in a story line. Studies have also been conducted on what is the basic structure of a story and what the major elements of a plot should be. A basic structure of the plot has been described below.
The five elements of plot structure is not a new idea. It originated from the 1863 book Technique of the Drama by Gustav Freytag. Using Aristotle's concept of unity and action, he developed Freytag's Triangle or Freytag's Pyramid, which contain these five elements. (Britton, 2010)
The plot is the sequence of events in the story from the beginning to the end (timeline). Usually the order of events is: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. (Matt, 2009)
This is generally the beginning of the story, an introduction. The characters and other important elements of the plot that the reader might be interested in are introduced.
Here the author is trying to catch the reader's attention by hooking him to some sort of tension or interesting activity that will engage the reader and keep him looking out for more.
The climax is an important turning point for the characters or the story. It is the most exciting and gripping part of the story that keeps the reader engaged and asking for more. The reader is compelled to stay on to find what is happening and where are things heading.
The events are leading to the end of the story and the resolution.
The final demystification of everything the reader has been subjected to. The clarification and tying up of all loose ends that the reader would like to know.
Types of plots in storylines
There have been various authors who have come up with various frameworks for the different plots that exist in a story line. William Foster - Harris attempted to categorise plots into a set of three: happy ending, unhappy ending and the "literary plot".
Mathews & Wacker (2008) have come up with five plots namely: The Hero's Quest; Stories of Creation; Stories of Transformation; Fall and Redemption and Crossroads.
Jessamyn West, an Internet Public Library librarian makes a mention of the seven most common plots that have been passed on through generations namely: [wo]man vs. Nature, [wo]man vs. [wo]man, [wo]man vs. the environment, [wo]man vs. machines/technology, [wo]man vs. the supernatural, [wo]man vs. Self, [wo]man vs. god/religion.
Christopher Booker is an another follower of the seven plot theory. He has defined the plots as "Overcoming the monster" where the hero fights against the evil and protects and protects his world and his people from the enemy; "Rags to Riches" in which the hero rises from the depths of poverty to great wealth or power; "The Quest" in which the hero starts out on a journey full of adventures in search of something or someone; "Voyage and Return" in which the hero leaves his world to enter an unknown territory and returns home safe; The other three include "Comedy" , "Tragedy" and "Rebirth".
Below is a brief description of different plots identified by various authors:
FRIEDMAN'S STORY PLOTS
Norman Friedman (1955) described a comprehensive list of story plots, based on a classification by R. S. Crane.
Plots of fortune:
They deal with a change in the environment or circumstance that the protagonist is living in.
The Action Plot: An all action sequential story
The Pathetic Plot: The loss of a weak character
The Tragic Plot: The failure of a strong character.
The Punitive Plot: The defeat of the bad guy.
The Sentimental Plot: The victory of a weak character.
The Admiration Plot: The triumph of an ordinary character.
Plots of character
These deal with the changes in the moral and ethical character of the protagonist. This is affected by the decisions he takes in trying times.
The Maturing Plot: The transition through different phases of life.
The Reform Plot: The redemption to original stature of someone who has fallen.
The Testing Plot: Trying circumstances for the protagonist.
The Degeneration Plot: The fall from grace of the protagonist.
Plots of thought
These deal with the feelings and emotions of the protagonist.
The Education Plot: The learning of something new
The Revelation Plot: The unveiling of new information to the protagonist.
The Affective Plot: Rising tension and clash between thoughts and actions.
The Disillusionment Plot: The protagonist's disenchantment and the ssubsequent deviation from ideals.
PARKER'S STORY TYPES
A person is missing someone or something. There is a void and desire to finally meet that someone. The protagonist has to overcome many obstacles till finally the two can meet. The end result is the achieved with the togetherness of the two characters.
The Unrecognized Virtue
A virtuous person and a powerful person fall in love. The love is unsuccessful at first as the power acts as a deterrent. However, by means of virtue, the powerful person concedes finally and the virtuous person is recognized for his efforts.
The Fatal Flaw
The protagonist uses others as a stepping stone for his success. He soon realizes his folly and tries to mend his ways. However, it is too late and his initial success turns to failure.
The Debt That Must Be Repaid
A person desperately wants a thing or a person and is willing to go to any lengths to get it. Finally when he gets what he desires, he tries to avoid paying the debt. However, he is unable to run away from it forever and ultimately has to pay the price.
The Spider and the Fly
A person is depending on someone else to get something he desires. However, he is the less powerful of the two and hence uses trickery to cheat the person into getting what he wants. A new set of events unfolds.
The Gift Taken Away
A person loses something that is close to his heart. A journey of events ensues, where he finally reconciles to the situation.
A person sets out in search of something. He encounters a new set of people, places and events on his journey. The person may or may not get what he was seeking for at the end of the journey.
The Rites of Passage
A person has reached a new stage in life and needs to know something that would make the transition effective. He thinks he knows what is required, but actually he does not. However, he is presented with the events that will help him make the transition and he is ultimately successful.
A person moves from one place to another. He faces a problem in the new place and whilst dealing with it realizes the reason why he left the earlier place. He then moves on to a newer place and a pattern of movement emerges.
The Character Who Cannot Be Put Down
A person is continually challenged. He demonstrates tremendous grit and determination and emerges a winner at the end of every challenge.
PROPP'S 31 NARRATEMES
Russian Vladimir Propp identified 31 elements or narrative units in his country's folk tales. He called these elements narratemes and believed that they characterized the structure of many stories.
â€¢ Initial situation : This explains the circumstances and environment under which the story unfolds
The characters and other important are introduced, setting the scene for subsequent adventure.
Absentation: Deals with a missing person
Interdiction: The protagonist is warned against going in search.
Reconnaissance: The antagonist is seeking something
Delivery: The antagonist is in search of new information regarding the victim or protagonist and gets it.
Trickery: The antagonist tricks the victim or the protagonist.
Complicity: The protagonist or the victim becomes a prey of the antagonist's trickery and reveals the information he seeks.
The Body of the story
This deals with the hero and his journey.
Villainy and lack: The villain takes away a thing or a person that is important to someone. The community or the individual realizes that something is amiss.
Mediation: The hero realizes that the community or individual is devastated because of the loss
Counteraction: The hero now decides to restore the lost object in any way possible
Departure: The hero begins his quest for the lost object.
The Donor Sequence
Here the hero is now seeking for something that will help him in his quest. A donor acts as a savior and provides the main item that will help the hero get the missing object home.
Testing: Hero is challenged to prove his mettle.
Reaction: Hero accepts the challenge and wins.
Acquisition: Hero gains the main item that will help him in his quest.
Guidance: Hero reaches destination
Struggle: Clash between hero and villain.
Branding: Hero receives a wound or an item from the villain that changes his life
Victory: Hero emerges as the clear winner villain is defeated
Resolution: The initial lack of the missing thing or person is resolved.
The Hero's return
Here the hero returns home to a hero's welcome (not always). However, this part of the storyline is optional. The story can end in the previous phase itself where the hero has already conquered the villain and achieved the missing object. However, in this phase it indicates the hero has still not completely won.
Return: Hero sets out towards home with the missing object
Pursuit: Hero is chased by the villain again
Rescue: The pursuit ends when the hero is helped by someone
Arrival: Hero arrives at a new place where he is not recognized, a hideout maybe
Claim: Another person makes unfounded claims of having obtained the missing object
Task: Hero is now given another task to prove himself
Solution: He is successful in resolving the task yet again
Recognition: Hero is recognized
Exposure: The false hero is exposed
Transfiguration: The hero is now changed either in terms of physical appearance or emotionally. He might have been weaker or shabby earlier but now is changed completely into a strong personality again.
Punishment: The villain is punished
Wedding: This is symbolic of the hero receiving awards and accolades and at times shown as marrying the main lady.
VOGLER'S STORY STRUCTURE
Chris Vogler revised Joseph's Campbell's 'Hero's Journey' as shown below.
The hero sets out for the quest.
1. Ordinary World
Here the hero is portrayed as an ordinary human being going about his everyday existence ignorant about the adventure that is to come his way. We can relate to this humane aspect as he is not yet a hero
2. Call to Adventure
Here the hero is presented with a challenge he must solve or an obstacle he must overcome. The hero thus accepts this challenge and decides that he must be the one to resolve it.
3. Refusal of the Call
Here the hero may be reluctant to accept the challenge because of the difficulties and dangers that lay ahead. The comfort of his familiar surroundings might be more appealing than the unknown land that he might have to venture out to, to resolve the challenge. This doubt and fear makes him more relatable to the common man.
4. Meeting the Mentor
The hero takes the help and guidance of a mentor to learn critical skills and any knowledge that will help them survive the path ahead and resolve the issue.
5. Crossing the Threshold
Finally the hero is prepared for the journey and crosses the threshold by leaving his home and loved ones
Here the hero faces the villain and other obstacles and finally achieves the goal.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
Once the hero sets out on his adventure, he is challenged with even bigger challenges than expected before. He moves from one challenge to another ranging from small setbacks to huge obstacles and proves his worth. His character is thus highlighted and we feel a sense of awe in knowing him. We gain a sense of vicarious pleasure as we see him going through a phase of trials and tribulations and being chased and bruised.
7. Approaching the Inmost Cave
At last the hero stands before the final destination. He is bruised yet wiser from the trials and he must now be prepared for the ultimate challenge. Nothing but courage will win through. The innermost cave is where the final frontier lies. The main villain is here, the final challenge. The hero must crossover the next threshold here.
The hero has his moments of self doubt here too. Moving ahead means a possibility of death too. The hero's pause helps build the tension before the climax.
8. The Crisis / Supreme Ordeal
Here the hero battles the villain which is a parallel to the hero facing his deepest fears. This is perhaps the hero's ultimate test where he fights his own inner demons before winning against the enemy outside. As outsiders, we feel the hero's turmoil and are scared for him. In him we see our fears of failure or death and in doing so, also face and overcome our own fears.
9. Seizing the Reward
On defeating the villain, the hero receives awards and accolades. He moves on to become a fearless person whose fears have been vanquished. The rewards can be in terms of getting something materialistic or can even be the acquiring of new knowledge or the inner growth as a person.
10. The Road Back
After the climax and the transformation, the hero sets out to go back home. He has achieved what he was looking out for. He no longer seeks for new adventure and has nothing left to prove. Setting out home is the reverse of seeking out the adventure. In contrast to the fear of the unknown and the danger, the hero now anticipates the praise and acclaim.
11. The Climax / Resurrection
Just when the audience is beaming in a false sense of security, the hero is faced with another surprising challenge. An unvanquished villain or his goons attack the hero one last time. We are again in the middle of a climax just when we thought everything was over. The hero is then finally on his way back home a transformed and a stronger person.
12. Return with the Elixir
The hero finally returns home to a hero's welcome and gets his just reward. He returns the treasure to the rightful owner and gets his well deserved acclaim and rest. This is the stage of final resolution of al tensions and unanswered questions. The viewers are finally at rest as the story is complete and they feel satisfied with the outcome.
Georges Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations
In 1868, Georges Polti, after an extensive survey of literature, declared that there were no more than 36 dramatic situations.
His list included: Supplication, Deliverance, Vengeance of a crime, Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred, Pursuit, Disaster, Falling prey to cruelty or misfortune, Revolt, Daring enterprise, Abduction, Enigma, Obtaining, Enmity of kinsmen, Rivalry of kinsmen, Murderous adultery, Madness, Fatal imprudence, Involuntary crimes of love, Slaying of a kinsman unrecognized, Self-sacrificing for an ideal, Self-sacrifice for kindred, All sacrificed for a passion, Necessity of sacrificing loved ones, Rivalry of superior and inferior, Adultery, Crimes of love, Discovery of the dishonor of a loved one, Obstacles to love, An enemy loved, Ambition, Conflict with a god, Mistaken jealousy, Erroneous judgment, Remorse, Recovery of a lost one and Loss of loved ones.
RONALD TOBIAS'S TWENTY MASTER PLOTS
Framework of Plot Selected for the Study:
According to Ronald Tobias, there are two basic categories of plots: The plots of the body and the plots of the mind. He further expanded his two basic categories of plots to come up with a list of twenty master plots that he believes exist in a story line. These are: Quest, Adventure, Pursuit, Rescue, Escape, Revenge, The Riddle, Rivalry, Underdog, Temptation, Metamorphosis, Transformation, Maturation, Love, Forbidden Love, Sacrifice, Discovery, Wretched Excess, Ascension, Descension.
Looking at all existing literature on Plots and Story Lines, the researcher felt that Ronald Tobias's twenty plots is a framework that is all encompassing and can be used as a structure to analyze the use of plots in Indian television commercials. These plots have been summarized below (Tobias, 1993):
The hero is in search of a person, place or thing. The search is actually a journey of overcoming the hero's own inner turmoil which is actually mirrored by the outer journey of overcoming the villain. The hero may be accompanied with a helper who may assist the hero on the journey but has limited capabilities in comparison the hero's vast array of strengths.
The adventure plot is more an action based plot where the hero does go out in search of something but there is no inner turmoil or any end goal
There is a constant chase for another. There may be a role reversal at times with the pursuit being alternated between the two. The pursued person may be finally caught or again escape so that the pursuit can continue.
In the rescue, there is a protagonist, antagonist and a victim. The victim needs to be rescued and the protagonist and antagonist have a confrontation. Ultimately the victim is freed.
Here a person is captured and needs to escape. He might take the help of others to escape. There may be capture and imprisonment. The escape may be followed with a pursuit.
In the revenge plot, a person is wrongfully accused and punished. He then seeks revenge from the culprits who have betrayed him and harmed him or his loved ones physically or emotionally.
Here the viewer is challenged to solve the riddle before the hero. The hero moves across places and people to uncover clues that will help him solve the riddle. The riddle, if unsolved will have dire consequences and hence must be solved in time.
There is a competition between two people or groups. The competition can be of a friendly nature or can be amongst enemies. However, there can be only one winner at the end of the fight. Both the competitors are fighting for a single resource, be it a person or a thing and only one of them can have it.
This is similar to rivalry; however, the opponents are not an equal match. The hero is the weaker of the two and is generally not expected to win. However with sheer will power, grit and determination and a little help from his friends he finally wins against the competition.
The temptation plot is a struggle between the protagonist and his inner voice. The hero is often tempted to get something that is morally wrong, however he ultimately succumbs to the desire and may or may not be a better person for having done so.
There is a physical transformation in the person may be as the result of a curse. The hero then continues in the new form struggling to escape from it or put it to good use. He is finally released from the traps of the curse , usually by love.
The transformation plot leads the alteration of the hero in a certain way because of certain events or circumstances. The transformation usually culminates in the hero becoming a better person either physically or emotionally.
The maturation plot deals with the transformation of a person from the naiveté of youth to the maturity of an elder person. The person grows either physically or emotionally. There is a transition from aimlessness to finding meaning in life.
A classic case of two lovers, with the enemies, hurdles and other dangers lurking in the background. They might be separated along the way. The tale ends with both of them coming together and the viewer enjoying the joyous reunion of the two lovers.
This generally deals with a relationship that is taboo either morally or socially. The lovers try to hide their love from the world. There is a fear of being caught and the inner and external conflicts that may follow once the adulterous relationship is exposed.
The plot highlights the noble nature of the protagonist who gives more than anyone under normal circumstance would be willing to share or do. This may not be the initial intent. This very fact emphasizes the heroic nature of the act
The discovery plot deals with the hero knowing something that is extremely terrible or wonderful. The importance of this may not be known to him at first and the choice might seem difficult. The process of revelation of what he has discovered thus becomes equally important.
In stories of wretched excess, the person goes to the lowest heights of moral and ethical standards or something that is really worth loathing about. The viewers are left in shock and question the ability of anyone falling so low to get something.
In the ascension plot, the person begins at a low moral level but in the process of the story, he overcomes obstacles and hurdles that a normal person would have given up on. He thus becomes a better person and is looked upon as a hero.
This is opposite to the ascension plot. Here the hero begins with high moral standards, but somewhere along the way he is met with stressful situations and he is not able to resist the prospect of giving up and thus falls from grace and gives in to the basic instincts.