Storytelling Principles: Antagonist (#5)

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Antagonism as a storytelling principle is well known and there's more than meets the eye. Let's take a look at both.

According to Robert McKee the principle of antagonism is the most important and least understood precept in storytelling.

The Obvious

Antagonism as part of the storytelling toolbox is pretty well known.

Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi, Apple vs. Microsoft, Tesla vs. the automotive industry, Snapchat vs. the kingdom of Facebook, Social Media vs. Publishers, etc. etc.

I remember a bit of a drastic shape of antagonism from when I was a brand manager at a well known international FMCG brand. The sales manager at the time kept talking about "kill [brand x that was #1]". It came across as aggressive rather than motivational.

However the principle - when used well - is a great way to sharpen your own positioning and focus your community (employees, fans, buyers) to support you by calling out why your brand is better (protagonist) than the competition (antagonist).

Inner Dragon

In the past years another, another relevant and useful antagonist angle has come knocking: the one Bruce Lee described as your inner dragon. Lots of companies are in a transformation and in many cases it is towards more meaning, more purpose. But to get there the antagonist you're fighting against is often the powers that be in your own company or organisation. In each organisation there are visionaries and realists and they both have a crucial role to play

Societal vs Individual Purpose

It’s good to define your organisational role in society - whether you’re an FMCG, tech, industry or services brand, an agency, a startup or a big corporate. This role can (and sometimes should) be big and abstract, for example tying yourself to one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

However, it is equally important to understand, in order to reach that goal in the future you need to think through what this means for the individual - brand manager, the sales manager, the construction worker, cleaner - today and tomorrow. It's also key to explain it in a way she/he/they without losing her/his/their ty in and buy in. The realistic group of people mentioned above play a crucial role in this, because they can help the visionary group think through how to make it relevant to each group of people in the organisation.

After all we all want to be the one who helped put a person on the moon (or mars), right?

What’s your inner dragon and how can you use it to move forward towards a more meaningful company, brand, organisation? And subsequently more earned attention.


Storytelling has been around for a long time. It’s been overly hyped, booed off stage and recently it seems to have picked up traction again. Some say this may even be called the Netflix effect as in Netflix has propelled storytelling into everyday life like no other. At HPB we’ve always respected storytelling as a way to emotionally engage and connect with audiences, culture, people. The foundation of the Art of Storytelling - as we’d like to call it - are its Principles. Personally I am a great admirer of the way Robert McKee - a creative writing instructor and former professor at the University of Southern California - has written about storytelling in his book Story. Here’s my take on his principles and their relevance in the context of today’s Earned First Era. Over time, I will try and touch on all Story Principles McKee’s calls out, #1 'Premise' #2 'Character Arc', #3 Inciting Incident, #4 Controlling Idea.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Read more about storytelling here.

Date 21 April 2021

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