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From Westeros to Pepsi: Finding the True Hero of Your Brand Story

By Melissa Rodier

This Sunday was the long-awaited season seven premiere of Game of Thrones. With its sprawling cast of characters, it’s hard to point to a single hero’s journey. And it’s even harder to agree on who deserves to survive and sit on the Iron Throne.

Is it Jon Snow, determined to protect the Seven Kingdoms from the invading hordes of winter? Is it Khaleesi herself, Daenerys Targaryen, who has come with an army of dragons, ready to take back her home? Is it Arya Stark, crossing names off her list like no one’s business? Is it Cersei Lannister, who has no use for self-pity when she’s waging a war to rule the world? Or who knows, maybe it’s Samwell Tarly, in his exciting quest to borrow a book from the library. Or maybe it’s that dude that was played by Ed Sheeran, who just wants to enjoy some blackberry wine.

Identifying the character you’re rooting for, identifying the hero of this story (or any story) is always going to be as much about the audience and the individuals who comprise it as it is about the characters and the plot. It’s a Rorschach test: the way you view the story and the characters speaks volumes about what’s important to you.

The same can be said about brands who are looking for their audience. Just look no further than that poorly conceived commercial from Pepsi starring Kendall Jenner. The fact that Pepsi saw nothing problematic about the concept says something about Pepsi. The fact that Kendall Jenner (and by extension Kendall Jenner’s people) thought the advertisement was a good idea says something about Kendall Jenner (and her people). The outrage raised by the public says something about public opinion, and the attitudes and core values of Pepsi’s audience, and society on a larger scale. Pepsi hugely miscalculated the hero of its story, and in turn suffered.

On the other side of the coin, and a trip into the past, just check out that very famous Apple ad from 1984 that played with the concepts of Orwell’s 1984. Apple knew that it had a tremendous opportunity to connect with the popular imagination, and it knew that people wanted to break out of the mold. The audience responded to the idea of smashing the gears of conformity and creating a new kind of freedom and revolution. The media-buying team knew that a big concept like this needed a prime Super Bowl advertising slot. The timing, the understanding of its core audience, and the ad placement all came together perfectly, because Apple had found its hero, and its audience responded in agreement.

But just because Pepsi misidentified its hero, doesn’t mean there’s no coming back. And just because Apple correctly identified its hero, doesn’t mean that they can continue telling the same story forever. Time changes, brands change, audiences change, and the definition of who exactly is the hero changes as well. Someone watching season one may have loved Daenerys and in season six be sick of her. Someone may have hated Sansa Stark in the first season and she might now be their favorite character. As audiences grow, stories evolve, and times change, the idea of who is a hero shifts as well.

Take a look at Lego, who in 2000 did a major reevaluation and shift in their tactics and strategy. Lego had, in the words of its Vice President of Marketing “lost sight of what we meant to our fans and how best to serve their needs. We thought the way to grow the business was to find ways for the LEGO brand to be everything to everyone, and we took our eye off the ball of being the best construction toy for children who like to build. Once we refocused on doing what we do best, we quickly found ourselves on a path to renewed growth.” Lego had crafted a narrative that at one point had resonated with its audience and its hero. But times had changed, and Lego re-evaluated and found a return to even older roots was necessary, reframing its narrative and recasting its hero in a way that the audience responded to, which led to renewed growth and prosperity for the brand.

Brands need to take a look at what they’re offering the world, identify their hero, and discover methods of telling that story in ways that will resonate with their core audience. It’s a process that changes as brands grow and audiences evolve and change. Just as your favorite GoT character’s journey evolves, so too can the hero of a brand. Identify your hero, invest in your hero, and revisit your hero’s ultimate goals if you want to create a truly impactful and meaningful connection with your audience, stakeholders, and the larger world around you. But more than anything else, be true to your brand. As Tyrion Lannister teaches us, you must never forget what you are; the rest of the world will not.

Melissa Rodier is an associate at Woden. Whatever your storytelling needs may be, let Woden help. Read our free StorytellingBlueprint, or send us an email at to discuss how we can help tell your story.