How to Become a Content Marketing Hero by Emulating Apple and Subway

Every entrepreneur wants to build a heroic company. The question becomes, how does that happen?

As we saw last time, your startup becomes a hero by making your customers and clients the main hero. And rather than starting with trying to sell our ultimate products or services, we attract and mentor our prospects with content first.

Let’s return briefly to the Star Wars analogy from the previous article. When you put your prospect in the position of the main hero (Luke Skywalker), and your content as the mentor who guides or assists the hero on their journey of transformation (Obi Wan), it’s extremely powerful. You allow people to identify themselves within the context of an enduring mythical structure that also makes a hero out of your brand.

Some of the most effective (and expensive) television advertising campaigns have tapped the power of the monomyth that Star Wars adopted thanks to Joseph Campbell. And while content marketing doesn’t require Super Bowl ad spends and multi-millions in production costs, it’s nonetheless useful to see a few examples of how the hero’s journey has been used historically to grow revenue in a very real way.

Apple’s “1984”

It’s been called the greatest American television commercial of all time. And it almost didn’t get made, because the Apple board of directors didn’t understand what it had to do with selling computers.

Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad, which introduced the Macintosh to the world, was selling much more than computers. It was channeling the monomyth — calling to action the creative souls of the world to rise up against the tyranny of corporate computing (symbolized by IBM) and empower themselves to take a journey of creative transformation.

The striking blond with the hammer represents those creative heroes (the “users” in today’s inelegant terms). Not until the very end of the commercial is there any mention of the mentor, the tool that will guide you on your creative journey. That would be the Mac, if there’s any confusion at this point.

Apple’s “Crazy Ones”

In my opinion, Apple’s initial Think Different television ad (dubbed the “Crazy Ones” commercial), beats 1984 hands down, despite being simpler and much cheaper to produce. Again, the call to adventure to change the world is front and center, amplified by a powerful sense of identification with cultural icons such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., plus business leaders like Richard Branson and Ted Turner.

The little girl in the final shot exemplifies the true main hero, which is designed for the rest of us to self-identify with. There’s even less emphasis on the Macintosh as the mentor or crucial tool in this spot, but everyone gets the point.

People often liken Apple’s customer base to a cult, and you have their brilliant marketing to thank for that, in addition to great products. Apple repeatedly taps into the hero’s journey monomyth that’s also dominant in the stories of Buddha, Moses, and Jesus. By placing your prospective customers and clients in the role of the main hero, you can develop a serious form of hero worship for your company and solutions as well.

Jared and Subway

Let’s bring things down to earth a bit so you can see how simple and practical a successful use of the hero’s journey can be in a commercial context. One of my favorite examples is Jared from Subway.

By the end of the Jared campaign, Subway sales had more than doubled to $8.2 billion. Following Jared’s brief departure as Subway spokesman in 2005, sales immediately dropped 10 percent, prompting Subway to quickly bring him back.

Jared is the literal hero, and he goes on a journey of massive weight loss with his “mentor” Subway. Let’s map it out against the initial steps of the classic hero’s journey structure:

  • Ordinary World – Jared is obese
  • Call to Adventure – Jared wants to lose weight
  • Refusal of Call – Losing weight is hard, especially food choices
  • Meeting the Mentor – Jared turns to a diet of Subway sandwiches
  • Crossing the Threshold – Jared enters the “world of transformation” as he begins to see results

The Jared campaign embodied many of the basic elements of good content marketing. It was useful. It was inspiring. It was educational. It was about benefits, not advertising awards.

People identified with Jared’s story and turned to Subway for help as well, because even if you didn’t need to lose the kind of weight Jared did, you tell yourself that eating at Subway can help you shed a few pounds. If Jared could do it, certainly you can, right?

That’s effective marketing, and it gets even better when you do it with content over time.

How to Perform Heroic Content Marketing

Hero's Journey

The content you create performs all the same tasks as that rare beast known as effective advertising. It just doesn’t seem like advertising, and it doesn’t cost you millions of dollars.

Way more effective, way less expensive … what’s not to like? So, let’s track the critical steps of the hero’s journey, and see how they fit within the 5A Content Marketing Framework:

1. Authenticity

This is the research stage. This is where you immerse yourself in your hero’s world, in order to make educated guesses about what kind of content will attract and retain a relevant, profitable audience.

You’re trying to construct a model of your prospect’s ordinary world. What is their day-to-day life like? What are their hopes, dreams, desires, frustrations, problems and pain?

When you’ve got a clear picture of that, you’ve got a handle on a potential Call to Adventure. In other words, what do they want to achieve that’s not part of their current ordinary world? More importantly, what are the resistance points that causes them to Resist the Call?

What you’re really doing is constructing audience personas. Same thing as buyer personas, because ultimately that’s what you want them to transform into. But this approach allows you to discover what they actually want to buy.

More on crafting smart buyer personas soon.

2. Attention

In the attention phase, you are creating content to get them to “meet their mentor.” Your initial content should be an expression of empathy for their ordinary world, an identification of their call to adventure in the form of problems, desires, and aspirations, and an overcoming of objections that amount to a refusal of the call.

Your content becomes the catalyst for crossing the threshold in the world of transformation, and this is the motivation to subscribe and follow you over time. Your community starts to form, and individual audience members begin to bond with people who are on the same journey.

Ongoing challenges appear in the form of feedback, which fuels your agile content marketing process. You attain a minimum viable audience, where your audience begins to grow itself, and reveals what else they need to complete their journey.

3. Authority

Authority is attained one person at time, during the attention phase. Authority in the larger sense, where you (or your company) become recognized as a subject matter expert results from the aggregation of each of those people viewing you as a valued guide or mentor.

In the authority stage, you’re getting feedback about what’s missing. In other words, going into the “innermost cave” and facing “the supreme ordeal” will require something more than content. This is where your solution comes into play, and you’re now perfectly positioned to develop and offer it.

Whether you have an existing product or service or not, you’re now doing better than just guessing at what people want. You’ve metaphorically walked a mile in your market’s shoes.

You know what to do next based on serving the initial needs to real people, and you’ve earned the privilege of having your advice taken seriously. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to you, and it happened because you took care of others first.

4. Action

At this point, your audience knows, likes, and trusts you. They may even be begging you to sell them something, which is strange situation in our current cynical environment.

The action phase is basically about copywriting. Except you don’t need a hard sales pitch, because know, like, and trust are about 85% of the battle.

Now, you craft the perfect offer because you understand who you’re talking to and what they want. You tell the perfect closing story because you understand what the supreme ordeal is for them. You know what is objectionable and what creates resistance, and how to coach them through it.

5. Acceleration

The acceleration phase is a gift that results from successfully taking people through the hero’s journey. In essence, you’re earned the right to take them further than they initially anticipated.

That means you take people through the journey again from a content standpoint, but it’s compressed and easier. You have to make the audience realize that there’s a higher level, and you can take them there.

Don’t get arrogant here, because it’s easy to fall from grace. In other words, don’t succumb to the dark side.

Instead, be Yoda. Become wealthy, you will.

Over to You …

Does this help make content marketing strategy simpler?

When you see what you’re trying to accomplish with your content in relation to the people you want to make your customers or clients, it’s less abstract in this context. At least that’s my hope.

Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Brian Clark is Editor-in-Chief of Entreproducer, a multimedia email publication exploring the business of independent digital media. Get more related content on Twitter.

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  1. Hi Brian!

    Great post! Another point to make about the hero is not to look too “perfect.”

    Many ‘ordinary’ people are trapped in a mindset believing “I’m not smart enough,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “It’s too difficult” or “It won’t work for me because my situation is different” etc.

    However, one of the reasons why Jared’s advertising worked so well is because he was able to get down to a level where he related with the audience. His message was “I’m a lot like you…” and “if I can do it, anyone can.”

    It gave us all hope.

    Similarly, the most popular comic book heroes over the years had their flaws that allowed the reader to relate to the superhero by saying “i’m not that different.” (Clark Kent was adopted, raised in a typical middle-American family and goes on to become a nerdy, rather unpopular, journalist – and just so happens to have super powers (which are further threatened by kryptonite.)

    Why do entrepreneurs love Richard Branson? Not because he’s a billionaire, but because he’s bold enough to say “the reason why I’m a billionaire comes down to the fact that I’m not afraid to make mistakes, I still make mistakes and I’ve probably made more mistakes than most people in the world.” He faces huge challenges, shares his struggles and humbly accepts his victories under the label of persistence, determination and patience (not pretending to be smarter than everyone else.)

    Again, great article Brian!

    With gratitude,

    • I would also like to add that this is exactly why people root for the “underdog” in almost every circumstance.

      And if you can design your content/marketing to appeal to the “underdog,” you will magnetize your audience every time.

      • You got, Brian! Great comment!

        Do you remember the movie, Rudy? Just goes to show you the power of the “underdog” – can’t remember the last time someone said to me: “Let’s go route for the XYZ because we know they’re going to win!”

  2. Brian, you really have a way with words, and while we eat, sleep and breathe this cool aid thanks to CopyBlogger, this was one of the most enjoyable presentations of this marketing philosophy yet (in my opinion)! The best part about it, is that we see how well it works in reality over at CopyBlogger, and many of the other authorities in the content marketing world…

    Loved the ad videos thrown in as examples btw…

  3. Brian, I am just getting my ‘Heroic’ thoughts together…rather trying to get them together. I am writing a sets of children’s books and then TV scripts around a group of altruistic activists characters. For my life balance I wish to write a blog to adults not necessarily just teachers and parents. I would address the issues that my books touch on in a larger sense. I am wondering if the reason my vision is gaining no mental traction is because I need (for practical reasons) to keep my posts more specifically market centered — for children and or parents / teachers. Is my problem really “call refusal” — that is a beast isn’t it?! So sly! I would love to have your thoughts. I have mud in my eyes. 🙂 …Can’t work that way!

    OH!… Just thought about this. You would never bet this — the first of my published books is titled, “Hero Report”!

  4. Frankly it is a bit hard for me to understand. But I think I could see what you mean by using the contents marketing or copywriting to gain knowledge of the brand or company, to gain likes and trust.

    If we could bring people through the end of the hero’s journey. We have done already a beautiful job.

    The rest, a normal salesman could do our job!

  5. Morning Brian.

    It’s such a great reminder to continue to focus on the reader and to connect with their dream.

    I don’t know why, but that concept is so easy to get away from and instantly turn off the reader.

    When I started my website years ago (heck, 1999), I thought it was all about me, what I knew, and what I thought the reader needed.

    Didn’t get much traction with that approach.

    You and the folks over at copyblogger have really helped me see the light, stay focused on making the reader the hero, and because of that, I now have a steady business that provides for my family.

    Thanks …


  6. Hi Brian,

    This is the post that made the Agile Content Marketing Framework clearer for, even so muchs to give me some insight inot how I can best measure engagement from site visitors who may not use social network shares or comments to indicate their engaged.

    As I’ve commented about on other posts, trying to see when to pivot from stage2 to stage 3 appeared challenging without social shares and signifcant comments on each g post.

    Really appreciate how this post demonstrates the power of the Hero’s Journey.

  7. I agree with Brendon and really enjoyed this.

    The Hero’s Journey really brings all of you content marketing advice up front, to a new light.

    Thanks, Brian.

  8. This is a great article as has helped me to re-frame the solutions that our company provides.

    For anyone looking for more info along theses lines Steven Pressfield has been doing a great series on the Hero’s Journey:

  9. Here is a question for you Brian & anyone else who can answer.

    I love this idea of using the Heroes Journey, but what if I am not the “expert” but the curator of the knowledge of that expertise? For example, if I interview established experts in a particular niche will this model still work do you think?

    Thank you

    • Hi Jayce,

      I think we all do exactly that. We become trusted guides by first seeking our own mentors and researching our field to get to know the territory. The fact that you’re learning as you go positions you as a visionary explorer 🙂

    • If you are curating you can hack the headlines to better serve the narrative that resonates with your core user.

      • Hmm… can you explain what you mean please? How can write better headlines as a curator?

        • “Hmm… can you explain what you mean please? How can write better headlines as a curator?”

          Quite simply- create a different headline. How is it that you are curating content? Taking a picture of the content in question and posting it as an image? 🙂 No? Then you should be able to change the headline of the content to suit your narrative.

          If you aren’t re-posting articles it isn’t really curating, it is content-spinning…

    • A very valid question.

      But an ‘expert’ is a relative term.

      That’s why there is ‘peer review’ because to the outsider, everyone’s skill level is the same. A good doctor to me is someone who talks to me nicely, and generally speaking, doesn’t make me sick. He’s a good doctor because I’m no doctor and don’t know the industry, best practices etc.

      If you talk to them nicely, they’d consider you a better ‘expert’. That solves the problem of not being an expert, I think. As long as you are one step ahead of the ‘user’ (inelegant term indeed!), I think your problem of ‘authority’ is solvable, if not solved.

      Hope this helped.

  10. “How to Become a Content Marketing Hero by Emulating Apple and Subway” or

    “What The Matrix can teach you about Converting” or

    “5 ways to write content like Yoda and Morpheus”

    Giggle. Love the application of monomyth to personas/copy. Good stuff. I always feel like a magical hero when I read CopyBlogger Media. 😉

  11. This post is going into my “epic” folder!

    I can’t help but be inspired to the point of re-building my editorial calendar to better reflect this “Call to Adventure” concept.

    I realize that I am not really adding much value with this gush-fest…but was compelled to simply say “thank you.”

  12. hi Brian,

    Steve Jobs once said: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.” I’m sure, or at least IMO, you and all the people at copyblogger must have had quite a few of those nights! Thanks for your inspiring content and the great products you offer. A loyal customer 🙂

  13. In a recent IMFSP radio interview, Robert Bruce asked Seth Godin to define marketing. Seth said, it’s ” . . . the art of telling a story that resonates with your audience and then spreads.”

    The hero’s journey is the form of that story. The form is compelling because it’s a model of how transformation happens in real life. In telling your story, you provide a vision of a possible destination, a preview of the road, and the motivation to start the journey. It also positions you as a helpful guide.

    Thanks for another great installment in your hero’s journey, Brian.


  14. Thanks for another amazing article Brian. I agree with you on the process you should take with your content in order to make your reader feel and see themselves as the hero. On a journey to growing, learning and really using the content you create to impact their situations and heroism.

  15. WOW Brian!

    Awesome, awesome work of art here. I am totally blown away with this approach of the hero’s journey. I wonder how such a simple concept has taken several entrepreneurs so long to understand, even myself. I guess most simple things are not as simple in application.

    Thank you so much. This is how marketing should be and I like your use of Apple and their change the world marketing story. In your premise tutorials you called this the premise or theme of your copy. This is the way marketing should be, it is beyond the actual products/services people buy and more about the outcome those things bring into their lives.

    Again, thank you, thank you and well done!

  16. Thank You. This goes on my wall right now!

  17. I liked the Hero’s Journey application to content marketing. I’ve long been a fan of Joseph Campbell’s work since I saw his interview with Bill Moyers. Brilliant stuff. Your application made conscious something I was doing around the periphery but not overtly. Thanks for making it so clear so I could apply it more effectively.

  18. When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of content marketing, which is better, a blog or a theme-based, content-rich static site?

  19. Acceleration phase… that’s confusing me right now.
    You talking about repackaging the content into bite-sized forms and then selling that, for example? Will that be the Acceleration phase?
    By the way, monsieur Wan, good shit, this is.

  20. Hi Brian, I don’t know if this makes content marketing simpler, but it definitely will make it more effective. It would be easy to not want to pass through these steps of getting to know the hopes, fears, and dreams of the target audience, etc., but in the end, the extra time and effort is what makes the difference. This doesn’t make it easier, but it does give me something to study in order to apply, learn, and become more effective.

  21. Sorry Brian. But I just don’t get it. I get the 5 steps. I get the need to get people to know like and trust us. I don’t get applying the hero’s journey to the content. I see it in the ads but not the content. It feels like I’m not even beginning to get it.

    • PS Brian. Reading all the comments, I see no clear evidence that anyone else got it either. There are some die hard fans. There’s no evidence that they have applied the monomyth. No specific ideas were offered of how they could apply the monomyth to content. Please understand that I am trying to contribute here, not to criticize.

      • Jim-

        It is obvious you don’t understand, at all. You have missed some fundamental aspect of the post. Are you even familiar with Joseph Campbell?

        The point of the post, or at least what I took away from it, is that good marketing tickles the same part of the brain that the monomyth or folk stories do. They caress that hidden aspect of us the KNOWS we are special, unique, and great.

        From the epic poems of old, beowulf, the illiad, and the like to modern tales such as The Matrix and Star Wars, we find the same narrative of the heroic protagonist. We can postulate that the formula of the heroic tale is so ubiquitous because people like how heroic tales make them feel. They imagine that they are the protagonist.

        In marketing terms it takes the pain away from the purchase. It aligns the hero, in this case the reader, to the narrative of the marketing campaign. It is another layer of benefits to weave into the copy. Not only will you get a, b, and c- you are also fulfilling you destiny in the cult of apple. When you buy this you are following the script that places you on the throne.

        People imagine they are complex and rational, but they are not. It takes very little effort to instigate that heroic ego in them by speaking to them as if you sense something magickal or special about them. There is probably a less crass way to delineate this, but the fact is that peoples delusions of grandeur open them up to exploitation by people clever enough to apply the formula that was explained here.

    • Brian Clark says:

      Jim, no problem. Let’s break it down a bit more.

      In the Subway ad, you’re hearing about Jared’s journey after it happened. It’s a case study, because, well, they only had 30 seconds a shot.

      What type of information and motivation would Jared need to start the journey? That’s what content marketing does.

      Okay, better example. You’re in real estate, right? One of the “personas” that’s relevant to your business is the first-home home buyer.

      What does the “ordinary world” look like to a first-time buyer? It’s a cramped rental apartment. Maybe a couple is recently married and looking for more room. Maybe there’s a child on the way. These are just a couple of common scenarios for this type of home shopper.

      What’s the “call to adventure?” To stop renting and own their own home.

      What could make them “resist the call?” Down payment, credit issues, job security. These are the objections you need to overcome to move them along on their journey to home ownership.

      They find your site, and your demonstrated local expertise with your hyperlocal content causes them to view your site as their guide or “mentor.” They’re using your IDX solution to keep track of homes in their price range.

      They haven’t contacted you yet, because they’re not ready to. But they know you, and they’re beginning to like and maybe even trust you.

      They cross the threshold when they decide to contact you for a showing. You help them apply for a loan. They face loan underwriting, inspections, and closing issues as the “supreme ordeal” before “seizing the treasure” of their new home.

      Make sense? It’s not complicated. It’s just a very useful map to making sure your content is covering all the bases by showing up to aid the prospective home buyer on every step of their journey to reaching their goal. As you can see, the content helps them hire you as a true mentor (as their agent) to meet their goal, which in turn results in a commission to you.

      • Brian-

        Thanks, that pulls it all together for me. I really appreciate it.


      • Thanks for this reply Brian.

        I too was struggling to see how the 5As fitted around the monomyth and seeing it in the real world example for Jim helped greatly.


  22. Brian – here is a discussion/debate in my circle we’ve been having … What do you think?

    Can a physical product, an object ever been more than an ally or mentor?

    Can the product be the hero? Or is the hero always a person and in our case, the prospect aka target audience?

  23. Love the Joseph Campbell meets online marketing intersection, Brian! Those three years I spent grinding it out in L.A. as an aspiring screenwriter all of a sudden have new meaning. 😉



  24. What is really amazing about the “Think Different” ad is it doesn’t even mention Apple at all. I imagine that ad may have come later in the sequence of Think Different ads, after consumers were already familiar with the campaign and associated it with Apple the company.

    Brian, I am really enjoying these posts and really looking forward to the book.

  25. If the hero is already a celebrity…even a minor one….then weight loss seems to work even better. Jenny Craig uses Valerie Bertinelli to market their products. The celebrity fits in with the type of people they want to attract so does that mean that 20-30 year old men eat at subway most ? Does the Jared story resonate with women too ?

  26. Nice work! Love the exaltation of the Hero’s Journey in the context of business / innovation / marketing / entrepreneurship / startups and branding!

    You’ll enjoy the Hero’s Journey Mythology words and videos here:

    A vast demand exists for the classical ideals performed in the contemporary context–for honor, integrity, courage, and committment–on Wall Street and Main Street, in Hollywood and the Heartland, in Academia and Government. And thus opportunity abounds for entrepreneurs who keep the higher ideals above the bottom line–for humble heroes in all walks of life.
    The same classical values guiding the rising artistic renaissance will protect the artists’ intellectual property. The immortal ideals which guide the story of blockbuster books and movies such asThe Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Braveheart,The Chronicles of Narnia, and Star Wars, are the very same ideals underlying the United States Constitution. These classic ideals–which pervade Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, and the Bible–are the source of both epic story and property rights, of law and business, of academia and civilization.


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