All story is conflict. Without conflict, there is no action. Without action, there is no character. Without character, there is no story. And without story, there is no meaning.

Syd Field – screenwriter

Field, a legendary Hollywood screenwriter, was responsible for the wide promotion of the three-act structure. His quote has become something of a mantra for many brands who have developed their marketing strategies based on what the brand opposes. 


Direct Line Group was created in the 1980’s and initially their focus was on the perceived threat, ‘enemy’, that was insurance brokers. However, as times changed and there became a flood of price comparison websites, Direct Line realised they were no longer correctly positioned. Using insight, Direct Line’s head of brand and market planning, Piers Newson-Smith said: “A new enemy had emerged and no-one had noticed. This new enemy was hassle.”

Direct Line developed their campaign focusing on removing hassle, using the Winston Wolf character taken from Pulp Fiction, played by Harvey Keitel. Each of the adverts feature the character effortlessly understanding and fixing the problem – calmly and coolly.

The identification of conflict plays a critical role in the creation of a meaningful story, according to Field it is the entire point of a story. Lulu Skinner, the senior marketing manager EMEA at Airbnb, said: “Conflict isn’t just part of our ad strategy, it’s a fundamental part of our brand positioning, how we think about ourselves and our relationship with the world.” 



And there are some first-class examples of brands using one of these points of conflict in their advertising. Coke and Pepsi have long been the fiercest of rivals in the soft drinks world. Their advertising campaigns have been used to poke fun at their rivals.


Persil identified a social issue and used that as the basis for their most recent campaign when they launched ‘Dirt is good’ – the enemy (dirt) is easily defeated with their products.


When Dove created their Real Beauty campaign they used an inconvenient truth at its core, that women don’t see themselves as others do because of social conventions at play in advertising – something that Dove play on in this campaign.


‘Be a daredevil’ was the theme Red Bull used when they joined with Felix Baumgartner to create a space jump world record attempt – the jeopardy was actual life or death.



The conflict doesn’t need to be explained to the consumer/viewer – they get it instantly. E.B. White once said, ‘explaining a story is a lot like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.’ The conflict, the story, needs to be communicated effectively to ensure the audience understand it, and realise what the key message is. Skinner has the last say on this matter, “only by doing that will people actually connect with what you actually do stand for”. 

Find out How to Create an Award Winning Campaign

by Brian McKay20/04/2017

Sign up now for our latest content and news​

If you’d like to keep up with the latest updates and insights, please register below.