Yes, they are all popular reality TV talent shows, they all start with many contestants and eliminate them one by one until the final winner has been identified.
But there’s more.
They are all organized around a very vocal and polarizing judge figure: Donald Trump. Simon Cowell. Gordon Ramsey.
Don’t deny it – what you really want to see when you watch these shows, is Trump point his chubby finger at losing candidates and say “you’re fired”; or Cowell harshly criticize poor singing performance (or better yet, co-judging performance!); or Ramsey smash a plate of half-cooked salmon in disgust and kick weaker chefs out of the kitchen.
These are all larger-than-life personalities with big egos and even bigger mouths. They are not briefed to be nice… in fact, the harsher, the scarier, and the more hell-bent they seem to be on making contestants lives painful… the better for the show.
Watching contestant “survive” the judges is where the entertainment comes from.
And it’s no accident - each of these shows has been designed purposefully with story-telling in mind, by building on proven archetypes.
According to author Christopher Booker, the whole history of human storytelling boils down to just seven basic plots. And no matter how creative you get, successful storytelling is a factor of how well you understand the rules of the particular story-type you are trying to tell.
Reality TV talent shows are all essentially “Rags To Riches” story – a very powerful arch we can all relate to. It tells the rise of an individual from zero to hero, through a series of character building challenges. The typical story involves fighting an evil “monster”, a particularly powerful bad guy like Aladin’s Grand Vizir, or Luke’s Darth Vader - a task that feels daunting at first… the monster always wins the first rounds… but the true champion wins in the end, generally after getting as close as it gets to defeat.
With no monster, no merit, no “transformation” of the hero – an idea particularly important for shows intent to propel nobodies to star-level in a matter of weeks. Monster-judges give contestants fast-lane access to credibility, in the public eye. Each of these shows has deliberately created its own monster. Monsters with faces and names. Trump, Cowell and Ramsey are as hard as it takes to offer that scary counter-point to hero-contestants. Only then can we – the public – buy into the rags to riches scenario, and see merit in the winner’s accelerated journey to success and fame.
Successful engagement comes with an understanding of the timeless rules of story-telling.
In this case, that champions and heroes need monsters to slay. That’s how you make it work, even if you need to create the monster yourself.
A lesson for anyone – especially marketers – who want to tell good stories.
This post is part of #letsblogoff – Feb 15th theme “What makes a good story – storytelling”.