And the Oscar for Best Performance by an Underdog goes to…

 

If you’ve ever had anything to do with making a :30 commercial, you know what a miracle it is that two hour feature films get made at all. I don’t care if you’re making a small independent film about one character, or moving to New Zealand for seven years to make the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy like Peter Jackson, concepting, writing, planning, shooting, posting and releasing a feature film is a major accomplishment. How major? Last year in the U.S., it only happened 520 times.

That says nothing of quality. That just means 520 films finished the race. And among those, only a handful were deemed to be the best of the best. Just eight – a mere .015% – that were considered worthy of an Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture of the Year. This year, those films are: “American Sniper,” “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “Selma,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash.”

Inevitably, films, like brands, have to navigate crazy heavy competition with a very real need to differentiate themselves. Every one of these films has great acting, great direction, and great supporting features like music, art direction and cinematography. But what truly sets them apart are the stories they tell. Like all challengers who ultimately triumph, each one of these films has a compelling narrative. And ultimately, that’s the lesson every challenger brand can take away from them.

When told well, your story is everything. And if you’re not telling it, how will anyone know what it is?

Consider these eight stories:

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The most lethal sniper in American history survives the hellish violence of multiple tours in the Middle East and comes home to find Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is his most dangerous enemy.

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A washed up actor who was once a beloved on-screen superhero struggles to find his balance when the cheering stops and only ego, family issues and the echoes of popularity remain

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Director Richard Linklater examines the life of a young boy and his family as he ages from five to 18 and instead of using makeup, or different actors to portray the passage of time, he filmed scenes every year for 12 years so we see the family grow up in real time.

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Gustave H, the legendary concierge at a famous European Hotel shares incredible adventures with a collection of eccentric characters including Zero, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

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During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing creates a special “universal machine” – a precursor to the modern computer – which he uses to break the Nazi Enigma code, turning the tide of the war and helping the Allies defeat Germany.

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As part of his push for equal voting rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. takes more than a few giant steps toward racial equality leading a group of Civil Rights activists on an epic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

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Just as world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking’s brilliance begins to emerge, so too do a heart-breaking diagnosis of ALS and the unconditional love of the woman who wouldn’t let him give up.

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A promising young drummer enrolls at a cutthroat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by a teacher hell bent on making him one of the all time greats.

Based simply on a few compelling sentences, millions of people are willing to trade hard earned money and two to three hours of their lives to experience each of these narratives. To see how the stories will unfold. To follow the hero’s journey. To experience the exhilaration and heartbreak of the human condition.

What is your story? Why should people pay attention to you and pay good money and time to spend a few hours with you? How will people feel when they reach the other side of that experience? Satisfied and happy for the investment spent? Or disappointed that there wasn’t more there, there.

As an underdog, how you present your story is everything. The good news is that unlike a film, your ending is yet unwritten. Time to go to work.