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Exposing the Secret Plot Archetypes in 7 Winning Ads

Comedy, Rebirth, Rags to Riches, Tragedy, The Quest, Overcoming the Monster, Voyage and Return – these seven plot archetypes pop up everywhere, from global news stories to the smallest ad spots. Using three of these conventions, Shutterstock's 2016 New Blood Awards brief challenged budding image-makers to create a static or moving image that captured dramatic narrative in everyday reality. But what on earth are they? We read between the lines of D&AD's annuals to bring you epic examples of these seven plots in play. Are you sitting comfortably? Then here's the full story. 

Overcoming the Monster

There's an evil force threatening the hero/their world/mankind. The hero must fight and slay this monster, which often isn’t easy, but they come out triumphant and receive a great reward. Think Beowulf, Dracula and King Kong. 

Award:Wood Pencil

 I Will What I Want

Category: Branded Film Content & Entertainment / Branded Film Content & Entertainment - Online / 2015
Agency: Droga5
Client: Under Armour

In a deliberately provocative move, sportswear supplier Under Armour signed international supermodel Gisele Bündchen, in a campaign that relied on her being harshly judged by the online masses. This raw, unedited TV spot sees Gisele working out while her space is invaded by real online comments in reaction to her unexpected partnership with Under Armour, which was made just two days prior to the spot first airing. The comments were collected, rotoscoped and rendered seamlessly into the room around Gisele. But she never breaks focus, proving that will beats noise. The commercial was backed by a site with a custom engine that scraped the web for commentary about Gisele. The live social experiment collated everything that was said about the model and presented it in real time with limited moderation.

Rags to Riches

This one's fairly self-explanatory. At the beginning the hero is insignificant and dismissed by others, but something happens to elevate them, revealing them to be exceptional. Think The Ugly Duckling, Aladdin and Superman.
Award:Yellow Pencil


Category: Direct / Direct Response/Digital / 2011
Agency: TBWA\London
Client: Wrigley

Skittles believe life’s better inside the Rainbow, so Facebook fans were invited to harness some of its power with the Super Mega Rainbow Updater. A live call centre and online film factory were built and fans were asked to supply it with their status updates. Staff recorded the updates as awesome films and posted them back onto fans’ Facebook walls in mere minutes. The whole assembly line was driven by the fans’ input and willingness to be Rainbow-fied. In just two weeks, they created and shared over 21,000 films.

The Quest

In the quest, the hero must set out on a long, hazardous journey, and will battle all obstacles until they are triumphant. Think The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter.

Award:Wood Pencil

 The Scarecrow

Category: Digital Marketing / Online Branded Films / 2014
Agency: Creative Artists Agency
Client: Chipotle Mexican Grill

The Scarecrow was part of an ambitious content platform "Cultivate a Better World," designed to generate curiosity about where food comes from through the use of engaging entertainment. "The Scarecrow" film was set in a dystopian world where all food production is controlled by fictional industrial giant Crow Foods. The Crow Foods factory is staffed by scarecrows who have been displaced from their traditional farm jobs and now must work for the crows. Dreaming of something better, a lone scarecrow sets out to provide an alternative to the unsustainable processed food from the factory.

Voyage and Return

While also based on a journey, the Voyage and Return is very different from The Quest. Here, the hero travels out of their ‘normal world’ into the overwhelming and unknown, before escaping back to the safety of their home. Think Alice in Wonderland, Finding Nemo and Gulliver’s Travels.
Award:Wood Pencil

 Escape the Map

Category: Film Advertising Crafts / Direction for Film Advertising / 2012
Agency: AMV BBDO
Client: Mercedes Benz

This interactive film brings Streetview to life in a strange, trans-media thriller. Viewers had to help a girl escape our virtual world to win a C63 AMG coupé. Everything, apart from the characters and car interior, was built in CG, which showed the world constantly re-rendering in the same way Streetview does. Photogrammetry was used to give streets a glitchy and intentionally low-fi, dystopian feel. Electronic sounds were designed to complement the hyper-real 3D rendering of the virtual world, helping to enhance the strangeness of the experience.


A story made up of comedic events, normally involving mistaken identity, misunderstanding or confusion, resulting in hilarious chaos. Think A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Some Like It Hot.

Award:Wood Pencil

 Collie Wobble

Category: TV & Cinema Crafts / Cinematography / 2009
Agency: Gorgeous Enterprises
Client: Specsavers Optical Group

Collie Wobble tells the tale of veteran sheep shearing champion Arthur Arthurson. We see him bringing his sheep from the hills for their spring shearing, just as he has done every year for the last 60 years. This year, however, will be a little less traditional. Arthur accidentally shears his faithful dog, Ben. Should've gone to...


This is the story without the happy ending. While other archetypes see triumphant heroes and slain monsters, this plot takes a different turn, and ends in loss or death. Think Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Breaking Bad.

Award: Graphite Pencil

 Trip Out to Sea

Category: Mobile Marketing / UX, Interface & Navigation for Mobile Marketing / 2015
Agency: CLM BBDO
Client: Guy Cotten

Guy Cotten, a leading manufacturer of marine clothing and safety equipment, wanted to make wearing a life jacket a reflex among French people. So, in a brutal and innovative interactive video, CLM BBDO underscored the importance of life jackets by letting people experience what it's like to drown at sea. Told from a first-person perspective, the video opens as a man is knocked from his sailboat. The viewer then takes over, and has to scroll continuously to keep him on the surface. Viewers tire quickly, physically and psychologically. Eventually they give up and the man to succumbs to the sea. The video gives an impression of just how much physical and mental endurance is required to stay afloat without a life jacket. Launched without a media plan in April 2014, the campaign got people talking all over the world.


This final plot type, rebirth, sees the hero ‘falling under a dark spell’ (whether this is sleep, sickness or enchantment) before breaking free and being redeemed. Think Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and The Secret Garden.

Award:Yellow Pencil

 Gatorade REPLAY

Category: Integrated & Earned Media / Integrated / 2011
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles
Client: Gatorade

Once athletes graduate from high school, their competitive activity declines significantly, as does their Gatorade consumption. Gatorade wanted to reignite the competitive spark among these athletes, extending loyalty beyond their teen years. An opportunity every athlete dreams of was fuelled – a second chance – by reuniting former high school teams to replay their original games five, ten, even 15 years later. There were thousands of submissions from teams nationwide, resulting in the formation of the Replay League. 

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