Why we love the Big Bad

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We love the Big Bad. This is, of course, a reference to the arch-villain in any story. Blizzard Entertainment calls them the Box Cover Villains. The Lich King. Deathwing. Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars. Hitler and Osama Bin Laden in real life. We love the Big Bad, because facing the big bad and fighting him, in the words of Emperor Palpatine, gives us focus, makes us stronger.

Here’s the problem with the Big Bad: they’re exceedingly rare. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you don’t want world-destroying people or creatures to manifest themselves ever very often. It’s a curse because we’re always on the lookout for the Big Bad. Why is this a curse? Because most of our problems aren’t Big Bads that you can rally against.

The temperature of the oceans, for example, has gone up fairly significantly over the past 100 years from a variety of distributed causes, such as carbon in the atmosphere, depletion of important layers of the atmosphere, and generally unsustainable living. There’s a named Big Bad – climate crisis – but it’s so amorphous and unfocused that it’s hard to rally against, and in some ways, we, the “heroes”, are the villains behind it.

We want there to be a Big Bad in the economy, and to be sure, there are some people who are decidedly not team players, but the ultimate problem is that as a society, as a whole, we borrowed and continue to borrow more than we can afford to borrow. That’s the heart of the problem, and there’s no villain you can pin that to, save the one in the mirror.

In the world of business, we love Big Bads as much as we do at the movie theater. Who’s our top competitor? What’s our top competing product or service? How can we rally the troops to ever increasing productivity by making someone else the villain? As with general society, the Big Bad is exceedingly rare. The cause of our ills in the marketing department isn’t a mustachioed competing CMO, but our own incompetence at designing a marketing campaign or executing an ad campaign.

The challenge before us as marketers and citizens is to realize that most of the problems we face don’t have Big Bads. There’s no Box Cover Villain making you terrible at social media. There’s no Box Cover Villain that’s causing our government to make poor choices (though arguably you could put all of Congress on one video game box…) or us as voters to pick raving lunatics to run the country.

The uncomfortable reality is that a significant portion of the time, if we must have a Box Cover Villain, then it’s our collective picture we have to put there. Our challenge to “win” against this particular Box Cover Villain is to be awake enough, aware enough, alert enough, and alive enough to change our own actions that ultimately make us the villains as well as the heroes.

The question is: are we ready to take those steps? Are we ready to make those hard choices?

As Sir Thomas the paladin says, if it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be heroic.

Think today through the choices you make that contribute to your being either the villain or the hero of our world’s story.

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One response to “Why we love the Big Bad”

  1. I think it’s our jobs to create the Box Cover Villain, especially if there doesn’t appear to be one. In Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology, he talks about “a common enemy” as a central pillar to brands, sporting teams and religions. The more apparent the common enemy, the easier it is for followers to unite through the brand (or sporting team or religion) to oppose the enemy. Would most religions be where they are today if the prospect of hell wasn’t so vivid?

    If the enemy isn’t apparent, we must find it and name it. If the enemy is us, then ignorance or apathy or a type of mindset is our enemy, and we must rid ourselves of them. Naming the enemy is the first step towards conquering it.

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