What is it about the antihero that is so likable? Is it that we find them relatable in their daily struggles because we empathize with their failures and rejoice with them when they go against the moral tide, wishing to do that ourselves? Or is it something more? Characters such as Dexter Morgan and Breaking Bad’s Walter White break social norms with their unusual ethics all the while following different moral codes. Perhaps as the viewer, it is our inside glimpse at the lives of these antagonists that humanizes them and therefore allows us to justify their actions and portray them in our own minds as protagonists.
In Dexter’s case, not unlike Batman’s, we root for him because he is a vigilantly putting away criminals and finding justice when the law cannot. While Dexter Morgan started out as a man with no humanity, it is evident in the later seasons that he has a measurable amount of compassion towards his family and coworkers. Yet Dexter continues to kill and follow his own moral code. Is this transformation real or is it an illusion that the audience perceives to justify his actions?
Conversely, Walter White loses his compassion as Breaking Bad’s seasons progress yet the audience still roots for him and against his non-submissive, ill-treated wife, Skylar. What started out as the Walter White’s raw desperation turns into a thirst for power and the desire to build an “empire.” Why do we root for the antihero that is no longer justifying his means to an end but has become greedy and malicious? Could it be that the inside knowledge of his motives and struggles allows us to bend our moral consciousness towards a more favorable opinion.
Moral transgression could be only half of the reason that we are drawn to these characters. The other half is that the characters are just so good at being bad that the quality of the their performance has us hooked. What is the lesson for us as marketers? In reality, it means that the story matters just as much as the way that it’s told. As marketers we need to remember that we are always portraying a certain story for our business. In the same way we get hooked on our favorite shows, the quality of the message is half of what hooks the consumer and can be measured by repeat business or desire to watch another episode. Whether it is a product or a service we need to focus on reaching a level of quality that allows a simple, powerful, honest story to be told that will really hook the customer for good.