Who Is Your Brand’s Darth Vader, Joker or Ravana?

BATMAN: Then why do you want to kill me?

The Joker starts laughing. He laughs so profusely, it almost sounds like a sob.

JOKER: Kill you? I don’t wanna kill you. What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No. No. No! No you- you complete me.”

– The Dark Knight- Interrogation Scene

“The Joker is the Batman’s most implacable foe, a mad criminal genius whose bizarre rampages baffle even the world’s greatest detective.”- Alan Moore writes about the clowned prince of crime in the ‘The Killing Joke’.

Sometimes, your most implacable foe defines you. And no better place to experience this than the world of iconic brands. And if you are on the verge of creating one, I would strongly recommend to identify that foe.


If you are creating or transforming a brand, ask what enemy are you fighting? And then wage a relentless war until you win!

But before you give in to the immediate urge to name your competitors, let me stop you. Don’t! Don’t name your competitors. Because we are not talking about market players here. That is the conventional way of looking at it. And you won’t get much from the market these days being just the bigger, better and faster ‘me too’. Especially, when you are the zillionth brand in an over exposed category.

We are talking about a more magnificent villain. An epic bad.

We will get to that, but first let’s understand why brand villains are important?

All brands are stories. Stories that change how we experience products. All good stories have powerful villains. The more nasty or evil the villain is, the more we enjoy our heroes thrashing them and march ahead to a glorious triumph.

Think about this.

– Lord Rama wouldn’t serve as a guiding beacon of truth, goodness, and morality if not for his victory over Ravana.

– Neo would still be a socially awkward invisible techie operating from his claustrophobic den if not for Agent Smith.

– Luke Skywalker would not exist if not for Darth Vader (Quite literally in this case)

– The Flash’s raisen’detre was the Reverse Flash.

– The Starks would not be so battle driven if not for the conniving Lannisters. And Jon Snow would indeed ‘know joker123 nothing’ without the white walkers.

Villains in stories have stood the test of time:

Kauravas and Pandavas..

Moriarty and Sherlock..

Gabbar Singh and Jai Veeru

Voldemort and Harry Potter

and now the Evil Corp and Mr Robot..

I can go on and on. But you get the point. It is like Jerry Maguire says “You complete me” but in a Jokerish weird way. Magnificent villains provide a contrast that makes the story more interesting and our heroes more loveable.


The essence of any powerful story is the confrontation between the hero and the villain. The pressure cooker tension that builds up right until the climax. Results don’t matter. It is the making of a duel (that of thermonuclear potential) brewing on a slow simmer that keeps us glued.

Then there is the big clash. And we take sides.

It is a clash between two different perspectives, two different ideologies, two different belief or value systems. Two highly opinionated individuals who believe in an alternate future of the world. You know there is change at the end of this road. One of them will win, but both of them will shape the change. And we, as audiences, take sides. That is the thing with a good story. It enables us to choose sides. So true about great brands too.

The above paragraph is quite revealing in a way. Think about this –

– What did Gandhi do with the concept of colonization?

– What did Martin Luther King Jr do with the concept of inequality based on the color of skin?

– And Steve Jobs to the Orwellian big brother status quo of computer industry in 1984? And then to mediocrity – products created without any taste and culture?

– What kind of statement Beetle make against the prevailing perception of car sizes in an era marked by monstrous gas guzzlers?

– And remember Saturn – the ‘different kind of car company’ that questioned the way automobile companies behaved? And how Nano questioned the notion of car affordability.

– Or how Space X aims to knock off fiction from science fiction by waging a war on impossibility.

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