Welcome to the final installment in our series on the Hero’s Journey! Check out Part 1 for an overview of the Journey as a whole, Part 2 for an in-depth look at its first few steps, and Part 3 for an exploration of Hero’s adventure through the “Underworld.” In this post, we’ll wrap up our investigation of the Hero’s Journey by covering its final steps—the Hero’s return home.
Welcome back! Like the Heroes in the many stories we’ve examined together, you’ve come a long way. In our last few posts, you’ve learned about the Hero’s Journey, and the concept of brand-Mentorship; discovered how to get your own brand story off to a powerful start; and explored ways to spark interest and keep it going through the middle of a brand story.
Now it’s time to stick the landing by learning how to bring your brand story to a memorable conclusion—and leave your audience wanting to relive that story again and again. In other words, it’s time for the Hero to come back home...
The Road Back
The Hero has won the battle—but the war ain’t over yet. Having faced the biggest challenge the Underworld has to offer them, the Hero now faces one more test before they can return home with their Treasure. Surrounded by enemy forces desperate to hold them back, the Hero makes a break for it, using all the wits, strength, and endurance they’ve gathered so far to escape the Underworld.
When the steps of the Journey are plotted out in the traditional circle, The Road Back usually falls directly opposite Crossing the Threshold. This is because this step on the Journey is essentially the inverse of the Hero’s first entrance into the Underworld. Like before, there is a barrier between the two worlds—and it takes effort and commitment to make the jump from one side to the other.
Just as predictability and security tempted the Hero to stay in the Ordinary World, the forces the Hero encountered in their Ordeal will stall the Journey by trying to keep the Hero in the Underworld, at any cost. Having found Private Ryan, Miller and his unit must survive a final German assault; after defeating the Joker, Batman must save Lt. Gordon’s family from a crazed Harvey Dent; Wendy and Danny have to outrun a murderous Jack Torrence to escape the Overlook Hotel with their lives.
Exhausted and running out of time, the Hero must gather the strength to break the enemy lines and punch through the barrier to the Ordinary World—or risk being stuck in the Underworld forever.
Example: Ad Council, “Keep It Up”
This PSA from the Ad Council, uploaded as COVID-19 vaccines started becoming more widely available in late spring 2021, urges its audience to stay alert as society approaches the end of the pandemic. Like the Hero attempting to follow The Road Back to their home, the audience must stay vigilant to safely reach the end of the story. The enemy—in this case, the COVID-19 virus—will fight to keep the Hero from returning to the Ordinary World.
In this spot, the Ad Council acts as a great brand-Mentor to its audience-Heroes, offering a burst of motivation precisely when it’s needed. Like the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi telling his protégé Luke to “use the Force,” the Ad Council reminds its Heroes to keep using masks and to practice social distancing—giving them a piece of crucial wisdom that will help them defeat the bad guy once and for all.
With one last, massive effort, the Hero has pushed their way through the enemy’s forces and crossed back over the Threshold, finally landing back in the Ordinary World. But the escape from the Underworld has come at a price.
The Hero has been wounded, and is in need of a Resurrection. This wound can be an obvious physical injury, but it can also be a profound shock to the Hero’s heart or mind. In any case, the damage to the Hero’s old self is so great that it must, in some sense, die—and a new self must take its place.
This is one of the steps in the Journey where the parallels between story and initiation rituals become most obvious. Accordingly, some of the most famous Resurrection moments come to us from religion and mythology.
Jesus of Nazareth is executed by crucifixion, and three days later comes back to life in deified form; Odin sacrifices his own eye, stabs himself with his spear, and hangs from the world-tree Yggdrasil before returning with magical knowledge and secret wisdom. In a more contemporary example, Danny LaRusso undergoes his Resurrection when Mr. Miyagi heals his wounded leg, allowing him to beat Johnny Lawrence and win the karate tournament.
The Hero has bravely taken their old understanding of their life as far as it can go. In order to complete their Journey, they must be “reborn” into a new life.
Example: Adidas, “Impossible Is Nothing”
Unlike Nike’s “No Excuses” (see Part 1), this sports-themed ad from Adidas is aimed at helping audience-Heroes complete their Journeys, rather than start them.
The ad tells the story of Brazilian soccer player Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, known to his fans as “Kaká.” Kaká faced his own moment of Resurrection when, in October 2000, he fractured his sixth vertebrae, putting him at risk for paralysis and nearly cutting his soccer career short. Against the predictions of his doctors, the eighteen-year-old made a full recovery, and went on to fulfill his goal of playing professionally.
By highlighting this key moment in Kaká’s story, Adidas urges its audience-Heroes to push through the most difficult moments of their lives in pursuit of their goals—and become transformed in the process.
Reborn into a deeper appreciation of life and a fuller relationship with the world, the Hero is now ready to return to the community they came from, share the Treasure they have earned, and heal the imbalance that set the Journey in motion...
Return with the Boon
In our favorite stories, the triumphant Hero usually doesn’t just hoard their newfound Treasure for themselves. One of the most satisfying parts of any story is seeing the Hero come back to the very place they started from, and use what they have gained to transform their community for the better.
When the Hero Returns with the Boon, everyone benefits. The Treasure/Boon may be something concrete, like a medicine that saves the community from disease. Then again, it may be something more abstract, like hard-won knowledge that gives the community a better understanding of the world it lives in. Whatever form it takes, when it is shared in this way, the Treasure renews the world and the people in it, bringing life back into balance.
Aladdin uses his last wish to free the Genie; a joyous Ebenezer Scrooge makes a huge donation to charity, buys the Cratchits a Christmas turkey, and spends the holiday with his family; the Goonies use One-Eyed Willy’s treasure to fight the foreclosure of their homes.
The Ordinary World has been restored, and the Hero can finally rest...at least until their next adventure!
Example: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, “Whatever It Takes to Build Great Futures”
The mission of the Boys & Girls Club of America is textbook Treasure-sharing. Through the Clubs, adult members of the community volunteer their time to give children a place to play and learn after school. Moreover, these volunteers teach their kids both fun hobbies and valuable skills, passing their knowledge down from one generation to the next.
In this ad, the Clubs give audience members a glimpse of the happy ending they can be a part of by offering their time and resources to help kids learn. The Club points out an imbalance in the Ordinary World—a lack of reliable mentorship for kids in need—and shows its audience-Heroes the Journey they can go on to correct that imbalance, and create a community where every kid has a place to go and adults to depend on.
The ad also hints at a storytelling truism—namely the fact that the end of one Journey is almost always the beginning of another. Armed with the knowledge and skills they’ve gained at the Boys & Girls Clubs, the kids we see in the video can now go out into the world to complete their own Journeys, and experience their own transformations.
Go Tell Your Brand Story
Congratulations! By making it this far, you’ve learned a ton about how the most enduring stories in the world use the Hero’s Journey to hook audiences, keep them engaged, and inspire them to accomplish great things.
Take some time to absorb what you’ve discovered, then get to work bringing your brand’s story to life in the real world. Find your Hero. Figure out how your brand can become the Mentor they need. Then give them the motivation to complete each challenging step of their own Journey to solve their problems, grow as people, and improve their lives.
And if you’d ever like to talk about your brand story, please reach out to us! We’d love to help you share your story with the world.