The actancial scheme was theorized in 1966 by AJ Greimas, who observed and formalized a narrative structure common to all classic tales. The actantial model is gradually proving its worth in advertising, centering the marketing strategy on the consumer experience and the work of emotions. In the era of street marketing and YouTube, storytelling occupies a prominent place in brand communication strategies. In this context, the actancial diagram represents a useful tool to ensure the effectiveness of a story and its marketing message.
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What is the actancial schema?
The actancial schema is a representation that describes the roles and their relationships in the narration of a story. AJ Greimas highlights six “actants”: the sender who commands the quest for an object, the hero who realizes it, the opponent, the supporting character, the object and the recipient who benefits from it.
What is the role of the actantial schema?
The role of the actancial schema, as an analytical theory, is didactic. It teaches a fundamental and universal model of storytelling:
- One or more recipients order an object.
- One or more heroes embark on the quest for this object.
- Throughout the quest, one or more opponents complicate the hero’s mission.
- In return, the hero is helped by one or more helpers.
- The hero, at the end of his quest, obtains the object.
- One or more recipients benefit from this object.
Addresser, hero, opponent, adjuvant, object and addressee: the roles, or actants, are played either by characters, or by ideas, feelings or even things.
The role of the actancial schema is also methodological: the storyteller relies on this structuring framework to tell a story. It is in a way a tool to guide the construction of a narrative that is both coherent and effective. Unlike the classic narrative schema, which emphasizes actions in a chronological time frame, the actancial schema focuses on roles and their interactions, to help the audience project themselves into the story by identifying with its actors. . Of course, the two schemas are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, the storyteller enriches his narrative schema with the actancial schema.
How to make a storytelling on the basis of the actancial diagram?
The actancial model imposes to be interested in the six actants. It’s about determining the characters or ideas that play the different roles, then imagining the story of each, so as to humanize the roles in order to evoke emotions.
- In the tale of Cinderella: the heroine is an orphan, she arouses empathy; the opponents, her stepmother and stepsisters, are cruel to strengthen the attachment to Cinderella; the sender is the king, holder of a strong authority; the object of the quest, to participate in the ball, is a dream that plunges the audience back into childhood.
- In L’ours advertising for Canal +, the animal is at the same time sender, hero and auxiliary character, the object is represented by the films whose recipient is the public. The story of the bear is staged in the video in such a way as to create a bond of sympathy with the audience and to generate amusement.
If the actancial model is initially used as a frame for tales and literary stories, companies quickly seize it in turn to structure their advertisements, and many examples of storytelling prove it.
The hero, his quest and his goal
The posture of the hero is a key element, common to all the stories. Character at the center of the plot, the hero, or subject, is designated to accomplish a mission. He is the only one able to carry out this mission, of which he makes his quest. In the very form of the actantial schema, the quest and the hero are linked to become one. Generally, the narrative environment initially rests on a balance, which an external element comes to break.
In a 2018 commercial, the Intersport brand made perfect use of the codes of storytelling by featuring an “ordinary” heroine, to facilitate identification by as many people as possible. At the start of the video, a young woman wakes up with difficulty, then meets a group of runners on the way to work. The triggering event of the encounter is a classic used in many narrative schemes.
But here, the man at the head of the group of runners, nearly jostling her, is the metaphor for the revelation she will have for running. The race becomes the quest for the heroine who, little by little, equips herself and gains in performance. In this video, it is also an opportunity for the brand to highlight the following values: get out of your comfort zone, find a quest and pursue it at all costs.
The forces at the heart of the narrative
Pursuing the quest for any hero is never without its pitfalls. Opponents and adjuvants are constituent elements of the actantial schema. Often translated as the “bad guys” on the one hand and the “nice guys” on the other, the opponents and helpers are not always characters. The opponents are therefore individuals or external elements that prevent the hero from achieving his quest, while the adjuvants are helpers for the hero.
Often, in marketing, the brand proclaims itself to be an adjuvant: it responds to the needs of the consumer, himself represented as a hero. The Dove brand, for example, helps women who have decided to accept their bodies. It’s not the brand that creates the quest, it’s the hero who is here at the origin of it. The adjuvant is nevertheless of considerable help. Women who have decided to accept themselves rather than obey dictates can count on Dove, its products and its values.
Raised in opposition, the injunction of the company to obey certain standards is present in the advertisements of the mark. Dove also deepens this opponent with a spot against the retouching of photographs in fashion magazines.
The forces behind the goal
If the hero makes himself the bearer of the objective and it very often happens that he is the beneficiary, the quest is dictated by a sender. If it is a character, it is the one who will appoint the hero to carry out the mission. Another element: the recipient. This is the character or item that will gain a benefit once the quest is completed.
In an advertising spot, the Leclerc brand discusses changes in consumer habits: the findings relating to the consequences of overconsumption represent the sender, and a possible better ecological balance represents the recipient.
Using the actantial schema in marketing
Storytelling is a storytelling technique based on a narrative structure. In marketing, as in literature, the goal is to capture the audience’s attention and make an impression by arousing emotions. The actantial model makes it possible to achieve this objective: the narrative, centered on strong roles with enriched profiles, arouses emotion.
As the fable teaches a moral, advertising conveys a message. With the actantial schema, the company uses the different roles of its marketing narrative to reinforce the impact of the message.
Using the actantial schema in marketing makes it possible to rely on a stable and flexible framework, to build a story that arouses emotions.
Why does this narrative model apply to marketing?
The actancial diagram is a model as powerful as it is evocative, which therefore constitutes a very solid pillar in storytelling. By focusing on the characters in the story, their history, their feelings and their experiences, the storyteller creates a scenario that is not only believable, but also moving: the audience is touched by the advertisement.
The actantial model also makes it possible to create attachment, by offering the audience the possibility of identifying with the hero, of sharing the objective that he is pursuing and of feeling, like him, antipathy for the opponents and sympathy for the supporting character. Result: the marketing message gets across more easily, the campaign becomes more effective.
What are the benefits of the actancial schema?
The actantial model has many undeniable advantages.
- A useful method for the storyteller: the actantial diagram recalls the basic and essential roles for a structured and coherent story. Each character or idea has its own place in the story, which requires the storyteller to scrupulously invent the story of each prior to the concrete development of the scenario.
- An effective technique to reach the audience: the roles are designed according to the marketing target, and use the appropriate symbols to evoke memories and stimulate emotions. This technique thus makes it possible to hit the intended target, not only with efficiency but also with precision.
What are the disadvantages of the actancial schema?
The actantial diagram presents a limit in the context of the construction of a marketing storytelling: on its own, the technique is not enough to guide the development of the story. It must indeed be associated with the classic narrative scheme, to order the story within the framework of a logical chronology that can be understood by the audience.
As a reminder: the narrative diagram follows the initial situation, the disturbing or triggering element, the course or the adventures, the outcome and the final situation. The order of these stages is or is not respected, but the narrative scheme imposes to narrate them all.
Focusing on the actancial model, to the exclusion of the narrative scheme, allows the story to be centered on characters and on a message. But in marketing as in literature or cinema, the story benefits from also being structured in sequences of actions, to facilitate understanding and follow-up. To succeed in marketing narration, it is therefore important to know and apply the narrative and actancial diagrams concomitantly.
To go further, download now these storytelling models free to create impactful messaging around your company, its brands, its products or services and their features with ease.