And yet that’s exactly what the late Blake Snyder demonstrated in his last book, Save The Cat Strikes Back.
If you’re not familiar with the Save the Cat series of screenwriting books, let me explain. Blake Snyder breaks the typical movie down into 15 dramatic “beats,” that also coincide with traditional 3-act story structures and Joseph Campbell’s monomyth/hero’s journey cycle.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can download all 15 beats on the “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet” along with a diagram of how the beats line up with a basic 3-Act Structure over at the official Save The Cat Website.
At any rate, it’s important to keep in mind that these are the structural beats for feature-length movies – that’s what makes it so cool and semi-mind-blowing that they also work for a 30 second commercial.
So here’s how Blake broke down the dramatic structure of a Pledge Commercial, using these same structural “beats” that he uses to teach scriptwriting:
“The Day I Discovered Pledge
Opening Image – A downcast housewife. Home a mess. Dust everywhere. This “before” snapshot depicts the Set-Up, and even a Stasis = Death moment, for it looks like things won’t change.
Catalyst – Then our hero discovers….. Pledge!
Debate – “Should I use it?”
Break Into Two – Yes!
Fun and Games – With a spray can of her B-story ally, the delighted home maker flies through the house, dust vanishes like magic, tabletops glow. And the “false victory” at Midpoint shows she can live like this all the time. But there’s a problem….
Bad Guys Close In – To have the “new,” she must give up the “old.” Can our hero face the truth of what she must sacrifice?
All Is Lost – What “death” has to occur? What “old idea” must be gotten rid of? What is the “All Is Lost” moment of our Pledge commercial? Why it’s dropping Brand X in the trash! It’s the furniture polish that our hero used to use that is now obsolete.
Break Into Three – Having dispensed with Brand X, the synthesized pair finish up the housework with delight and…
Final Image – Dressed in her tennis outfit, racket in hand, a newly together housewife walks out the door, leaving the primally named Pledge atop a very shiny table to guard her home.
So what’s the point of all this? Three things:
1. To reinforce the importance of scripting your online videos.
That pledge commercial probably had very little dialogue, but the messaging was still scripted as intensely as a feature-length film. And the same thing occurs with the vast majority of high-conversion product videos and viral videos.
More importantly, if you can and should script an interactive video, shouldn’t you also “script” visitor interaction with your Website? Surely you’ve given thought to what happens on this or that page, but have you considered the overall “persuasive arc” that would take place as the visitor moves through your site?
2. To reinforce the importance of Story in your online messaging
We may claim to be “just the facts” kind of guys and gals, but we’re not. We wouldn’t be human if we were. As a persuasive technique, Story rules, even in:
- something as seemingly static as a photograph,
- something as short as a headline,
- or something as important as your opening “hook.“
3. To recommend Blake Snyder’s books to you if you haven’t read them.
His Save the Cat series is well worth the read, regardless of whether or not you have any aspirations toward writing film scripts. Just check out his Amazon reviews for his first and second books and you’ll see.
Welcome Back from the Holidays
Oh, and I also wanted to welcome everyone back from the holidays. Hope all of you enjoyed some much-deserved time off. Thanks for reading my stuff. I’m resolute in my commitment to bring you as much great material as possible in the coming year.
P.S. If you have any suggestions for topics or anything you’d like to see covered, feel free to e-mail me.
Flash sites weren’t well indexed by search engines and had a bad habit of turning a pull medium into a not-so-interactive video. Oh, and their content was often more gratuitous than persuasive in a flash-animated splash page sort of way.
Most all of that has changed, and we’re really starting to see interactive video come into its own, as is the case with Eloqua’s new promotional/lead generation video. If you haven’t seen it yet, you really should take a few minutes out of your day to take a look. And maybe spend a few more minutes to poke around different pathways and responses.
Another great example is Boone Oakley’s “YouTube Website,” as demonstrated by their home page that I’ve embedded below:
But make sure to look past the technology to see the copywriting.
Yes, you read that right: I said copywriting. That video – including each and every one of it’s forked paths – was planned out, scripted, and storyboarded. The video is cool; the messaging is brilliant.
Viewed through that lens, you’ll notice that most of the core persuasive points remain the same regardless of whether you click on “Marketing” or “Sales” or “Executive.” What changes is the focus on this or that feature set, the videos ordering of taking points, and the perspective in which some of the material is covered. Brilliant. And a technique that Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg pioneered with text-and-hyperlink-based sites.
So while I love the video and I think it represents new opportunities to inject personality and charisma into interactive “conversations,” keep in mind that technology has to support messaging, and the core interactivity involved is no different than that of regular old embedded hyperlinks. Proper persuasive planning is still required.
You can fall back on demonstration. This ones a favorite of infomercials and it was the one quality that the late Billy Mays insisted on when selecting products to pitch.
Or you can use a Reality Hook, where you tap into the undeniable truths already resident within the minds of your audience. Here’s a pitch perfect example of that as recently covered by Influential Marketing Blog:
Remember the days of getting eight hours of sleep? Neither do we. Most of us these days are getting a scant six hours of sleep. The equalizer? The all-new Sealy Posturepedic.® Designed to eliminate the pressure points that cause tossing and turning.
How did we achieve such a miraculous feat? Well, the short version (there’s a more technical version below) is that it used to be, we either had push-back support or pressure relief. Never both. So, with some very smart guys called the Orthopedic Advisory Board, we made the push-back support/pressure relief dilemma history. And voilà, the new Sealy Posturepedic was born. Mattresses that make the six hours of sleep we do get, a better six.
A couple of points:
1) The reality hook should not be a “Master of the Obvious” statement. The hook, rather than being a cliche, should either uncover the falsity of a cliche, or be a fresh observation of a common, but mostly unvoiced, experience. Don’t try to get all NLP on your readers by pacing them with brain-dead observations in the hopes of “forming a chain of yeses.” Respect the intelligence of your readers, please.
2) The reality hook only gets your foot in the door. It get’s your audience predisposed to see you as on the level and to continue reading. And while these are very good (and crucial) things, you still have to weave in other credibility enhancing techniques and genuine substantiation. In this case, Sealy builds increasing credibility by admitting a former downside or limitation: back support and pressure relief are kind of mutually exclusive. Makes sense right? And they do this while also letting the reader know that they’ve got the science and proof to back up their claims of having transcended that dilemma through engineering.
3) The reality hook is usually an observation about a problem and annoyance, which means you better be able to talk about how you’ve overcome that annoyance in the life of the customer. In other words, you transition from the reality hook to the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) principle as fast as you can. Again, Sealy does this by talking about their mattresses’ ability to make 6 hours feel like more sleep and to eliminate pressure points while also providing back support.
And really, I think that last point goes beyond copywriting to strategy. As my friend, Chuck McKay, will tell you, a sure-fire strategy for many small businesses is to find what pisses people off about your industry or market and then offer a product or service free of that annoyance. One-hour Heating and Air Conditioning is a perfect example of that, and you can listen to there very first radio ad (and reality hook) by clicking the link below:
No one has ever turned to the passenger in the next seat and said, “wow are we ever booking it through these clouds!” This despite the fact that the airliner is screeching through the air at 500 mph.
Yet flying 120 mph about 50 feet off the ground in a helicopter feels fast (butt-puckeringly fast, in fact, depending on how tall the trees are ;). And driving a Jet Ski at 35 mph directly on top of the water feels even faster.
Action alone doesn’t equal intensity.
Action seen through the right Perspective equals intensity.
In movies and comics, storytellers achieve perspective through staging. Here’s a brilliant example of the difference perspective can make (an example I stole from Mark Kennedy* over at Temple of the Seven Golden Camels):
Increasing A Sentence’s Intensity Through Perspective
Applying this principle to writing, we see that the action itself – that is, the verb – only creates real intensity when viewed through the right perspective. Watch how intensifying the verb alone doesn’t intensify the mental image all that much:
- “He hit me.”
- “He decked me.”
- “He Steven Seagal’d my ass.”
But once I change the perspective you get:
- “His fist freight-trained into my upper lip, snapping my head back into darkness.”
- or “My nose snapped underneath his knuckles, blackening my senses till I felt the cold floor tiles against my cheek.”
Verb-wise, “Steven Seagal’d” and “freight-trained” are about on par with one another, but the latter sentence creates a sharper mental image. Even more to the point, “snapped” isn’t nearly as vivid a verb as “Steven Seagal’d” but the intensity of that last sentence still trumps any of the first three.
Changing the Subject Changes the Perspective – and the Intensity
Despite the commonplace to ‘use strong verbs,’ a powerful verb tied to a week subject will only spin its wheels. Choosing the right subject foregrounds the action in the mind of the reader.
Here are a few more examples:
Ugly: “She walked languidly and suggestively down the stairs and greeted her guests.”
This sentence lamely attempts to convey the sexual overtones of the lady’s descent by slapping on an abundance of lame adverbs. Standard advice is, “replace adverbs with better verbs” — and that’s solid advice that yields something like this:
(Not so) Bad: “She cat-walked her way down the stairs, enchanting each of her male guests in turn.”
But changing the perspective, does what just improving the verbs alone can’t:
Pretty Good: “Her hips swayed with each step, beckoning her guests’ attention.”
Or “Her suitors’ eyes tracked each hip-sway and leg unveiling as she made her grand entrance down the staircase”
It works for Emotional Perspective too
Which sentence best captures the emotional sense of this photo?
b) Trudging the pavement, the man’s downcast eyes were met by dark shadows and the grim sidewalk of mean streets.
c) Darkness piled over the man’s downcast head, limiting his sight to a narrow patch of grim sidewalk and desolate street.
How much of the differences between these sentences involves verbs, and how much involves perspective?
Bottom Line: writing with strong verbs is great advice, but those action words won’t have their full impact or intensity until you provide the right perspective/subject.