savethecat_bookcover_revised3-200x300I never would have guessed that a 30-second commercial could be structured on the same storytelling beats as a typical 90-minute movie.

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.

The End”

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:

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.


  1. Shane Arthur on 12.29.2009

    That Save The Cat Tools Download page is probably the most valuable resource I’ve seen all year.

    Thanks man,

  2. Shawn Phillips on 12.29.2009


    This is great! I know about the ARC from movies from a buddy of mine in the biz… he’s always telling me about the arc…

    Of course, I also was involved in some terrific ARC in my brother’s classic movie, Body of Work. Powerful..

    but I love the tangible translating of this to commercial or viral. I’ve got some great concepts in queue and this is a huge help!


  3. Jeff on 12.29.2009

    Hey, Shawn,

    Glad you liked this. What’s so great about it is that it has your favorite topic baked into the very structure: transformation!

    What marketers should typically focus on is:

    Opening Image,
    Debate, and
    Break Into Two

    It always shocks me to find companies and marketing teams that don’t know the major catalysts and debates for prospects.

    Still, the idea of ensuring your content carries the Web visitor/prospect all the way through the arc is incredibly important. A lot of service or recurrent order products – such as Full Strength – don’t bake that into their cycle of touchpoints and end up losing customers post-acquisition. Think e-mail drips, follow-up contact, thank you’s, etc.

    – Jeff

  4. Jeff on 12.31.2009

    In the interest of balanced perspective, I thought I’d post a link to one of the first thoughtful and articulate critiques of Save The Cat that I’ve come across. May sound odd, but the books can be polarizing, with a lot of readers thinking they’re the best things since sliced bread and a minority thinking they’re the most formulaic crap ever. Here’s a not-so-much-of-a-fan giving a reasoned opinion on his reservations:

    – Jeff