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

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