One of the fascinating things I’ve learned as I study story and mythic structure is that, as human beings, it seems how we assimilate story is actually part of our makeup and coded into our DNA. So, it only makes sense that story structure is not limited to books and movies, but is actually part of our everyday lives and can be seen all around us in just about everything — from how a friend tells us an interesting story, to static magazine ads, to TV commercials.
The late-great Blake Snyder (who wrote the marvelous Save the Cat! screenwriting books) got an email from a reader about how he was able to use all of Blake’s 15 story beats in a :30 second TV commercial. While there’s much more opportunity to tell stories in Branding ads (think Geico), Direct Response ads (price-based, get-the-phone-to-ring types) don’t typically get to tell stories quite as engaging.
As an example, here’s a TV commercial my company recently created for Four Seasons — one of Chicago’s oldest and well-respected heating and air conditioning companies:
Even in a simple, direct-response ad like this one, we can still find elements of story structure:
The Thermostat. The statement of the problem is that your hard-earned cash is being sucked into it. The Set-Up also typically shows the world as it is before the necessary hero’s journey and contains what Blake and other authors describe as “Stasis=Death” — if things stay the same, the Hero will perish. Here, if things stay the same, the homeowner’s money will perish… so they must take a journey!
What gets the story going? Well, here comes the Four Seasons Truck! This “vehicle” element is also a sign of the “Break Into Act 2” where, in story, the hero typically changes location to begin the journey.
Fun and Games:
This is sometimes described as the “promise of the premise.” As I’m sure we’re all used to, that promise in a direct-response ad is usually “What are you selling?” and “How much money can I save?” This section also moves us along the logical path toward resolution with the mention of Interest-Free financing.
The Thermostat again, but this time the cash is going the other way… Yay! Oftentimes in story, the hero returns home with a new perspective after taking the journey to solve the problem. This leads us on to the peaceful title card and jingle, which could be the denouement: “the final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work.”
Some of the branding-type concepts we’re currently developing with Four Seasons will allow us to use even more structural elements to tell a fuller, more entertaining story in just :30 seconds.
Are there any commercials you think are outstanding? If so, please drop me a note so I can check them out and see what kind structural elements are used to tell the story.