Huh? or Ah Ha! Why Your Ads Need a Plot

For just a moment, think of your favorite story. How does it open? How does the tension build? What happens at the climax? How does the story resolve?

These are the essential elements that make up the plot of a story, and give it structure. We remember stories based on their plot lines and story arcs, not as a random series of events.

If we want people to remember our video ads, we need to apply the same principle of good storytelling. Here are a few examples of great ads with clear plot lines:

Chipotle – The Scarecrow

Considering that most ads are between 15 seconds and 1 minute, this is ad storytelling on an epic scale. Rather than just showing products, this ad takes the form of a short film that tells you a story about Chipotle’s brand.

Robinson – Pals

A day-in the life is a popular storytelling mechanism, and can be especially effective in advertising, especially when the brand or product is woven seamlessly into the story. Extra points here for the product use evoking a specific emotional response.

Dick’s Sporting Goods – Every Pitch

Anyone who’s watched or played sports can appreciate the intensity of a single moment in a game. This ad perfectly captures that and condenses a full story arc into one minute.

I don’t mean to scare you off with these ads. Your videos don’t need to be professionally scripted. You don’t need to hire actors. You don’t need to have voice over narration, or even a fancy camera.

What you do need to do is consider carefully how the elements in your ads fit together and what kind of story they tell. Even if you don’t achieve a true plot, you should carefully consider the order in which you present photos and text in your ads, to make sure they make sense.

Let me break this down with three videos made using Shakr’s Keep Calm and Carry On Video Style:

Keep Calm and Visit Seoul

This ad is to promote Seoul, which, along with San Francisco, is Shakr’s base of operation. Notice how we start with some beautiful shots of traditional architecture and things every tourist expects to see in the city, before turning up the intensity and surprising people with Seoul’s modern side.

Keep Calm and Go to BeLaunch

Here’s one for BeLaunch conference, which is coming up in May. It uses the same concept as before, giving a high-level overview of what the conference is, then focuses in on the three specific things you’ll get out of the conference.

Keep Calm and Go to the Beach

Finally, a day at the beach. Again, we start with the slow stuff that establishes what the people are doing. Then we switch to playtime with lots of action shots. This could easily be used as an ad for a beach destination.

Give these concepts a try when making your own video ads, and always make sure to ask yourself, “Does this order make sense?”.

Here are a few guidelines for different types of businesses that often make ads with Shakr:

  • Realtors: When showing a house, start with an establishing shot of the exterior and then guide people through in the way that they would tour it with you. Shots of the neighborhood can go at the end, unless the neighborhood is the main selling point for the property.
  • Car Dealers: Show the car standing still before showing it driving. Start with the exterior of the car before showing the interior. Shots of the engine and other “details” can be sandwiched in the middle of the ad, so that the sexy body curves and comfy-looking interior are the first and last things viewers see.
  • Travel Agents: Give people what they expect first, and then surprise them with the full range of experiences that a destination offers. Ramp up the intensity as the ad goes along.
  • Professional services: Show your customer’s problem and then how you solve it. If you’re a lawyer, you help people with stressful legal trouble. If you’re a plumber, you fix something complicated that people cannot fix on their own.
  • Restaurants, Cafes and Bakeries: People cannot taste your food or drinks through the screen, so set yourself apart by showing viewers the experience they’ll have when they come to visit. What’s the atmosphere like? How do you bake the bread? How does it look, hot out of the oven?
  • Martial Arts Schools: Show people working to succeed before they become successful.


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