Basic Commercial Story Structure

Whether we are looking at our Kindles or at a movie screen, basic story structure is consistent with any great narrative.  Story structure is critical in conveying the story’s central idea in a way that is logical to the audience. A story’s structure creates intrigue, drives the plot forward, and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. In traditional storytelling, this is known as the Three Act Structure with a beginning, middle, and end.

Despite the limited screen time of a commercial, this same structure is valid. A well-crafted commercial, be it narrative-driven or strictly informative, still takes the audience on a journey that connects them to your message and your brand. The ultimate goal of your spot may vary between feel-good branding, an overt call-to-action, or something in-between, but the need to capture an audience’s attention with an engaging narrative will always remain.

The Three Acts of Storytelling:

Act One

Grab attention, establish characters, and present the problem. The need to immediately snag someone’s attention is critical for the ultimate success of your commercial. No matter where your spot airs (TV, YouTube, Facebook, the moon) you are competing for the attention of your viewer. If you don’t capture their attention in the first few seconds, the rest of your message is likely to be ignored. Once you have their attention, compel the audience to stick around by hooking them with interesting characters and a relatable problem.

Act Two

Use drama or humor to connect the audience with the story’s characters. Show how your company provides a unique solution to the challenge the characters are facing. Be sure to embrace the classic filmmaking adage, “Show don’t tell.”

In commercials, it’s often necessary to use voice narration to help drive the story forward, but it’s still important to pair the ‘telling’ with scenes that do the ‘showing.’ Spelling out how a product or organization is used without visually showcasing its benefits will immediately feel like advertising.

Act Three

Resolve the presented problem. Wrap a bow around your narrative by emphasizing how your business is best suited to address the pain points of your audience. Compel your audience to take action by engaging with your brand.

Your Audience

Story structure respects your audience’s time and keeps their attention. A commercial may not sound like a lot, but it’s more than enough time to tell a story that emotionally connects. For an audience to act, they need to connect. As you plan your storyline, keep your audience in mind. Let the needs and wants of your audience drive the work.

  • What is a relatable situation the audience will understand?
  • What emotions are naturally present in this situation that can connect with the viewer?
  • How can I show this emotion and not just tell them about it?
  • How will viewers feel about my brand after watching the content?
  • How will this feeling motivate them to action?

How We Use Storytelling

Long before we had YouTube, movies, television, or written language, we relied on storytelling as a way to connect with each other. Despite all of the advances in communication, this fact fundamental connection to storytelling hasn’t changed. Humans are hardwired to stop and pay attention when they come across a good story.

We might be a bit biased, but we believe that motion picture storytelling is by far the most powerful storytelling medium. That’s why we pick up our camera every day and set out to telling the most compelling stories we can for our clients. For some inspiration check out our 30-second spot created for Shelter Insurance.

In our video, we used the three-act structure to grab attention, present a problem, and show how our client solves that problem for their customers.

If you want to see more of our storytelling check out our projects.