Dessert First: a new way of storytelling in video

There’s a new way to tell stories on social, and it’s all about giving your audience “dessert first”. Other people call it “a punch in the face”.

I started as a playwright in the early 2000’s and the way we structured stories was like this:

We’d gradually build to a climax, with twists and reversals and exposition before the big climax. Basically, the audience had to stick around if they wanted their dessert. It’s still the way most movies are made these days.

This structure does not work for advertisers. So they came up with this structure.

This structure caters to the “passive audience”. Basically, watchers of television. Before smartphones and tablets and social media, television-watchers had to sit on their sofa and endure the ad. Advertisers had time to get your attention.

Now, we have to work harder. We know we have about 3-5 seconds to implore our audience to keep watching. Which is why our structure now looks like this.

We have to give them their dessert first. Some way of earning an emotional response within the first 3-5 seconds. We need them to feel outraged, or to laugh, or to stoke their curiosity. This structure is hard because it goes against our natural storytelling instincts. Think about how a joke is crafted. Set up … pay off.

So what are we saying? Do we start our ads with a payoff? No. We just need to hook them fast.

The way we often do that at GoodChat is to start with an intriguing stat. Or we tell a bit of the story, and then leave some mystery, like in our Broken Hill story for The Climate Council:

Once we have their attention, we can then craft our story, and still build to a satisfying climax.

Just remember, we only have 3-5 seconds to hook our audience, so you have to start high.

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