The five acts of brand story-telling

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on May 28, 2013

There are a few simple steps that can help brands dramatize their products in ways that traditional advertising can't achieve, according to Andy Bryant, creative director for Red Bee Media, who here examines Jaguar's recent short film 'Desire' and the Five-Acts structure of storytelling that every video ad of this kind should follow.

There has been a lot of discussion in the branded content community since Jaguar launched the full-length version of its short film, 'Desire'. The credits are impressive (created by The Brooklyn Brothers, produced by Ridley Scott Associates and directed by Adam Smith of Doctor Who fame). However, not all industry reaction to the film has been positive (for example, Interbrand's dismissed it as "poorly-targeted" and derivative of the BMW film series, The Hire.)

Despite the pre-launch hype, and its A-List talent (Damian Lewis, still basking in the Homeland afterglow), and the Lana Del Rey soundtrack, Desire may not yet have achieved the status of a "branded entertainment phenomenon", but it has advanced the craft of content marketing and offers lessons for all marketers with ambitions to tell richer stories about their brands than traditional TV advertising constraints allow.

In his recently-published book, Into the Woods, TV drama guru John Yorke explores the five act structure that lies at the heart of all storytelling, from Beowulf and Shakespeare to EastEnders and The Killing. Desire follows this structure faithfully and needs all of its 13 minutes and 29 seconds to draw us in and tell the story fully, while dramatizing the new Jaguar F-Type in a way that conventional advertising in bought media could never do.

Applying Yorke's structure, the plot goes like this:

  • Act One: The inciting incident
    A long, winding desert road. A red Jaguar F-TYPE, driven by our protagonist (Damian Lewis), stops for petrol. Car and driver get hijacked by a glamorous runaway girl.
  • Act Two: The journey
    They are pursued by the antagonist, the girl's husband, a villain in hiding called Martinez (who it turns out Damian Lewis is delivering the car to). A classic car chase (but with comic touches that Tarantino or the makers of Breaking Bad would be proud of).
  • Act Three: The crisis
    The point of maximum jeopardy: the delivery man and girl are cornered by the jealous husband and henchman.
  • Act Four: The climax
    The release from the seemingly inescapable predicament: our Jag driver knocks out his pursuers, gives the girl her freedom and drives off with a still unconscious and gagged Martinez ("Like I said, I do deliveries": delivery man turned bounty hunter?).
  • Act Five: The resolution
    The tying up of loose ends, with all action resolved. Well, there's a twist, and I won't spoil it for you, but it makes sense of the opening sequence and shows us an unexpectedly darker side of the character dismissed by the villain as "Prince Harry".

Desire offers inspiration to all marketers venturing forth in the dynamic world of branded content. We are so used to seeing cookie-cutter Euro stereotypes in car advertising that it's refreshing to view Jaguar's "story of betrayal, retribution, passion and greed" with its suitably complex and morally ambiguous protagonist.

As the screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, quoted by John Yorke, says: "The audience has to relate to your characters, but they don't need to approve of them". And the bravery of the client extended to signing off the delivery of a detailed list of product features at gunpoint.

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