[Story Sells] The copywriting secret that helped this summer blockbuster rake in $1.6 Billion dollars
When I was a teenager, I stood in a long line to watch the first Jurassic Park. I had just read the novel in one big gulp and I was dying to see real dinosaurs on the screen. I wasn’t alone. The movie brought in over 1.02 billion dollars.
Steven Spielberg, the director, knew how to tease our appetites. He waited until 20 minutes into the movie before he revealed the classic shot of huge brontosaurus lurching through the grass, to the soul-stirring music of John Williams.
When you earn over a billion dollars with a widget, what do you do next? You keep making more of ‘em.
But sadly, the second and third installments of the franchise didn’t fare so well.
Jurassic Park II: The Lost World sunk to a mere $600 million in revenue, and the third version trickled in a shameful $368 million. No doubt heads rolled in the executive suite.
Then, last summer, they got it right.
Jurassic World opened to huge applause. It ultimately earned $1.6 billion, beating the original handedly.
Well, I believe one reason is because the filmmakers decided to heed the advice of Eugene Schwartz, the late great author of Breakthrough Advertising.
Mr. Schwartz is probably most famous for a very important copywriting principle: the idea that any market passes through different stages of “Awareness.” When a product type first hits the market, it’s brand new, and that novelty will bring people in.
Whiter whites for your laundry! That sounds great, hand me a box.
But as the years go by (and competitors creep in), people get bored and ask “What else ya’ got?”
Thus the market passes into another stage of Awareness, and businesses have to get busy offering something new.
“Whiter whites!” may have sold detergent in the past, but now everybody is shouting that old tired message. So you amp up your game with a new mechanism: “Whiter whites with Google-crafted nano-bots that strip stains at their source!”
That works until the market gets bored again. So marketers must rinse and repeat, finding the new yet again.
How does this relate to the Dino-Franchise of Jurassic Park?
As I said, in the first movie, the dinosaurs weren’t revealed until the twenty minute mark. With one minor exception, that’s exactly the same time that the next two movies revealed the resurrected monsters.
But – we, the viewing public, have already seen dinosaurs in the first film. We’re not impressed! So when the next movies made a big deal of waiting to reveal the prehistoric creatures – at the twenty minute mark — it fell a little flat.
But in the recent and mega-successful Jurassic World, the film opens on the cracking of a dinosaur egg.
The film looks us square in the eye and says, “Yeah, I know you’ve seen dinosaurs before. We’ll get this out of the way – just to set the stage – and reveal the big stuff later.”
And (to really send the message home), within the first six minutes, the heroine of the film tells a group of advertisers that “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore.” She’s talking about the park-goers within the world of the story, but her words apply just as much to a CG-weary audience.
That’s why, she goes on to say, the park needs something bigger and better: “Indominus Rex”, a new genetically enhanced dinosaur. This is not only the big attraction of the theme park, but also of the movie itself.
So it’s no surprise we first catch a glimpse of this new dinosaur at the magic 20 minute mark.
Now, Gene Schwartz made the point that you need to start with the customer’s awareness – what they already know – before you reveal something new. No point in making a dramatic to-do over something they already know.
And that’s true of stories. The “Beginning” of a story is relative to what the audience knows about.
So maybe ten years ago the market paid handsomely after hearing the slow reveal of a “paleo story” — how eating like your ancestors will make you healthy. But today, that story will just earn you yawns.
Instead, now the story needs to be how someone tried the paleo diet, failed, but then learned the secret of how to make it really work.
The MORAL: Start your tale with what the audience already knows, and reveal “the new” from there.