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Why Landing Pages and Hollywood Films Have Lots in Common

Kim Brebach - Monday, November 19, 2018

Why Landing Pages and Hollywood films have lots in common

If you're a film buff, you'll know the name Billy Wilder, the Hollywood writer/director who co-wrote and directed classics like Sunset Boulevard, Some like it Hot, The Apartment and Double Indemnity. Yesterday, a post from Mark John Hiemstra at Unbounce called Direct Your Landing Pages Like a Hollywood Legend caught my attention.  I investigate how much we can still learn from greats like Billy.    

Billy Wilder’s 10 rules for great screenplays

1.The audience is fickle.
2.Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
3.Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
4.Know where you’re going.
5.The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6.If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7.A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
8.In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
9.The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10.The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.

Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go

Mark argues his case with great skill, and I recommend you read his post in full. I merely want to provide a couple of examples as appetizers here. 

For example, Wilder’s second rule is a good one to follow for landing pages, especially when marketing technology. Think of all those 'hi-tech' images you've seen before and words like 'breakthrough', 'leading edge', 'next generation' and the rest. Hardly throat-grabbing.

Today’s online audience is even more fickle as movie audiences in Wilder’s day. More than that, it’s a lot easier to click off a website than to get up and leave a cinema halfway through a movie. So you need to grab their attention and keep it, or you'll lose them forever.

Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.

I was intrigued what Mark would do with the third rule. He talks about a high tension scene from Double Indemnity and says: ‘… it’s a great movie scene, but we want to avoid this kind of tension on our landing pages at all costs by giving prospects a clear line of action to follow. Only one possible action. Only one goal.’

He’s spot on. Giving landing page visitors too many choices confuses them, so it's easier for them to leave than stay and work it out. ‘As the screenwriter of the landing page,’ Mark says, ‘your job is to give the visitor just one choice to make. Anxiety is what makes movies interesting – it’s also what makes landing pages fail.’

Know where you’re going

This heading made me think about White Papers. Why? Because so many of them make us ask the question 'where are we going?' And often it's only halfway through the first page. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favourite writers, offered this advice to budding writers: ‘Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.’

A White Paper is no different to a film in some ways: you need a story to engage the reader or it will bore the socks off her. Stories have a common structure: a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories also make a promise to share something of interest with the reader, or a promise that she’ll learn something new - or vital or both. 

A White Paper is no Joke

True, but it has to follow the same rules. A White Paper is no Hollywood crime drama either, so you can’t start the story with a murder. What you can do is to start by asking 2 or 3 direct questions that speak to a serious problem your reader is likely to have. That's the role of White Papers in technology marketing: to explain issues and solve problems (not to sell, by the way). The rest is standard story structure:

•The set-up: questions that grab the reader
•The promise of answers to the pressing problem
•Define what the problem is, and why doing nothing is not an option
•Describe how others have tried to solve the problem – use a couple of pertinent examples
•Explain why those approaches haven’t worked – use expert quotes to support your stance
•Show why a different approach will work – use more expert quotes
•Explain what that approach consists of (these elements happen to be part of your solution)
•Use a couple of strong examples that show how the approach works, with customer quotes.

Like jokes, the White Paper's story has to be told the right way to work. The set-up is as important as the punchline. If you leave your reader with no idea why she bothered, the White Paper has failed. That’s why Wilder says: ‘If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.’ If you haven’t set up the joke the right way, it doesn’t matter how well you deliver the punchline – it will fall on its face.


Kim Brebach
Content Chief

I've always loved people and words. As long as I can remember I've been a story-teller and the team here says I'm good at it. That's probably why I head up the Content Creation team: I create the arc of the story and others add their magic.


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