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Wanna Go Viral? Study this Video

Defining what makes storytelling stick in 12 steps

“person holding black VHS tape” by Gabriel Petry on Unsplash

On Sunday, January 21st, 2018 before the NFL’s AFC Championship Game, CBS posted a teaser video starring John Malkovich, so viewers could get hyped up for the game.

It’s a 4-minute meta piece that documents a faux process of the directors creating this teaser for a game that featured a David vs. Goliath story with the New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

John Malkovich is a quirky yet brilliant actor who plays the perfect role in a performance that will give you goosebumps and send chills down your spine in all the best possible ways.

Storytelling is such a powerful and impactful way to hook your audience. The way in which this story is told provides the clearest example I have seen a story that is relatable, entertaining, repeatable, and goosebump-worthy.

Please, please, please watch this video to improve your day, and then follow along as I deconstruct exactly how this epic sensation was created.

Below are the formulas and components necessary for developing a bone-chilling, audience capturing, and viral masterpiece.

1. Establish a sense of doubt

0–31 seconds in.

The stage is literally set as John Malkovich overlooks a theater while reluctantly and discouragingly reading lines for an upcoming commercial, in which he is about to appear.

This intro touches on doubt, regret, skepticism, and disturbance as John complains about the script. He makes mention of it being too complex, uttering,

“Somebody has gotta put the thesaurus down.”

This will come back later.

Bring the audience down to build them up.

2. Go even lower

48 seconds in.

John sighs and has this puzzled look on his face. It’s one of despair. There is absolutely no hope for this commercial.

Just when you think it can’t get worse, it does.

3. Empathize with the lead role

48 seconds — 1 minute in.

This bit is filled with sarcasm and is more light-hearted. The viewer is starting to side with John because of his relatable and warm personality.

Get the viewers on your side.

4. Introduce a villain

1:06 in.

John meets the almighty creators, the directors. This is the introduction to the word, “tease”, which is the primary idea of the video.

Make viewers pick a side.

5. Emphasize a point of contention

1:30–2:10 in.

Here, the directors are even further minimizing the expectations of the lead role. They tell him this is, “different than what you are used to” and you can see this hungry, empowered look from John as he thinks about how and why his part should be different.

John Malkovich is slowly turning into the unexpected hero, who is going to save the whole show.

This scene is the mighty rising action that features a contentious battle between John and the directors (it’s not that contentious, but you get the point).

The teaser has now created its own David vs. Goliath story without the viewer even realizing, as the timid, soft spoken David (John Malkovich) battles the cocky, obnoxious Goliath (the directors) for a chance to dictate the outcome of the video.

Allude to a winner.

6. Be aesthetically pleasing

2:30 in.

We revisit the theme of complexity vs. simplicity as Malkovich begins his impassioned speech. Throw in an incredible camera angle that shoots in between the strings of a harp, and this makes for one of the most visually appealing scenes.

Capture the beauty in everything.

7. Relate to the audience

2:35 in.

This moment is carried by John’s exceptional storytelling, which relates to the audience because it is a story we all know: David vs. Goliath.

Tell a story everybody knows.

8. Have an epic battle scene

2:35–3:05 in.

Here, we have the climax filled with examples, enthusiasm, and fluctuations in Malkovich’s voice that carries this soliloquy. His crescendo, along with the music’s, is superb.

This moment is when you start to get the chills as you begin to see David throw everything he has at Goliath.

Build the tension.

9. Add the element of surprise

3:22 in.

Malkovich introduces a plot twist, describing not one, but two Goliaths (Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick as well as the two directors) which makes the audience think and wonder.

Introduce a plot twist.

10. Reveal the intended meaning behind the metaphor

3:34 in.

Finally, the intended meaning is clearly and visibly revealed as football highlights embody the screen.

What it’s all about.

11. Come full circle

3:40–3:57 in.

We are struck by even more intensity, passion, and fire from David, as Goliath stands there motionless. Malkovich gasps for air and is out of breath. He has given it his all and has come out victorious. He reverts back to his original wish of focusing on simplicity.

Revisit the theme.

12. Allow time for thought and reflection

3:47 — Finish

Malkovich mentions the deterrent of over complication one last time, and there is a long rollout to allow time for it to sink in that Goliath has been defeated, and David has come out a champion.

Let the audience think.

I share this piece not to spread my love of football, or to teach the story of David vs. Goliath, or to show off the talents of John Malkovich.

These things are all well and true, but rather, I share this to demonstrate a formula for inspiration. It’s a methodology that was constructed through deliberate actions, which led to motivation, anticipation, and awe from its viewers.

So if you ever want to create something that is going to inspire, motivate, and go viral:

  1. Start with a bit of doubt or hesitation,
  2. Throw in some sarcasm or humor,
  3. Provide strong transitions,
  4. Foreshadow and give hints,
  5. Tell a powerful story that can be thoughtfully interpreted,
  6. Be specific,
  7. Build with your rising action,
  8. Deliver a passionate main argument, and
  9. Stick to your theme throughout.

It’s that simple. Otherwise, it’s too complicated.

You Can Become Memorable Too

If you want to deliver engaging content, tell worthwhile stories, and give memorable presentations, check out this story as well!

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 376,225 people.

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Jordan Gross

Jordan Gross

Son, Grandson | Reimagining Personal Development | “What Happens in Tomorrow World?” Publishing Spring 2021, BenBella Books, Matt Holt Books

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