Only 7 Plotlines in the World? PointRoll Looks for Ones That Work Best for Ads

If you have ever, ever been to the so-called creative community in Los Angeles, someone has said to you: “After all, there are only (blank) stories in the world.” They've been saying that for years, even before they realized "The Flintstones" was an awful lot like "The Honeymooners."

You could fill in the blank with a lot of numbers. But a popular digit to put in there is “seven.”

“The Seven Basic Plots” a 2004 book by Christopher Booker weighed in at 728 pages in which he explained them all, and though there are other people who can give you other numbers, let’s stay with Booker’s seven or we will go mad.

They are, (with brief explanation): Overcoming the Monster (Hero defeats Donald Trump-like person); Rags to Riches (Hero overcomes great obstacles or disadvantages to  emerge victorious), The Quest (hero knows something important is out there, and goes looking for it, dressed just like Harrison Ford), Voyage and Return (Hero goes somewhere weird, fixes it and returns smarter and happier, even though she still is in Kansas), Comedy (Hero and heroine need to fall in love, and his name is Harry and her name is Sally), Tragedy (Overcoming the Monster in reverse, in which the story centers on a Hitler-like person who get smashed in the end) an Rebirth (basically, Scrooge.)

As it turns out at PointRoll, the digital advertising tech and services company, Todd Pasternack, the vice president of digital innovation, was with some others at a conference and heard a speaker refer to the seven basic plot thing. And some of them started thinking about it.  

As he explains it, “We thought, what if PointRoll looked at the seven basic plots and applied it to advertisers? We wondered if there was something to be learned about how certain kinds of plots worked with certain kinds of products.”

He thinks PointRoll stumbled on to a “new way of looking at creative performance but this project is so new we haven’t had a chance to fully analyze all of it.”

What PointRoll did was categorize 184 video ad campaigns over the past 12 months according to the seven plots, and looked at what happened:

One predictable result: There are not a lot of Tragedy ads out there. Big winner: Rags to Riches ads had the best completion rate. But video ads that featured Quest, Overcoming the Monster and  Voyage & Return plots were up there too, and most successful at driving clicks. PointRoll will be releasing the data soon and it's eye opening and just a plain different way to look at some ways ads work (or don't).

It won’t surprise you that in the pharmaceutical and health field, “Rebirth” ads dominated, but “Quest” and “Overcoming the Monster” ads were up there. But among all kinds of product categories, Comedy had the highest interaction rates, and Rags to Riches the second lowest. Tragedy, as the name suggests, does worst of all.

The fascinating thing, Pasternack wonders if advertisers in a certain category know they are, as a whole industry or individually, producing an overabundance of, say, “Overcoming the Monster” commercials, because they intend to, or it just turns out that’s what seems to be the best creative at the moment, or everybody is copying everybody else.

It would appear, that through its analysis PointRoll could tell an advertiser that, for example “Voyage and Return” tends to score high in interaction measures in home improvement and furnishings ads, but apparently don’t seem to be produced as often as “Overcoming the Monster” and “Quest”-themed commercials. And it could do that for other brands as well. It seems over the years, insurance advertising was just plain Tragedy. Now, it seems more “Overcoming the Monster.”  

 The hardest part of this PointRoll project was coming up with details about what aspects of a commercial fit which type of plot line. But after that, Pasternack says, charting the data was the easy part, and he says, it potentially gives ad agencies “a new arsenal of information” to use.

That may be true, or that may be hyperbole. In fact, it probably could be seven things.

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