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The 3-Act “Cliffhanger” Formula for Crafting a Wickedly-Effective Call-to-Action

Whether you're broadcasting a Facebook Live, writing an email or blog post, recording a video, hosting a live webinar, or anything of the sort…

You always need to give your audience a clear, benefit-driven, downright-irresistible reason to TAKE ACTION!

A limp call-to-action will lead to embarrassing results…

So read on if you want to learn a proven, 3-step formula for crafting a psychologically-compelling CTA that captivates your audience and compels them to stick around and do whatever's next (click, opt-in, buy, etc.)

Before we dive into the formula, though, first let's reexamine an age-old truism in marketing and answer, once-and-for-all…

Does sex sell?

Well, according to a 2014 study out of Johns Hopkins University analyzing which Super Bowl ads generated the most social media activity, press coverage, and “recall” (which is how well an audience can remember a given ad at a later time)…

The answer is unequivocally NO!

Or, more accurately perhaps, sex doesn't sell better or worse than any other commonly-used advertising trope.

Now, this has HUGE implications for big brands.

Because when you're sending over $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, well, you better make it count!

And in case you're thinking, “Okay, that's neat-o, but I'm not in the market for an ad spot during the premier sporting event of the year,” then bear with me for a moment…

Because you'll soon see that there are universal psychological principles at work here, which will make YOUR advertising significantly more effective and profitable, regardless of what medium you're using or how big your budget may be.

Which Super Bowl ads performed the best?

To answer this question, the study, published in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, conducted a two-year analysis of 108 Super Bowl commercials.

And they found that the most-common themes, such as…

  • Sex appeal,
  • Humor,
  • Celebrity endorsement, and…
  • Cute animals

…were evenly distributed in terms of their results.

Thus, none of these elements alone correlated with the success, or failure, of a particular ad.

Yup, contrary to popular belief, you can't simply rely on puppies, kitties, scantily clad beach-goers, talking babies, or over-the-top special effects to create a winning ad.

So what does work? What type of ad performed best, in every instance?

Well, surprise, surprise to all you budding copywriters out there, the study discovered that, hands-down…

Ads that tell stories CRUSH the competition!

Now, like I said, this might not come as a huge surprise, but there's more…

The study discovered that it's not just any type of story that's effective.

Because, let's face it, you could argue that almost any commercial is some form of a “story,” right?

So here's what they found…

The stories that capture attention, and are memorable, follow a narrative arc.

A specific style of arc, in fact, following what's known as…


And in case you didn't study “The Bard” or take theatre, it goes something like this…

Here is Shakespeare's five act dramatic structure…

Act 1: Introduction

The audience is introduced to the time and the place, the characters, and the conflict at the heart of the story.

Act 2: Rising action

Now the plot thickens with intrigue, conflict, secrets, revelations, or complications.

Act 3: Climax

The events at the heart of the climax cannot be undone.

This is the moment of peak suspense where the main character is presented with a crossroads or crisis, and whatever happens, the world and the characters will never be the same.

A couple of examples…

  • The Matrix: Neo confronts Agent Smith
  • Star Wars: The assault on the Death Star
  • Lord of the Rings: Frodo reaches Mount Doom

Act 4: Falling action

Here we have the final “hurrah,” which is often a suspenseful moment that leaves us in doubt as to whether the protagonist will prevail over the antagonist.

Here we have the dramatic cliffhanger where…

  • Neo “dies” before being reborn and defeats Agent Smith
  • Luke is the final pilot in the Death Star assault and must use the Force to hit the exhaust pipe
  • Frodo hesitates to destroy the One Ring and is confrontatedvwith Gollum

Or, in a familiar “rom com” trope, the guy screws up royally and and you're left in suspense wondering if he'll win back the girl with a dramatic gesture.

Act 5: Resolution

Finally, the story wraps up and resolves itself.

Any loose ends are tied up, and the consequences of the story are played out, for better or for worse (depending on whether the story is more of a comedy or tragedy).

No doubt all that sounds familiar, right?

Okay, now that you know the Shakespearean formula, let's get back to our study…

The psychological power of the 5-act narrative structure

What the study discovered is this…

Commercials that tightly conform to the Shakespearean formula are the most popular by a large margin.

A notable example are the Budweiser Clydesdales ads.

Have a look at their 2015 entry…

Bravo…if I don't say so myself!

For the third year in a row, Budweiser's ads featuring the Clydesdales ranked #1 according to USA Today's Ad Meter.

And as you'll see in this Shakespearean analysis, it's a complete “mini-movie”…

  • Act 1
    Introduces the setting and the characters: a farmer, the Clydesdales, and a golden retriever puppy, all on a farm
  • Act 2
    Complicates and advances the story: the puppy sneaks into a horse trailer and then gets lost while in transit through downtown
  • Act 3
    Climaxes with the puppy making the long trek back home only to be confronted by a snarling wolf, just on the edge of the farm
  • Act 4
    Reverses the puppy's fortune, by just when things seem the most dire and perilous, the Clydesdales break out of their stalls and chase off the wolf, saving the puppy
  • Act 5
    Resolves when the farmer awakes at sunrise and looks through his kitchen window, sees the puppy and the Clydesdales running up the driveway…

Then it's time to celebrate with a Budweiser, of course!

So you can see how the commercial follows the formula exactly.

It's literally scene-for-scene and act-for-act, right out of Shakespeare's playbook.

Now, that's an interesting way of looking at what makes a commercial effective and this perfectly illustrates…

The emotional impact of a complete narrative arc

Oh, and by the way…

If you're curious to read more about this study, there's a great article in Time Magazine on the subject.

Now, there are some profound takeaways here for your marketing efforts, which we'll get to in a moment.

But first, know that as direct marketers, we have to interpret these findings for our specific purposes.

Here's what I mean…

When you look at the criteria used to determine what makes a successful Super Bowl ad, which are metrics like audience recall, YouTube views, polls and surveys, and social media signals…

You see that these are branding, not direct response advertising, metrics.

Let's dive into that distinction for a moment…

Branding vs. Direct Response

to be a successful network marketerBranding is often associated with the big companies out there, as its goal is to raise awareness, and build trust and likeability.

Direct response, on the other hand, is concerned with creating an immediate action on the part of the audience.

For instance, someone reads a blog post, watches a Facebook Live, or attends a webinar, and then wants to buy whatever's being promoted.

Thus, there's an immediate action, which can be measure and is thus what we mean by direct response.

Now, there's overlap between direct response and branding, of course, and marketers often debate the merits of each.

But for our purposes, as bootstrapping entrepreneurs…

We're more concerned with immediate and measurable results.


Therefore, we are concerned with things like impressions, clicks, opt-ins, attendees, and sales.

So here's what you can learn from Super Bowl commercials…

You see, these popular Shakespearean-style ads are enjoyed and shared because they provide a complete narrative experience.

They've got it all—curiosity, intrigue, drama, action, reveal, and resolution.

These “mini-movies” are complete stories.

You feel a bit of excitement and emotion, everything wraps up neatly…

And then you go on with your day, right?

Now, in contrast, to be a successful Internet or network marketer advertising online, your goal is to compel someone into taking ACTION!

Thus, you don't want to “complete” their experience until they've taken the next step.

In essence, you've got to resist providing the resolution to your story and create enough desire to to jump through a few more hoops to satisfy their curiosity.

Basically, you need to…

Create a “cliffhanger” of an experience

to be a successful network marketerLook, if you're looking to create action, you need to leave your audience WANTING more.

They should feel incomplete.


Until, that is, they've taken whatever next step you want them to take (register, opt-in, buy, etc.)

There's actually quite a bit of psychology at work in this process.

If you'd like, you can look up “the Zeigarnik effect,” which describes the desire your brain has to complete unfinished tasks (…which includes completing a narrative experience).

Note that this isn't anything new.

Shows like Lost, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and even serialized novels of the 19th century knew exactly how to exploit this quirk of the human psyche.

But, for fun, let's take a look at a few savvy Super Bowl commercials…

Which probably polled poorly with the audience, yet no doubt created impressive direct response results.

Perhaps you remember GoDaddy's risqué Super Bowl commercials from years past…

Where they would set up a sexually charged scene and then flash to…

to be a successful network marketer

I'd show you a clip, but they've been removed from GoDaddy's YouTube channel.

And GoDaddy is far from the only company to try this technique.

Check out this GMC Certified Service commercial…

It's clearly using the same “cliffhanger” psychology.

Or maybe you remember John Hancock “Life Comes Next” campaign (which have also been taken down), where you're directed to dedicated “Hancock Next” website to see how the 3 individual stories in this series conclude.

These are all well-executed examples of withholding the resolution to the story.

Now, taking a step back…

Here's what these ads are achieving in the Shakespearean framework…

36535_blogbanner_092816_400x400-07It's rather clever, and it goes like this…

In these commercials, they're setting up the scene with Act 1, advancing the action in Act 2, but right when you're getting to the climax of Act 3…

…everything stops, and then you're asked to take action.

“Go to our website to see what's next.”

That's clever marketing!

Those are ads with a direct response mindset, where you are able to measure ROI (as the audience is taking quantifiable actions, such as visiting their website and engaging with the campaign).

Now, I seriously doubt if people share these cliffhanger ads.

A poll of the audience might even find overwhelmingly negative feedback.

After all…

It's kind of annoying, right?

You're not going to think, “Oh, I should totally post this on Facebook.”

No, you're going to be downright irritated by the format!

And maybe even be bothered enough to hop on your computer and go to the appropriate website to check out what happens next.  ;-)

This is exactly how you need to think of your advertising if you're trying to successful at marketing your business online.

So, remember: whether you're broadcasting a Facebook Live, writing a blog post, recording a video, or hosting a live webinar…

You should always employ…


This is how you create ACTION in your audience.

Now, I can't definitively say that Shakespeare would approve, but I have a feeling that if he was going to coach you on improving your direct response results, it might look something like the following 3-Act “cliffhanger” formula…

Act 1: Introduction

First, you've got to set the stage, right?

Introduce yourself and the topic at hand.

Orient your audience and make sure they know they're in the right place listening to the right person.

Act 2: Advancing Action

Now you start providing enough value to keep your audience engaged.

Get them thinking about implementing the strategies you're describing.

You want them identifying with your material, and picturing themselves in your shoes, doing what you're describing in their business.

Just like in story telling…

Your audience should be able to envision themselves achieving the type of results you're describing.

Now, again, the subject matter could be absolutely anything…

Blogging, video marketing, Facebook ads, webinars, anything.

The key here is to provide enough value and training so your audience doesn't tune you out or “change the channel.”

Act 3: Climax {Interrupted}

Now, here's the crux of this formula…

You've always got to be creating curiosity and anticipation to get your audience to take the next step in their customer journey.

As we've discussed, if your goal is to create action, you can't resolve their experience until they've taken the next step…

  • Facebook ads must create enough curiosity to generate a click
  • Blog posts tease valuable lead magnets
  • Facebook Lives might tease a Messenger follow-up conversation
  • Emails build rapport and create anticipation for upcoming events
  • Webinars create immediate buying action through desire and scarcity

That's the psychology of the ascension deeper and deeper into your business' ecosystem.

You've leaving breadcrumbs throughout every touchpoint, creating a series of cliffhanger-like experiences.

Where, you're essentially saying to your audience…

“If you want to learn more, you've got to take the next step…”

Make sense?

So, as an example, let's say this blog post is a script for a Facebook Live you're delivering.

The call to action could look something like this…

Okay, so now you've learned all about the psychological power of story.


And you've learned that instead of giving your audience a complete Shakespearean 5-Act experience, you've got to tease them—like one of those annoying Super Bowl commercials—using a 3-Act narrative “cliffhanger,” so they always want to take the next step to learn more.


Now, if you want to see multiple, word-for-word examples of my most effective cliffhangers…


Click the link in the comments below to read more over on my blog!

See how that works?

Notice the next step is essential to successful implementation

to be a successful network marketerYou LEAD your audience deeper into your funnel by creating a path where the concrete steps to implementation are on the other side of taking an action.

That's how you, in the spirit of GoDaddy, GMC, and John Hancock…

“See what happens next at Elite Marketing Pro dot com!”

Now, of course…

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Until next time,

Andrew Draughon
Director of Content
Elite Marketing Pro


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