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Wednesday, Jul. 22, 2009 at 9:11 am

The Princess Bride, Frame Switching, and Kick-butt Ads

By Jeff Sexton
July 22nd, 2009

Do yourself a favor and DON’T watch all of this video right off the bat.

Just watch the first 20 seconds of this ad and then pause it (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending for you).

YouTube Preview Image

Now, how do you feel.  How much emotional punch did the scene carry?

OK.  Now restart the video and watch it through to the end.

****Gratuitous space strategically placed so as to avoid any plot spoilers *****

**** Keep Scrolling *****

****More Gratuitous space  *****

****Almost there ****

So even though the ending scenes were largely repeated from the beginning, now how do you feel?  Don’t the ending scenes have a lot more kick?  Wanna know why?

Here’s what’s going on:

This ad is making ingenious use of what I’d call “frame switching.”

Remember how The Princess Bride made use of an outer story about the sick kid and his grandfather coming to read to him in order to set up the “real” story involving Wesley and Buttercup?  If not, this clip should jog your memory:

YouTube Preview Image

So the point is that every time the film switches its frame of reference from the kid and his grandpa to the storybook story (and vice versa), that’s an example of frame switching. Got it?  And here’s why this is important:

Emotions and meaning created in one frame echo across to the other frame

In The Princess Bride, the “Eel-infested waters” scene is a perfect example of that emotional bleed-over.  Just watch the first two minutes or so of this clip:

YouTube Preview Image

And this emotional echo involves more than simply a kid getting caught up in a story.  By the end of the movie, the kid’s attitude towards both “kissing scenes” and his grandfather have transformed because of this emotional bleed-over from events that occurred within the inner story.  Check out how the ending scenes are mirror images of the opening scenes, showcasing these changes:

YouTube Preview Image

The Yeti Ad uses this same technique

When the Yeti arrives, you have unknowingly switched frames – and it’s the “unknowing” part that makes this even more powerful.  So when the Yeti saves Dave and you feel his relief at being warm and cared for and out of harm’s way, the advertisers are counting on those feelings to bleed-over into the ending frame, setting you up for the ending.

The ending then inflicts mental shock upon you, the viewer, from the realization that the relief and warmth and safety you felt earlier were nothing but hallucinations.  And that shocking contrast between the warmth felt within the inner story and the danger, fear, and coldness you suffer through in the outer “frame” amps up the emotional punch of the final scene – taking it all the way to 11, to draw from another Rob Reiner film.

And what’s especially brilliant about this execution is that the producer switched from day-time in the opening scenes to night time in the inner story, and then bled the night-time (or evening) part over into the final scenes, thereby helping to ensure greater emotional bleed-over.  Plus, for the viewer who has just been violently jarred from the inner story, back into the ending scenes, the realization comes that, not only are you just as bad off as you were at the start of the ad, but now it’s night.

This is why the ending scenes – which differ only slightly from the beginning scenes – feel so much more emotionally powerful.

So what are the copywriting take-aways from this?

Check-out my follow-up article to see for yourself.

And feel free to comment on any specifics you’d like to see covered.

P.S. Hat tip to AdFreek for turning me onto the Yeti Ad.

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Comments (16)

  1. [...] Just watch the first 20 seconds of this ad and then pause it (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending for you). Click here to view the embedded video. [...]

  2. You Tease – I know there are some juicy copywriting tips coming from this. Do you have to keep us waiting???

    Really cool stuff.

  3. I will tune in next week definitely. by the way, did you come to your text cliffhanger because of the films cliffhanger? You took the frame beyond media-borders ..

  4. At first I was a little annoyed to realize I’d spent a goodly chunk of time watching these movie clips – but it was quite instructive.

    Can’t wait to see how you tie it all up. Buttercup.

  5. Great analysis, really enjoyed this one and gave me some things to think about. Thanks,

    Bill

  6. Even without the actual tips, I think I’m getting where this is going. Yet I feel in cinema this switching of frames is more common place then just in those cases were a specific sequence gets repeated to an extent. It’s all about contect and frame of reference and these change also with the passage of time in a movie for example. The same happens when good guys turn to be bad or vice versa. Of course that type of frame switching is probably to difficult to achieve in a short ad.

  7. [...] the first thing to remember about frame switching as it applies to [...]

  8. [...] the first thing to remember about frame switching as it applies to [...]

  9. [...] For students and business professionals alike, you should check out for yourself why GrokDotCom is one of the highest ranked Marketing Blogs according to Ad Age. My current favorite blog on the website is The Princess Bride, Frame Switching, and Kick-butt Ads. [...]

  10. I love it. Just want to spread some love for William Goldman, who wrote the novel and the screenplay for The Princess Bride. He’s the one who deserves full credit for the frame shift. He does this often and masterfully in his writing.

  11. It’s a mistake to assume that everyone is able to access this sort of stuff. I certainly have enough trouble just getting words.
    The idea is interesting, but should have been demonstrated in acutal text – not film.

  12. Can this idea be used in fiction, e.g. short stories or novels?
    Can you give examples?

  13. Tony,

    My apologies. I simply found it easier to introduce the concept with clips from a well known film. Please check out my follow-up article to see the text examples you have requested. You can find it here:

    http://www.grokdotcom.com/2009/07/30/a-copywriters-intro-to-frame-switching-and-nested-storytelling/

    - Jeff

  14. Excellent analysis!
    but is it gonna be feasible?
    Can you present some examples

  15. Great analysis, really enjoyed this one and gave me some things to think about. Thanks,

  16. Realy sucks you in. I was waiting for some sort of punchline from the yeti (like i’m gonna enjoy lunch or something) but then you’re booted back into reality. It works even more as i think as you’re expecting something humorous and when it doesn’t come you’re kind off caught off guard

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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