A white, middle-aged man speeds through the desert in a Winnebago while wearing nothing but his underwear and a gas mask.
Bullet holes cover the door and three men lay unconscious (or possibly dead) inside.
The driver’s mask fogs up, causing him to veer off the road and crash in a ditch.
Then he takes a camcorder from the RV and records a message to his wife and son, telling them that he loves them and assuring them that the crimes he committed were done with the best intentions.
Finally, he puts down the camera… walks to the road… pulls a gun from the waistband of his tighty whities… then points it in the direction of oncoming sirens.
[END SCENE, CUT TO INTRO]
That, my friends, is the opening to Breaking Bad, the Emmy award-winning TV show about a high-school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin.
And I bring this up because I recently re-watched the entire series with my wife (it’s’ really that good).
But this second time watching it, I noticed something I didn’t spot before…
You see, the show follows a specific formula at the beginning of every episode — one that can not only be leveraged by filmmakers, but copywriters and marketers as well.
Here’s what happens…
Right away, Breaking Bad starts “in medias res,” which is latin for “in the midst of things.”
It doesn’t tell you how the characters got to where they are.
Or what unfolded to cause the situation.
Instead, the show always leads with a scene that’s filled with action… or drama… or mystery… or sometimes all three.
But then, right before the climax…
The scene ends and cuts to the intro.
In other words, Breaking Bad starts by grabbing the audience’s attention. And then, right when their interest is piqued, it leaves them with a cliffhanger.
In copywriting, we call these two elements “hooks” and “open loops.”
The hook is what captures your prospect’s eyeballs.
And the open loop is like the cliffhanger. It’s the unfulfilled promise (either directly stated or implied) that gives them an irresistible reason to keep reading.
Now let me show you an example…
Here are the first few lines of a promo that I recently added to my swipe file:
It’s sold in almost every supermarket… And found in over 100 different food products. In fact, it’s probably sitting in your fridge right now… And you may have served it to your family last night at dinner. This surgeon believes it’s the worst food a human can eat. It’s banned in Europe… But in America… It’s 100% legal.
That’s the hook.
And in my opinion, it’s pretty good. It grabbed me right by the gills because of the curiosity it provoked.
But remember, a hook alone isn’t enough.
Next, you gotta pair it with a good open loop, which usually comes near the end of the lead…
So why is this ingredient still legal in the United States… Even though the rest of the world considers it to be poisonous, hazardous and is linked to cancer? Well, in a moment, I’ll show you how it might have to do with a biotech corporation who makes $15 BILLION per year manufacturing this ingredient… And how they spend $5 million dollars per year lobbying the United States government to keep their products on the market.
See what they did there?
They open the loop by promising to inform you about this “dangerous” ingredient.
But they don’t share the full deets right away.
Instead, they build anticipation and force you to keep reading the copy to find out more.
And that’s what makes it so powerful.
By combining a sharp hook with an irresistible open loop, you’ve got a proven formula for advertising (or Hollywood) success.
And the next time you’re waist deep in the first couple pages of a promo, think long and hard about how you execute this one-two punch.
Your pen pal,