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4 Hollywood Plot Lines You Can Use to Build Your Business

Do you remember the story of how Sylvester Stallone became a star? He was a young actor down to his last dime. He hocked his wife’s jewelry; he even sold the dog to survive. But then he had an idea for a movie—a great movie. He knew a producing team that liked him and would read his screenplay when it was done, so he wrote the screenplay. And they went crazy over it. They offered him more than $100,000.

And Stallone said, “Fine—as long as I play the lead.”
The producers looked at him like he was nuts. He was a nobody.

Stallone, who wasn’t quite sure where his next meal was coming from, wouldn’t budge.

“Fine—as long as I play the lead.”

The producers looked at him like he was nuts. He was a nobody.

Stallone, who wasn’t quite sure where his next meal was coming from, wouldn’t budge.

After months, the producers finally backed down. They decided they could make the movie for a low enough budget that they could at least make their money back. They made the deal, Stallone starred in the movie, and the film’s success took the world by storm.

You probably know the rest of the story, but did you know that the above story is almost completely fabricated?

When the first “Rocky” film was released in 1976, the saga of Stallone’s career difficulties was a major part of the movie’s publicity campaign. Rocky, the underdog boxer, was seen as an amazing parallel to Stallone’s actual life.

For that story to work, however, it had to resonate with the audience—which it did, big time. And nobody questioned it until 30 years later when Gabe Sumner, then marketing director of United Artists, spilled the beans. As Sumner said of the effort in a 2006 article for Hollywood Today, “The press … they ate up the idea that this actor loved his work so much … . It all became part of the underdog fabric that brought people in. Period. They just totally bought into it.” (Italics are ours.)

Now, wouldn’t it be great to have people buy into your business with the same level of enthusiasm? Without you having to make up a story?

It can be done.

The currency of the marketplace is storytelling—the best companies are tweeting, posting and hashtagging their brands and building their business in the process. These are the four “StorySelling” plotlines the Italian Stallion’s handlers keyed into that made his publicity campaign a champ—and how you can make them work for you.

Plot #1: Overcoming the Monster

In Stallone’s StorySelling scenario, the monster he overcame was Hollywood itself. The massive entertainment industry was not going to let a virtual unknown star in a film and damage its box office fortunes.

How you can use it: There are plenty of “monsters” that your potential clients and customers want to see destroyed; it’s just a matter of identifying the ones that fit into your profession or life story. Perhaps you took on a general contractor in some significant way to come out on top. Or you’re a financial advisor who saw what the crash of 2008 (another “monster”) did to innocent people—and you set out to build an investment strategy that safeguards against that happening. There are many ways this plotline will pay off for your business.

Plot #2: Rags to Riches

The publicity machine portrayed Stallone as being so broke that he had to sell his dog! Not only that, but he was also portrayed as rejecting a six figure payday to hang on to his dream, which made his success story all the more sweet to the audience.

How you can use it: This is perhaps the easiest plot to translate to StorySelling. Most entrepreneurs started with virtually nothing and built their businesses from scratch—and they have plenty of stories to illustrate that point. Even if you inherited your business or come from well-off circumstances, you probably still have stories of the difficulties in the beginning. For example, the branded film, “Car Men,” spotlighted a car dealer whose dad owned his car lot before him. If you think there’s not much of a rags-to-riches quality to that, you’re wrong—because his dad made him start at the bottom washing cars, and work his way up. Much like many of you who may have started in the family business when you were a child picking up jobsite nails during the summer months.

Plot #3: The Quest

Stallone’s quest was obvious—he not only wanted to sell his screenplay, he wanted to star in the movie as well.

How you can use it: If you had to search for the perfect location or the most powerful product or service to sell, or even just to be the best at what you do, that could be your version of The Quest. When anyone is in pursuit of a dream and is willing to face all kinds of hardship to reach that goal, we identify with that person and want a happy ending. That creates a desire in consumers to buy this wonderful “something.”

Plot #4: Rebirth

The Stallone StorySelling effort pictured him as completely “dead” career-wise. When the movie went on to become an Oscar-winner, you could definitely say Stallone was reborn.

How you can use it: Rebirth is an amazing StorySelling plot if you’ve gone through tough times and made it back to success. During the 2012 Super Bowl, when Clint Eastwood walked down a dark alley to sell the comeback of Chrysler, it created a powerful moment. And it’s not the first time Chrysler pulled off the rebirth trick to great effect—way back in the 1980s, then-CEO Lee Iacocca promoted the brand in commercials after the car company came back from bankruptcy.

All four of these plots share an important attribute that makes them effective in StorySelling: They are all about overcoming obstacles to achieve a rewarding conclusion. Building your business through StorySelling is not only a powerful tool—it’s genuine. When you’re honest about your struggles, your audience relates—and when you triumph over them, your audience stands up and cheers … just like at the end of (what else?) a Rocky movie!

Nick Nanton is an Emmy Award–winning director, producer and CEO of The Dicks + Nanton Celebrity Branding Agency. As America’s #1 business agent and international speaker and consultant, he has refined the area of personal branding, direct media, marketing and PR for business growth. His newly released book, StorySelling™, details the persuasive value of story in business and entrepreneurism, and outlines the steps necessary to achieve success in marketing through storytelling and media. For more information, visit, email or call (888) 364.8101.

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