Titles That Tell a Whole Story

Sometimes, in those rare special cases, you’ll have subject matter so captivating that a simple straight-forward statement of the relevant words is enough.

No formulas, templates, or linguistic trickery is necessary with these types of titles and headlines.

They are stories in and of themselves.

How else can you explain the magic of these four simple words?

Snakes on a Plane

What really set off the year-long Internet buzz, and prompted people to create fan t-shirts, songs, and camp out all night just to be among the first to hear Samuel L. Jackson say those magical fan requested words? The answer has more to do with the story that the audience told themselves about the film, rather than the film’s actual story.

While the phrase “snakes on a plane” certainly gets to the heart of the matter, what really captivates people is the thought of Jules from Pulp Fiction on a plane full of snakes, and how he might react to it. Jackson’s past film work added to the story mix in a magical way that created an accidental sensation.

But Jackson himself has admitted that it was the title itself that convinced him to do this campy film. And when New Line toyed with the idea of changing the title to something completely pedestrian, that’s when the buzz started online one year ago yesterday, thanks to screenwriter Josh Friedman’s blog post.

Those four words were the key to it all.

The initial fan reviews from last night? People loved it.

Who else besides me is going to see it tonight?

Just this morning I ran across a news headline that shared the same qualities. I really couldn’t care less about the topic, but I just had to check it out anyway.

Man is trapped in chocolate for 2 hours

Who else besides me thought of Willy Wonka?

Create a headline, title or slogan that tells a story people can immediately recognize and relate to, and they may just start telling your story for you.

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  1. exactly.

  2. I liked the trailers of this film. Very unpretentious. They didn’t try to present the movie as a must see, or the greatest ever, but simply advertised what Snakes on a Plane is: simply a movie about Snakes on a Plane.

    Maybe we can also learn from that. Sometimes you don’t need to hype your product. Just simply tell it like it is.

  3. Well, Rico, keep in mind that this is the rare exception to the rule.

    More commonly, small business people put something out there and just expect people to “get” how good they are and beat a path to their door.

    And then it doesn’t happen…

    Hence, the emphasis on good stories. More powerful than hype, and potentially explosive (in a good way).

  4. Thanks for the clarification. I’ve learned a lot from this site, and this post is no exception.

  5. So very true. Great advice!

  6. Very well said, Brian. One thing I’d add to your points, though, is that the title is just plain funny, which is a big part of the appeal of this movie (even if the film itself isn’t supposed to be funny). So not only does the title tell the story, but it’s hard to utter the phrase without laughing or cracking a smile – at least for me.

    My wife and I bought our tickets for tonight’s show a few days ago. I’m convinced it will be sold out.

  7. You forgot about the snakes on a plane….toast currently for sale on eBay.

    I dare you not to click that one.

  8. Gabe, it *is* funny… and even funnier when Samuel L. is The Man on the job.

    Thanks Jon, and you’re right, I just couldn’t resist…

  9. Leaving it up to the customers sense of wonder to see how good you are is a losing proposition.

    Tell ’em how good you are, why you’re that good, how you got to be this dang good and what you’re going to do to get better and make their life better.

    THEN you’ll have all the prospects you want.

  10. Great post – I agree that when you hear a phrase like “snakes on a plane” you just want to find out more. Can’t hurt that one of the lead actresses is mighty fine :)

    I posted an article about the importance of the title tag here:

  11. Titles like this scream ‘cult classic.’ :)

  12. Absolutely. That’s why the “moral” stories are such a hit among the kids. In two or three words they convey the entire essence of the story.

  13. OK Brian. Here’s a question to ponder.

    How long will it take for the creators of movies to come out with movie titles that follow your methods?

    Top 5 ways to avoid a Terminator 4.

    How not to be Sleepless in Seattle Ever Again.

    100 Tips for Wedding Crashers

    Can’t wait for these!

  14. Heh. Those types of headlines have been around for 100 years, and Hollywood has only gone there sparingly.

    As in renaming Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” to “Ten Things I Hate About You.” :)

  15. Wow, great point. Making the pop culture to work for you is the best thing to do if you want to create a lot of hype in a short period of time.
    The princile is simple, putting it to work is a bit tricky…

  16. I have written a humanity story. I’ve gotten completely blank when i came to naming it… I need help.