The Sledgehammer

The Secret Sauce to Hot Content

January 18, 2022

Let’s say you just saw the latest Spider-Man movie, and it sparked your interest in Tom Holland, the latest lad to rock the spidey suit. So you search his name online and, after scanning the results, you spy this:

Well, THAT feels different from all the other Tom Holland links you’re seeing! Curiosity piqued, you watch the video, in which Tom answers an interviewer’s questions while suffering through progressively spicier chicken wings. By the end, you’ve learned a lot of interesting things about Tom in a way that is memorable and fun.

A week later, you’re scrolling on Facebook and see that a friend has shared a video of Simu Liu also eating wings with the same interviewer:

You haven’t watched the movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (clearly, you’re no Marvel diehard), so you don’t know who Simu is. But you remember the premise of Hot Ones from that Tom Holland episode, so you decide to watch it and see why they featured this guy. The episode uses the same structure and even the same hot sauces, but you learn about an entirely new person. You end up binge-watching a few more episodes and then decide to hit “Subscribe” to keep up with new episodes in the future. End scene.

That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of great format! It’s a smart storytelling approach that makes the information you want to impart more interesting and eye-catching. In the case of Hot Ones, there are plenty of other celebrity interview options out there for us to choose from—but only one where they’re eating hot wings!

A great format can also be repeated and adapted for lots of different content, which ultimately helps an audience know what to expect and drives them to engage over and over. This reliability is important because, in a world where we are making hundreds of choices everyday about where to point our attention, a repetitive format can take a lot of strain off our brains. Content becomes familiar and predictable, conditioning us to know that we’re going to enjoy the structure.

And enjoy we do! The ongoing success of Hot Ones isn’t an anomaly—there are countless examples of content with versatile, repeatable formats that continuously captivate audiences (no hot sauce required):

  • Other video series like Carpool Karaoke, which always shows James Corden and a celebrity driving around and singing together for 15 minutes
  • Social media accounts such as Humans of New York, which shares a daily photo and quote from a random New York resident
  • Podcasts that break down a random topic every week, like Stuff You Should Know
  • TV, where you can look no further than any reality show competition

But wait, there are more benefits to format!

On the flip side of the content coin, we have the people who developed the Hot Ones series. For each of the 16 seasons, the same interviewer has been filmed in the same basic set: same tablecloth, chairs, and camera angle. Before each season starts, the only things the production team needs to do are select the 10 hot sauces they’re going to feature and come up with the handful of interesting personal questions to ask each guest. Across 200+ episodes, the producers haven’t had to revisit or reinvent the wheel once (except for some tweaks related to the pandemic). So there’s an added beauty of production efficiency—content creators can spend more time on the actual information and less time trying to come up with new ways to share it. The engaging, repeatable format has already done that for them.

Think this can’t work for healthcare? Think again! One of our favorite formats is from Glamour, which has creatively visualized various women’s health scenarios—ranging from migraines to menopause—in just 2 minutes:

There are plenty of ways that pharma brands can use formats to consistently engage audiences over time, with topics ranging from disease education to customer experience. For example:

  • A series of KOL discussions where physicians from different specialties are asked the same questions, leading to an interesting cross-section of answers
  • A collection of “day in the life” vignettes of families all living with the same condition
  • A consistent patient “host” asking a selection of other patients one key question about their disease
  • A series of posts on social media that follow a patient through their experience on an infusion treatment one week at a time

Flaming hot content is in your future if you find a format that fits your audience and can bring your information to life. Let us know if you need any help—meanwhile, we’ll be rewatching one of our favorite Hot Ones episodes (yup, another Marvel movie star):

Huge hat-tip to our friends at Storythings, who are obsessed with all things format and generously shared some of their insights in this post with the Heartbeat team. Want to fuel your format obsession? Check out their Formats Unpacked substack.

At any given time, there are hundreds of actual sledgehammers present in the Heartbeat office. To celebrate their first year on the team, each HB’er receives their very own sledge—a nod to our daily pursuit of tearing down tiresome healthcare marketing. To determine what is built in its place, we often turn to outside industries, cultural forces, and personal experiences. We eagerly share them with one another, and now we’re sharing them with you. Clear the way—here comes The Sledgehammer.