You ever heard of the 4th wall? (err, what?)
“Breaking the fourth wall” is any instance in which this performance convention, having been adopted more generally in the drama, is violated. This can be done through either directly referencing the audience, the play as a play, or the characters’ fictionality. The temporary suspension of the convention in this way draws attention to its use in the rest of the performance. This act of drawing attention to a play’s performance conventions is metatheatrical.
If you wanna see this in action, peep today’s subject line.
First you thought, “what the f***?”…then you clicked.
What am I doing here?
I’m marketing by acknowledging the marketing I’m using to market to you.
^^Yah, I know, it’s meta af.
Why does it work?
When you scroll through your inbox you have a certain expectation of what type of subject lines you’ll see.
Because you’ve likely seen hundreds of thousands of subject lines at this point, you’re on autopilot.
You’re sort of paying attention, but not quite, and your brain is reducing its cognitive load by using heuristics (past experience) to decide which emails to open and which to ignore.
My subject line is an air horn at point-blank-range in the ear of the meditating buddha that is your half-asleep brain.
They call that a pattern interrupt.
Here’s another example from by buddy Ed Latimore, who is masterful at this:
99% of Ed’s tweets are high-quality self-improvement advice and he’s got some high-profile followers as a result, like Naval Ravikant and Scott Adams.
So when he drops dimes like this a) you stop in your tracks and b) you burst out laughing.
He’s breaking the 4th wall, in this case the theme of his Twitter profile, to break your auto-pilot (scrolling) and pull you into his world.
Now, he owns your mind.
The business applications are endless, [FIRST NAME GOES HERE].
So, when’s the best time to break the 4th wall?
The pattern interrupt works best when your audience is in on the joke.
When you have some shared mental model everyone is operating from.
It won’t work if your audience has no idea what the hell you are talking about.
E.g. I was thinking using a line with a Street Fighter reference, but how many you have played the game and know what a Metsu-Hadoken or a Shungokusatsu are? Sure, you can google it, but why make you jump through hoops?
It follows, therefore, breaking the 4th wall is best used when you are marketing to people in your industry.
So, in our case, when we’re talking to copywriters and marketeers.
To give you a better idea of what this looks like, check out this landing page I wrote for my content agency, Dropkick Copy.
Here’s what a copywriter buddy said when she saw it:
I freaking love this. Self-depricating, meta humor is so very much my favorite thing. Way to deconstruct and flip the typical opt-in. I especially love that you’re?upfront on the fact that this is a daily newsletter and they shouldn’t sign up if they aren’t down with that. Perfectly aligns with your “transparent marketing” approach.
Giving out an exact script for this tactic is impossible; it has to be 100% organic.
You know your business and industry best, so I’m confident you can come up with a way to break the 4th wall that’s effective and 100% relevant to you and your people.
Screenshot it and send it to me when you do. 😉