You have at least one late night host that you probably feel as if you “know,” even if you’ve never met them.
The time you spend listening to that person’s voice as they interview others, tell jokes, and discuss their thoughts makes them feel as familiar and comfortable to you as a friend.
And it’s not just you; it’s all of us — we all have this one-sided relationship with at least some celebrities.
Psychologists even have a term for it: Parasocial Interaction. And if you really want to understand it, and how it’s important to business, watch this video:
For the record, no, I’m not recommending you adopt a Kardashion-esque strategy for influencing your customers.
I am suggesting that being your company’s spokesperson in your ads, and having people hear your voice on the radio or tv, multiple times per week, week after week, and year after year, will develop an effective amount of parasocial influence.
People will come to feel as if they know you, and have a good sense of what it would be like to buy from you.
That means they’ll be more comfortable doing business with you than anybody else.
And over time, that can add up to a lot of money.
But only if you’re on the air doing something other than incessantly pitching the customer, or (even worse) screaming “sale, sale, sale!”
If you do that, they might still feel as if they know you — they’ll just want to avoid you.
Turns out the Radio Mercury Awards created a pretty cool video no this very topic:
Yup, Theatre of the Mind: because you can’t sell “the sizzle” without sound effects.
Radio people talk about theatre of the mind a lot. And they should!
It would be better if they used the strategy as much as they talk about it, but it’s an important concept nonetheless.
Here’s the late, great Stan Freberg’s explanation:
And if you’re interested, compare these two scenes, one as a radio drama, the other as a Hollywood production and tell me which engages you more fully:
But is theater of the mind limited to radio?
Here’s a current print ad campaign making excellent use of Theatre of the Mind:
And since this campaign came straight out of Mad Men, I’ll let Don Draper explain it:
Got any Theatre of the Mind in your ads?
“A woman asks little of love: Only that she be able to feel like a heroine.” ~Mignon McLaughlin
I like this quote not so much for what it says about women, per se, but what it says about human nature and advertising.
We want companies and products that make us feel and let us be seen the way we want: heroic, smart, hip, sexy, caring, etc.
And how we want to be seen usually has as much to do with temperament and tribe as gender.
- Guardians/Methodicals/SJs want to feel and be seen as dependable, respectable, and judicious
- Idealists/Humanistic/NFs want to feel and be seen as benevolent, creative, growth-minded, and inclusive
- Rationals/Competitives/NTs want to feel and be seen as masterful, self-directed, and ingenious
- Artisans/Spontaneous/SPs want to feel and be seen as lively, high-impact, courageous, and worthy of attention.
If your advertising and products help scratch that itch, you’ll find customers that love you for it.
How does your advertising and product help people feel?
P.S. Mignon McLaughlin has lots of great quotes. Here are two more with advertising lessons baked into them:
“Even cowards can endure hardship; only the brave can endure suspense.”
“No matter how brilliantly an idea is stated, we will not really be moved unless we have already half thought of it ourselves.”
Your alma mater. Your home and neighborhood. Your watch or car.
Few, if any, buy these things based on a reasonable analysis of cost vs. benefit.
Because in our minds, what’s really at stake is our identity.
Are you a Baylor man, or a technical college man?
Frankly, if your a high school student, the cost-benefit analysis weighs very, very heavily towards technical college. Seriously. Listen to Mike Rowe. Crunch the numbers. You’ll be amazed.
But if you have a family legacy of attending Baylor (or Alabama or Harvard)…
And it’s very much the same thing with where you live and what kind of home you live in as well as what kind of car you drive. Are you in the swanky neighborhood, or do you live on the wrong side of the tracks?
The point is that a sure way to motivate people to pay a premium for your brand is to associate it with identity rather than logical reason-why appeals. For when identity is at stake, people will spend irrationally. Hence the appeal of Rolex. Or Mercedes Benz. Or almost any luxury brand you can think of.
Identity is also why thousands of parents choose a full size SUV with 3rd row seating over a lower-priced minivan that get’s better gas mileage. Because they’re rather obviously not doing it on a cost-benefit basis.
Put that way, your choices become rather stark:
- You can persuade people to think in terms of benefit per dollar spent, or
- You can persuade them to think “what kind of person am I (or aspire to be) and what kind of ______ would that person buy?
Of course, it never hurts to flatter a prospective buyer’s identity by showing him (or her) that her identity-based choices are sensible, wise, and a sign of good taste. It’s not that there’s no place for reason-why appeals, just that they ought to be subordinate to a broader identity-based supposition.
Don’t make the mistake, though, in assuming that identity-based appeals only work for snobby or super lux items. They work just as well when no-nonsense products are advertised for no-nonsense people. Or an icon of rebels appeals to the rebel in all of us. Think craftsman tools or Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
The bottom line: it’s tough making money off of customers determined to squeeze every dollar’s value till George Washington hollers for mercy. Far better to appeal to people who are interested in expressing a value and an identity.
It’s not only where the money is, it’s also where all the satisfaction is for the business owner, as well. I’ve never met a business owner yet, who didn’t want his (or her) business to stand for something.
So what identity are you appealing to?
The sad part of this year’s Super Bowl ads was that almost none of them actually had a big idea — or really any idea — other than to entertain or dazzle or mystify.
The film making and the special effects and the humor might have all been there, but the messaging and product tie-ins were weak to non-existent.
The only ad with a real strong sales proposition and reason-why was Sprint’s. Frankly, I think the idea of “Don’t let a 1% coverage difference cost you twice as much” was pretty darn strong. It really should have made for a great ad.
Unfortunately, here’s what Sprint’s ad agency came up with:
So what went wrong?
1) The idea of “Dad faking his own death” was in poor taste, and probably didn’t feel very good for anyone that has recently lost a father or male family member. Especially if it was to suicide.
No, that doesn’t make much logical sense, but emotions don’t have to make sense; they just are.
And if you stir up those kind of emotions with the premise of your ad, you can expect the viewer to associate those bad feelings with your brand.
That’s one reason the ad felt in bad taste, which took away from the clarity of the message & offer.
2) Using Verizon’s ex-spokesperson felt cheap and underhanded. And that feeling of cheap betrayal also infected the ad. If your ad stirs up a rather primal sense of betrayal, you can expect those emotions to attach themselves to your brand.
Magical Thinking and Contagion
Most people might consciously deny believing in cooties or essences, but regardless of their stated beliefs, their actions show that they really do believe in that stuff. It’s why signed sports memorabilia fetches the kind of prices it does — and why someone allegedly stole Tom Brady’s game jersey (which experts estimate to be worth $500,000 to collectors).
Subconscious belief in contagion and essences is also why no one wants to live in a murderers old home.
Scientific tests have even shown that cookies bought in a clear plastic container are felt to be unappetizing if that plastic container is then placed on top of something like a bag of kitty litter — the grossness of the litter “infects” the cookies.
Well, this stuff works in advertising too. You don’t want negative, poisonous emotions rubbing off on and attaching themselves to your brand.
The “faking your own death to get out of a Verizon contract” may have seemed clever in a creative spit-balling session, but that’s not how advertising really works. That clever concept didn’t make the message stickier, it just made it stink.