“Wit is a sword; it is meant to make people feel the point as well as see it.”

– G.K. Chesterton

Consider it a trained incapacity.

The more comfortable you are in big cities, the more you become habituated not to make eye contact with the homeless, the panhandlers, and the guys hawking newspapers on the street. Eventually, you pretty much just screen ’em out.

So if you’re the ad guy confronting this, how do you get past it?  More importantly, how do you talk about it without making your audience uncomfortable and eager to avoid your message in the future?

Check it out:

YouTube Preview Image

Lessons to Take With You

  • Your audience has as many mental blindspots as anyone else, so don’t ignore the conditioned irrationalities inherent in your or your client’s industry or market – probe for them!  Knowing them will help you write better copy and even formulate better value propositions to begin with.
  • Where possible, let your mental images be the argument, just as the ghostly transparency of the homeless guy WAS the persuasion – no caption needed.  If your message is only remembered through a simple story format, the vivid mental images will carry most of the meaning and emotion. Make sure you have vivid mental images and that they’re sufficient to carry the core of your message.

A great written example of this technique

You see him a block away. He sees you, too.
The night feels colder, darker. The streetlamps cast shadows you wouldn’t have noticed if you were walking with friends.
But you have no friends.
The stranger continues toward you, hands inside a long coat. He’s looking at you, reading you well, knows you’re scared.
You can almost see his chest expand with pride.
Seven feet away, you have only seconds to decide. You hear his breathing, watch his eyes bearing down on you. The sidewalk isn’t wide enough.
But they weren’t thinking of you when they built this sidewalk.
This sidewalk was built for him.
One foot away, you hold your breath, close your eyes.
Head down, you brush past him, embarrassed. He hops in a fine car, shaking his head and suggests you get a job.
You wish you could.
290,000 Canadians are frightened, homeless, and hungry.
The United Way can help. Will you help the United Way?

My partner and marketing mentor, Roy H. Williams, wrote this ad to illustrate an editing technique, but I think it works well as a text-based counterpart to the video you just saw:

“You see him a block away. He sees you, too.

The night feels colder, darker. The streetlamps cast shadows you wouldn’t have noticed if you were walking with friends.

But you have no friends.

The stranger continues toward you, hands inside a long coat. He’s looking at you, reading you well, knows you’re scared.

You can almost see his chest expand with pride.

Seven feet away, you have only seconds to decide. You hear his breathing, watch his eyes bearing down on you. The sidewalk isn’t wide enough.

But they weren’t thinking of you when they built this sidewalk.

This sidewalk was built for him.

One foot away, you hold your breath, close your eyes.

Head down, you brush past him, embarrassed. He hops in a fine car, shaking his head and suggests you get a job.

You wish you could.

290,000 Canadians are frightened, homeless, and hungry.

The United Way can help. Will you help the United Way?”

Did you see all those mental images flash before your imagination?  Did you notice how Roy forces you to look through the eyes of the homeless man – forces you to see the truth rather than just intellectually acknowledge it.  And do you see how the sequence of images IS the persuasion?  Good.  Now all you have to do is produce those effects in your own work 😉

P.S. Hat tip to Madvertising for covering and turning me onto the featured television ad.

Comments

  1. Shane Arthur on 12.16.2009

    That was a great video and the text example you have was equally bad-ass.

    I saw a homeless man’s sign that followed along this line of thinking.

    It read “I bet you a dollar you’ll read this sign.” People laugh at this sign and thus the feelings laughter emits transfer to the sign holder.

  2. Jeff on 12.16.2009

    That’s a great tactic/sign for a homeless guy. It reminds me a lot of this video which I blogged about back when I wrote for The Grok:

    http://www.grokdotcom.com/2008/09/25/the-difference-between-great-and-average-copy/

    http://www.grokdotcom.com/2008/10/06/cause-people-to-realize-the-truth-rather-than-just-tell-them/

    – Jeff

  3. Shane Arthur on 12.19.2009

    Damn good video, and damn good rewrite.

    I’m thinking about making a few cardboard signs with nice stencil letters and giving them to a few homeless people I drive by each day.
    .-= Shane Arthur´s last blog ..shanearthur: @CopywriterMaven very cool video on Social Media =-.

  4. Jeff on 12.20.2009

    Maybe these will give you more inspiration:

    http://www.holytaco.com/25-awsome-homeless-guy-signs

    😉

    – Jeff

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