“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:
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.
- When you are forced to work against a conditioned irrationality, never rely on logic or syntax to make your point. Ditch any messaging that starts with something like “No one likes to think about the homeless…” In those situations people often forget the syntax, nuance, and context – they only recall (and pay attention to) the images.
- 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
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 😉