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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