trust2If peo­ple are sus­pi­cious of facts and fig­ures, and they won’t believe unsub­stan­ti­ated claims, what the hell can a copy­writer fall back on?

You can fall back on demon­stra­tion.  This ones a favorite of infomer­cials and it was the one qual­ity that the late Billy Mays insisted on when select­ing prod­ucts to pitch.

Or you can use a Real­ity Hook, where you tap into the unde­ni­able truths already res­i­dent within the minds of your audi­ence.  Here’s a pitch per­fect exam­ple of that as recently cov­ered by Influ­en­tial Mar­ket­ing Blog:

Remem­ber the days of get­ting eight hours of sleep? Nei­ther do we. Most of us these days are get­ting a scant six hours of sleep. The equal­izer? The all-new Sealy Pos­ture­pedic.® Designed to elim­i­nate the pres­sure points that cause toss­ing and turning.

How did we achieve such a mirac­u­lous feat? Well, the short ver­sion (there’s a more tech­ni­cal ver­sion below) is that it used to be, we either had push-back sup­port or pres­sure relief. Never both. So, with some very smart guys called the Ortho­pe­dic Advi­sory Board, we made the push-back support/pressure relief dilemma his­tory. And voilà, the new Sealy Pos­ture­pedic was born. Mat­tresses that make the six hours of sleep we do get, a bet­ter six.

A cou­ple of points:

1) The real­ity hook should not be a “Mas­ter of the Obvi­ous” state­ment.  The hook, rather than being a cliche, should either uncover the fal­sity of a cliche, or be a fresh obser­va­tion of a com­mon, but mostly unvoiced, expe­ri­ence.  Don’t try to get all NLP on your read­ers by pac­ing them with brain-dead obser­va­tions in the hopes of “form­ing a chain of yeses.”  Respect the intel­li­gence of your read­ers, please.

2) The real­ity hook only gets your foot in the door. It get’s your audi­ence pre­dis­posed to see you as on the level and to con­tinue read­ing.  And while these are very good (and cru­cial) things, you still have to weave in other cred­i­bil­ity enhanc­ing tech­niques and gen­uine sub­stan­ti­a­tion.  In this case, Sealy builds increas­ing cred­i­bil­ity by admit­ting a for­mer down­side or lim­i­ta­tion: back sup­port and pres­sure relief are kind of mutu­ally exclu­sive.  Makes sense right?  And they do this while also let­ting the reader know that they’ve got the sci­ence and proof to back up their claims of hav­ing tran­scended that dilemma through engineering.

3) The real­ity hook is usu­ally an obser­va­tion about a prob­lem and annoy­ance, which means you bet­ter be able to talk about how you’ve over­come that annoy­ance in the life of the cus­tomer.  In other words, you tran­si­tion from the real­ity hook to the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) prin­ci­ple as fast as you can.  Again, Sealy does this by talk­ing about their mat­tresses’ abil­ity to make 6 hours feel like more sleep and to elim­i­nate pres­sure points while also pro­vid­ing back support.

And really, I think that last point goes beyond copy­writ­ing to strat­egy.  As my friend, Chuck McKay, will tell you, a sure-fire strat­egy for many small busi­nesses is to  find what pisses peo­ple off about your indus­try or mar­ket and then offer a prod­uct or ser­vice free of that annoy­ance.  One-hour Heat­ing and Air Con­di­tion­ing is a per­fect exam­ple of that, and you can lis­ten to there very first radio ad (and real­ity hook) by click­ing the link below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Down­load the lat­est ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


  1. Kim Dudra on 12.15.2009

    A thought-stimulating and cere­bral post. Do you have more exam­ples or links?

    I think the only weak­ness in the Sealy copy is mak­ing the con­nec­tion between an 8-hour sleep and a qual­ity 6-hour sleep. “The equal­izer?” is a good bridge but might take some men­tal gym­nas­tics on the part of the reader. Per­haps the last sen­tence in the sec­ond para­graph could have been used a lit­tle ear­lier in the copy.

    p.s. Is NLP neuro-linguistic programming?

  2. Jeff on 12.15.2009


    I might be able to scare up a few more exam­ples, I seem to remem­ber my Wiz­ard of Ads col­league, Tim Miles, using a few wickedly good real­ity hooks in some of his ads.

    Also, I agree with you on the implied equal­izer part. Could have and should have been a bit more explicit. And, yes, NLP is Neuro-Linguistic Pro­gram­ming. NLP has some great insights, but there’s more than a lit­tle snake-oil added to that mix­ture as well — espe­cially when it comes to NLP-derived sales techniques!

    - Jeff

  3. Tim Miles on 12.15.2009

    Really? Had I been drink­ing? Watch those accu­sa­tions, pal.

    In … wait for it … real­ity, I’ve always enjoyed try­ing to find those lit­tle Sein­fel­dian nothing-moments that spark a con­nec­tion with another per­son. I’m trav­el­ing and men­tally dis­placed. Please let me think about this when I get home tomor­row, and I’ll share a few. One of my favorites (he said humbly) started:

    When he left the house tonight, your world changed forever.”

    Was about a mom’s son leav­ing on his first date … took you on a “hey, I’ve been there” ride that bridge to my client’s benefit.

    Any­way, thanks for the kind nod to my work … how­ever delu­sional it may be!

  4. Jeff on 12.16.2009


    The two exam­ples I was think­ing of involve the following:

    Your ad for the pres­sure wash­ing com­pany. I think the begin­ning of that ad either uses a real­ity hook or is close enough to call it that.

    And then you had some ad that opened with the line “Well, accord­ing to Oprah,” and did it in a semi-snarky way, as if that line would never, ever, ever cross the lips of any self-respecting guy.

    It’s been too long for me to recall the full ads, but, as their author, you might be able to remem­ber them ;)

    - Jeff

  5. Jeff on 12.17.2009


    Tim was kind enough to dig up the ad (and asso­ci­ated blog post) that I was referred to in my last com­ment. Here’s the link:

    When you lis­ten to the ad, you’ll see how Tim quickly anchors the lis­tener into the real­ity of most do-it-yourselfer’s, and then hooks them into the rea­sons why they DON’T want to DIY power wash­ing chores. It’s a great ad and a solid exam­ple of using Real­ity Hooks.

    - Jeff

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