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:

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  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