“[You] can’t sell happiness unless UNHAPPINESS is the default option.”
And to do that, I’d like to combine that with a quote from the opening paragraph of Breakthrough Advertising, written by the legendary Eugene Schwartz:
“Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears, and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people and focus those already existing desires onto a particular product. This is the copywriters task: not to create this mass desire – but to channel and direct it.” [Emphasis in original]
When Roy tells us that you can’t sell happiness unless unhappiness is the default option, he is essentially telling us that the desire for your solution has to already exist. You have to be answering a question that people are already asking.
No matter how much people may desperately need your product (according to you, at least), if they don’t FEEL as if they need what you sell and they don’t generally WANT what you sell, then you’ve got a product that advertising won’t help you sell.
Why Desire Trumps Need
My favorite illustration of this comes from this Calvin and Hobbes strip wherein Calvin attempts to sell a “swift kick in the butt” for $1 and can’t figure out why business is so slow when everybody he knows needs what he’s selling.
So if desire trumps need, the question becomes: how can you desire what you already have? Answer: you can’t. You can’t possibly feel the want of something – can’t feel “in need of it” – if you already have it. If you’re selling “health” the person has to feel as if they don’t currently HAVE health. They have to have a health problem.
So where does this put preventatives like vitamins and exercise and such? Easy: these things are sold either as:
- The cure to a health problem – People start taking vitamins and supplements and exercise because they feel as if they’re fat or can’t keep up with their kids or have high cholesterol or joint pain, and so on.
- A way to regain something that’s already been lost, i.e., Youth — Most supplements and exercise programs are sold as anti-aging or youth-restoration solutions to people who feel that they are rapidly losing their youth.
- A way to gain an edge over the competition – selling performance rather than health.
This is why Roy also specifically addresses selling health in this quote (also taken from Friday’s post):
“PROBLEM: Selling health is a bad idea. Most people already have health. If they keep their health, they’re not going to give you any credit for that. Health isn’t measurable unless you’re currently sick and this regimen cures you. As I said before, weight loss and body shape are measurable. Does this program accomplish those things?”
What to do when unhappiness isn’t the default option
So if unhappiness isn’t already recognized as the default option, the copywriter/advertiser has to do one of two things:
- Find at least one aspect of the product or service that customers are NOT happy with and use your copy to agitate that problem, or
- Connect a problem or unhappiness they currently have to the product or service they are currently using.
Infomercials are infamous for this. A chef’s knife is a perfectly adequate solution to the challenge of dicing up fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc. But in unskilled hands, it’s not nearly as fast as a Slap Chop. So the Slap Chop infomercial has to make that into a BIG DEAL by:
- Comically exaggerating the difficulty and time requirements of chopping with a knife.
- Tying the customer’s current lack of healthy, delicious, and interesting foods and snacks in their diet to the inability to quickly chop foods.
Watch the video and you’ll see exactly what I mean when you hear phrases like: “You know you hate making salads, that’s why you don’t have any salad in your diet” and “Stop having boring tuna; stop having a boring life.” No slap chop = unhappiness as the default option my friend