on-a-mission-from-godEven a vicious crim­i­nal wants his gun man­u­fac­tured by a vir­tu­ous man.

He most cer­tainly doesn’t want the gun to have been made with cut cor­ners, with an unscrupu­lous eye towards max­i­miz­ing profit mar­gins, and a socio­pathic incon­sid­er­a­tion for the end-user.

And so it is with every­one: no mat­ter how much we may fail to attain virtue our­selves – no mat­ter how much we behave as fool­ish chil­dren — we still want the things we buy and the peo­ple who pro­vide our ser­vices to be virtuous.

For adver­tis­ing and copy­writ­ing, this means that demon­strat­ing or dra­ma­tiz­ing virtue on the part of the prod­uct, man­u­fac­turer, or ser­vice provider is often enough to move the nee­dle.

This is espe­cially true in cases where prov­ing supe­ri­or­ity in per­for­mance is dif­fi­cult or legally pro­hib­ited or impos­si­ble. In prac­ti­cal terms, demon­strat­ing virtue means using your copy to indi­rectly show how the actions of  your client are dri­ven by some­thing deeper than eco­nom­ics.

Here’s an exam­ple demon­strat­ing this tech­nique of implied virtue:


In a pre­vi­ous post, I focused on the story’s abil­ity to flat­ter prospec­tive cus­tomers, but I ignored how the story implies that Mr. Beck­ley works on Mer­cedes because he has an affin­ity with the val­ues that the car stands for – that he cares about how all that added engi­neer­ing and build qual­ity ulti­mately pro­tect the driver.

In other words, Beckley’s  deci­sion to focus on Mer­cedes and Volvos is a prin­ci­pled, vir­tu­ous choice, mak­ing him, by trans­fer­ence, a prin­ci­pled, vir­tu­ous mechanic (as opposed to a mechanic choos­ing to con­cen­trate on a more lucra­tive or less com­pet­i­tive for­eign auto market).

So Mr. Beck­ley not only becomes a mechanic you can trust, but one with whom you share a com­mon brand affin­ity for Mer­cedes auto­mo­biles. Brilliant.

Tak­ing WIIFY to the Next Level

Currencies_That_Buy-_CredibilityI touched on this emo­tional dynamic a bit ear­lier with my post on What’s In It For You (and on One Tough Mother’s Mag­i­cal Adver­tis­ing Secret),  But now I’d like to tie that idea to the work of my col­league Tom Wanek.

Tom’s frame­work of sig­nal­ing the­ory, as described in his book Cur­ren­cies that Buy Cred­i­bil­ity, really func­tions as the miss­ing link between cred­i­bil­ity and WIIFY. Here’s how:

1. To show virtue, you have to show an unrea­son­able devo­tion to excel­lence or end-user sat­is­fac­tion. You have to demon­strate extra-painstaking mea­sures that go beyond the merely eco­nomic. And ide­ally, you want to do this with some­thing other than an explicit claim.

2. Signal­ing The­ory says that non-adaptive/non-economical expen­di­ture of resources can be used to “prove” or sig­nal mat­ing fit­ness. The male peacock’s weighty tail feath­ers show off his vigor; they demon­strate his abil­ity to sur­vive despite the hand­i­cap, kind of like beat­ing some­one up “with one arm behind your back.”

3. In busi­ness, an appar­ently non-selfish invest­ment of money, resources, time, etc. can sig­nal the sin­cer­ity or virtue of your busi­ness offer. This is the crux of Wanek’s bril­liant appli­ca­tion of Sig­nal­ing The­ory to mar­ket­ing. A money-back guar­an­tee (sup­pos­edly) shows that you’re will­ing to take on all of the buy­ing risk, osten­si­bly due to con­fi­dence in your prod­uct. Richard Davis’s will­ing­ness to shoot him­self while wear­ing Sec­ond Chance Body Armor rather dra­mat­i­cally demon­strates how risk­ing Safety and Well­be­ing sig­nals belief and trusts in a product:

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4. Ads can demon­strate virtue by lever­ag­ing one of Wanek’s 6 Cur­ren­cies that Buy Cred­i­bil­ity, namely:

  • Mate­r­ial Wealth
  • Time and Energy
  • Oppor­tu­nity
  • Power and Control
  • Rep­u­ta­tion and Prestige
  • Safety and Wellbeing

In the Beck­ley Auto­mo­tive exam­ple, Mr. Beck­ley is sac­ri­fic­ing oppor­tu­nity (the oppor­tu­nity to work on any mark and make of vehi­cle) in order to sig­nal his shared affin­ity for Mercedes.

My point is sim­ply that lay­er­ing virtue with Sig­nal­ing cre­ates a stronger over­all effect than either strat­egy alone. And that this kind of implied demon­stra­tion of virtue is what most peo­ple are really after in most of the prod­ucts and ser­vices they buy — that it rep­re­sents what Ogilvy referred to as “a first class ticket” and “the pos­i­tively good.

So what are you doing with your adver­tis­ing? Are you using either or both of these tech­niques to max­i­mum effect?

P.S. As pre­vi­ously noted, the Beck­ley Auto­mo­tive exam­ple was used with the kind per­mis­sion of the bril­liant Chuck McKay, a mar­ket­ing and busi­ness strate­gist with much to offer any busi­ness seri­ous about pur­su­ing increased mar­ket share and profitability.

P.P.S.  Tom will be teach­ing at Wiz­ard Acad­emy on the 26th of this month for those inter­ested in an in-depth study of mar­ket­ing through sig­nal­ing theory


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