2011-02-21_1143Interactive ads often strike me as a next-generation “funny ad” — with the “interactivity” feeling just as gratuitous as the humor in most funny ads.

And as any copywriter worth his pay can tell you, gratuitous humor hurts ad performance.

So as clever as many interactive ads are, the ad professional in me usually walks away from them with that same impression: did this really help convey the message, or did it just showcase the “talents” of the ad agency?

But that wasn’t the case with Spent from the Urban Ministries of Durham (created by McKinney).

Spent lacks all of the “hey look at me, I’m digital and cool” variety of interactivity, as it’s a text-based game.  But Spent’s text-based interactivity forces the player to make the same soul-crushing and dilemma-filled choices pushed onto America’s working poor.

As Ad Freak writes, “It’s a jarring experience, and several of the choices will stick with you long after you’ve played.”  Now that’s interactivity that works!

Interactive Insight From the Heath Bros

And Spent reminded me of this example of persuasive interactivity highlighted in Chapter 5 of Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch:

  • Children completing chemotherapy are sent home to complete their treatment by taking a regimen of antibiotics and low-dosage chemotherapy pills.
  • But compliance is critical to success.  Missing 20% of your meds means a 200% higher chance of getting cancer again.
  • To increase compliance HopeLab developed a video game that let kids play the part of a silver nano-bot that kills cancer cells with chemo rays.
  • The game has 20 levels and is supposed to teach kids about their Chemo regimen and recovery through between-game lessons
  • The game is a smashing success, boosting compliance by 20% and doubling kids chances for cancer-free success.
  • BUT, most of the kids only completed 2 levels of game play, meaning they got little info and mostly game-play

The findings seemed counter-intuitive, until HopeLab’s research director asked a marketing professor at Stanford to explain:

“Think about this from a Marketing perspective. We can change behavior in a short television ad. We don’t do it with information. We do it with identity, ‘If I buy a BMW, I’m going to be this kind of person. If I take that kind of vacation, I’m this kind of eco-friendly person.'”

In other words, the game got the kids to identify with the chemo as their weapon for getting their life and health back, rather than as a reminder of their sickness. It dramatically changed how they felt about taking chemo through direct involvement — an involvement made possible through interactivity.

Got it? Interactivity should foster imaginary and emotional connection to the persuasive message. If it’s not doing that, it’s probably a waste of resources.

How This Applies to Regular Advertising

What you’re probably thinking is: That’s great, Jeff, if you’ve got the ad budget to create interactive ads in the first place.

My first response: the costs of interactive advertising have dropped tremendously over the last few years. Plus the more you rely on message-based involvement and the less you require wizz-bang graphics, the cheaper it’s likely to be.  In other words, don’t dismiss it; research it, and even if it is still too expensive, be willing to check back in a year’s time.

My second response: If text alone can be interactive, no other medium has an excuse not to be.

Does that second response surprise you?

Here’s an example of interactive text (not hyperlinks) from Roy Williams’ Monday Morning Memo, Revealing the Vivid Unexpected:

“The thing about growing up is that you get fewer scabs on your knees, but more internal injuries. Do you remember the day when that little yellowhammer flew straight at the window? You picked it up. It had a drop of blood on its beak. Identical color to ours. Just one drop, like a bright bead. And then there were all those brightly plumed kids who left school, flying cheerfully and didn’t get far. Ran smack into World War II. Little Tommy Naylor lying in Africa somewhere, blood on his beak. Identical color to ours.”
– monologue of Peter Sallis as Norman Clegg, Last of the Summer Wine; Getting Sam Home, (1983) written by Roy Clarke

We’re not told the yellowhammer collided with the window. Neither do we read the words “dead” or “death.” Yet we know the little bird hit the window and died because of the line, “You picked it up.”

We come to this conclusion on our own. This technique of “revelation by inference” pulls us into the narrative by making us fill in its blanks…

…Read the passage again and witness the brilliant restraint. Roy Clarke flashes just a few slides onto the movie screen of our mind and we fill the gaps between them. We conclude:

(1.) A yellowhammer is a bird.
(2.) It hit the window and died.
(3.) Tommy Naylor was a schoolmate.
(4.) Tommy grew up and went to war.
(5.) Tommy died in Africa in WWII

But none of this is told to us directly. Yet we know it just as surely as if it had been.

Tony Schwartz and Evoking a Response with Old-School Media

As you can see, forcing your audience to “fill in the gaps” is a form of interactivity that’s available to all media, whether it’s billboard, radio, or TV.   As Media Guru Tony Schwartz writes:

“For an advertiser, the issue of concern should center on how the stimuli in a commercial interact with a viewer’s real-life experiences and thus affect his behavior in a purchasing situation.” [Emphasis added]

Now, Tony is most famous for his Daisy commerical, an interactive piece of advertising if ever there was one. Take a look:

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Goldwater’s campaign complained bitterly about the ad, claiming it was an attack ad and that it misrepresented Goldwater’s remarks and policies with regard to nuclear weapons, but oddly enough, the ad never mentions Goldwater or his policies. That was filled in by the listeners as they interacted with the images and sounds.  They filled in the gaps.

And for those asking the question, yes, the technique works just as well for product commercials rather than political ads. Here’s a commercial where Tony Schwartz used his techniques to pitch Coca-Cola without ever mentioning the product’s name:

Schwartz Coke Commercial

So the real question isn’t are you using digital advertising, but are you creating interactive advertising, regardless of your media?

If not, maybe you need a better ad writer.  Or maybe you need a better trained copywriter.

P.S. As the Web holds all media, the importance of meaningful, non-redundant interaction between graphics and copy and video and cross-channel communication is becoming more and more important.  Start thinking about it, if you haven’t already.

2011-02-17_2234How cool are the guys at Crutchfield?

This afternoon I got a call from Crutchfield and they not only thanked me for yesterday’s post & contest, but offered the winner a $75 gift certificate in addition to whatever prize Bryan, Jeffrey are going to award.  Love it.  Of course, in entering the contest and posting your suggestions/mock-ups to a public forum, you’re allowing Crutchfield to use those same recommendations, just so we’re 100% clear.

But that leaves a few lingering questions:

1) What are WE going to give the winner?

Well, it’s going to be a small stack of autographed books and a small extra award (just a bit of lagniappe to sweeten the winnings). Right now the books will be signed versions of Call to Action, Always Be Testing, Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads, and Marketing Outrageously.

2) How long do you have to submit your suggestions / mock-ups?

We are accepting entries until the Friday after next, on the 4th of March, and Bryan and Jeffrey will be announcing the winners that following Monday.

If you haven’t already done so, go look at the already-submitted recommendations and mock-ups. Some solid stuff has come in already. Plus, it’s good to size up the competition 😉

Best of luck to everyone and thanks again to Crutchfield.

2011-02-16_1233“As a person with autism, it is easy for me to understand how animals think because my thinking processes are like an animal’s” – Temple Grandin

Because Temple Grandin is spooked by the same things animals are spooked by, she’s ideally suited for optimizing environments and handling systems for them. For her, great design is all about eliminating anything that will cause anxiety or doubt in the minds of the animals.

I often think of Web Optimization in the same terms.  As a semi-luddite working in the technology field, I find myself spooked by the same things normal customers are spooked by. Things that are intuitive to tech nerds and coders are distinctively NOT intuitive to me.  And this makes me really, really good at optimizing Websites for normal folk.

So with apologies to Krug, my central tenant is “Don’t Make Me Doubt!”

  • Eliminate my doubts by letting me know what each action, click, form, button will do before I’m asked to take that action.
  • Don’t just answer my explicit questions, ensure you also address my unarticulated concerns.
  • If you want me to click it, make it look clickable. Let me know what the button will do.  Make it explicit and unambiguous.
  • And yes, words matter when it comes to usability – not just the freakin’ button color!

In other words, design your Website so that there’s never any room for doubt.

Crutchfield Goons It up – Here’s Why…

And that brings me to a recent shopping experience with Crutchfield.  Now, Crutchfield does a lot of things right, including some rather rigorous optimization and split testing. But I really think they got at least part of this check-out process wrong. Here’s what happened…

I clicked the buy/add to cart button for a new LCD TV, and was shown this screen:


Now, first of all, great job on trying to sell me on accessories I might need for my new TV. Nice cross-sell.  But, um, lousy job on execution and design — you’re spooking your customers, Crutchfield!  Here’s why:

1) The green box around the TV and the button makes that part of the screen look like a banner add, which almost made me scroll right past the darn thing because I’ve been trained to ignore banner ads.

2) When I do scroll down, I’m presented with a bunch of wall mounts and a button that says: “add selected items to cart,” but I don’t see my TV as part of the add items, and I wonder whether or not the TV has been added to cart.

3) I scroll back up and read a statement that the TV Has been added to cart, but I’m then presented with the option to “Skip This Step” — but I don’t want to skip adding the TV to my cart.  Grrr!

4) After a moment’s thought and a glance up at my cart icon I realize that the button and the statement are NOT associated with one another, even though they are grouped together by that darn green box, causing me to assume that they were somehow connected. Once I realize that, it becomes clear that the “step” I’m being offered to skip is the cross-sell opportunity and not the already accomplished step of adding my TV to my cart.

Think of this as a combined design/copywriting screw-up, where the design miscommunicated the association between the message and the button, and the copy on the button helped foster that miscommunication by communicating a salesman’s point of view rather than a buyer’s point of view.  See in the minds of salesmen, cross selling is a “step” in the sales process, but in the minds of buyers, there is no logical connection between buying something and being cross-sold. It may be a reminder or opportunity, but it’s not a “step.”

5) What exactly is the difference between a wall mount and a low profile wall mount? You’d think it refers to how close to the wall the TV mounts.  But then what does “super slim” mean?  Wouldn’t a super slim wall mount BE low profile?  Why don’t they have pictures?  Well, I guess I could click on the item, but… don’t want to be taken away from this page, especially if I’m not totally sure the TV has been added to my cart and will follow me.

As it turns out, clicking on the link doesn’t take me away from the page – it just pops up a picture of the product, but really, I had no freakin’ way of knowing that, so I neither clicked the link, nor did I bother selecting a wall mount.  Nor in fact, did I end up buying anything.

How Would YOU Fix It?

Ok, so now that I’ve given you all the ways that my semi-luddite mind was spooked by this ungainly design/copywriting combination, it’s YOUR turn to tell me how you’d fix it:

  • What changes would you test first?
  • What’s perhaps the ideal fix, and what represents the most easily implemented fix that’ll still get the job done?
  • How much will you rely on design and how much on copy?
  • Descriptions are great, but hyperlinks to mock-ups are even better.  Use yFrog or something.

2011-02-16_1226I’ll have Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg judge the designs and we’ll pronounce a winner with some cool, to-be-determined award.

Give it your best shot in the comments!

P.S. Yes, dear reader, design and copy have to work together for best results.  Each influences the other.  In fact, Jeffrey Eisenberg and I will be teaching a newly revised version of Persuasive Online Copywriting in order to address exactly these challenges – how design and copy work together; how video and copy work together; how Social Media and content marketing and micro-copy work together.  It’s a hands on workshop and it’s in Austin on April 30th and 31st.  You should come!

2011-02-10_0019Did it (or would it) work is always the wrong question to ask around advertising.

And that holds double for Super Bowl Ads.  So while I hardly relish the annual jawboning of the chattering classes in their predictable disdain for Go Daddy’s commercials, and equally predictable love for things like VW’s commercials, there are things to learn from those discussions.

Specifically, whenever you’re in the middle of such a yammer session, it’s always worth asking:

  • How do people frame the debate?
  • How do they (fail to) define their terms?
  • What assumptions go unexamined?
  • Which bias holds strongest amongst the public?

What you’ll typically find is that most everyone jumps right into asking, “did it work?” But almost no one stops to ask whether “did it work” is the right question to focus on.  Honestly, anything can be made to “work” given ever increasing resources and ever diminishing definitions of “work.”

The right question is: did (or does) this ad represent the wisest and best use of the company’s resources?

Or hell, I’d even settle for a wise use of company resources.  But still, that question changes the discussion rather profoundly doesn’t it?

Let’s take the Chrysler ad as an example: did that ad work?  Well, if you mean did its emotional message touch the hearts of most viewers, then yeah, it “worked.” Mostly because people wanted to believe it. But in the larger sense of “did it represent a wise use of Chrysler’s resources,” I think most people would be hard pressed to say that two minute spot was a wise investment.

Why? Because, as my colleague Tim Miles said, “I love the concept. I love the copy. I love everything about it. It made me want to check out the car. I just wish the Chrysler Eminem Detroit Love Story had been for Ford.”

And what I believe he meant by that was, “As much as I want to believe that message about Chrysler, I can’t and I don’t. But I would (and I do) believe it about Ford.” Which brings to mind a few questions:

  • Why wasn’t Ford advertising in the Super Bowl?
  • What makes Ford a more credible protagonist for the comeback kid story Chrysler was trying to weave?


1) Ford’s main advertising goal has been to spotlight and reinforce the growing REALITY that its cars and trucks are superior to (or at least equal to) the best that Toyota and Honda have to offer. Better build quality, resale value, feature sets, style, etc.  They aren’t spending money on a Super Bowl Ad because they’re too busy trumpeting the fact that this or that car has a higher projected resale value than a competing Toyota model. Or showing how this or that prospective customer likes the Ford model better than the Honda model. It’s pretty much the Pepsi challenge with cars: you take a prospective Toyota customer, have them drive around in a Ford, and “Oh my gosh, I actually like the Ford better!”

2) Both Ford’s better reality and more consistent advertising of that reality prior to the Super Bowl made us all more willing to believe a Ford-based comeback story.  And yeah, the fact that Ford didn’t take any bailout money also helps, but I’d bet that if Cadillac had made that Chrysler ad, we’d all have had a much different reaction. Cadillac’s been pumping out world class vehicles for awhile now, and they also have a very consistent advertising message.

So did the Chrysler Super Bowl Ad represent the best and wisest use of their ad budget? Remains to be seen, and I don’t really have enough info to answer that, quite frankly. I can say that it’s not only possible but likely that tons of people will give the Chrysler 200 a look who never would have without the big splash that ad made. And it’s also possible, though far less probable, that just maybe that car is good enough to convert those “looks” into sales. With that last part the make or break factor.

But this post isn’t really about Chrysler and its ad; it’s about you and your advertising. The same questions I’ve been applying to Chrysler are even more important for your marketing.  So let me ask you:

  • Are you going to ask “would it work?” Or are you going to do the hard work to determine, “does this represent the highest and best uses of my resources?”
  • Are you going to attempt to entrance people with a false narrative that’s directly countermanded by what people see with their own two eyes?  Or are you going to tell your own authentic story, complete with strong proof elements, easily seen and confirmed by your target audience?
  • Are you going to spend an outsized portion of your budget on a stunt? Or are you going to put your faith in a consistently repeated and reinforced message that’s relevant to your prospects buying motivations?

P.S. It was also interesting to see how this old school ad medium was driving the oh-so-new-school Social Media “conversation.”  Don’t tell me offline advertising is dead…

P.P.S. On the other side of the coin, is it just a coincidence that Ford has opted to invest their marketing resources in launching a massive Social Media campaign around the launch of their new Ford Explorer?  Me thinks not.

P.P.P.S. Bitch about Go Daddy ads all you want, but those ads not only have proven, dramatic ROI, they’ve also made Go Daddy THE household name for domain registration — even amongst the Church groups who have petitioned against their advertising practices.

2011-02-04_0011The thing about most product tours is they suck.

Product Tours are often difficult to understand, or often just plain dry, mostly because they’re feature-centric rather than user-centric.

But “user-centric” doesn’t really help you design a better product tour. What we mean by that is closer to “use-centric” which is another way of saying scenario-based (aka story-based).  And scenario-based does help you design better product tours, because you can wrap the tour around a representative scenario rather than a random feature-by-feature basis.

Using this kind of narrative framework does two things:

  1. It translates dry product features into user benefits – increasing both clarity and relevance
  2. It ensures Web visitors click all the way through to the end of the scenario/tour – people want to finish the narrative arc

And as you may have guessed, scenario-izing information and data has applications beyond product tours.  Check out this cool Chris Weller video for an example of statistical information delivered and made relevant through a narrative framework:

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While product tours are no-brainers for software and software as a service Websites, scenario-based “tours” should be even more common on product and straight service sites as well. Translating features into benefits works for a lot more than just software, after all.  Apple offers extraordinary examples of scenario-based tours of products, both on their site and in many of their ads:

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Scenario-izing data is a technique Chris Weller uses quite frequently – and to great effect – in his animated videos; videos that enlighten and entertain at the same time they show-off his consumate skills:

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So what about you?  What bit of product or service explanation could you make scenario-based?

P.S. If you like the music from that first video, you can download it and a bunch of other cool Valentine-themed songs from Amazon for FREE!

P.P.S. I’m hardly alone in my preference for scenario-based learning, as it is the main theme of one of the foremost experts in learning theory, cognitive science, and e-Learning also advocates for story-based teaching.