Some Sec­ond Thoughts on Luntz’s 11 Words for 2011
So I recently came across Frank Luntz’s 11 Words for 2011 on Huff­in­g­ton Post.  Not a bad read, really, but it struck me how bad some of those choices were for advertisers.
Maybe they’re ok for politi­cians (who mainly employ Luntz and for whom this post was likely writ­ten), but at least some of them are poi­son for adver­tis­ers.  So I thought I’d give you a phrase-by-phrase run down of all 11 of ‘em:
“Imag­ine” – Totally un-necessary at best, and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive at worst.  You engage an audience’s imag­i­na­tion by putting them on the scene of ongo­ing dra­matic action. Just start nar­rat­ing your story in as visualize-able a man­ner as pos­si­ble, and your lis­ten­ers will auto­mat­i­cally imag­ine the scene.
“You are stand­ing in the snow, five and one-half miles above sea level, gaz­ing at a hori­zon hun­dreds of miles away.  Life here is very sim­ple. You live, or you die. No com­pro­mises, no whin­ing, no sec­ond chances. This is a place con­stantly rav­aged by wind and storm, where every ragged breath is an accom­plish­ment. You stand on the upper­most pin­na­cle of the earth. This is the moun­tain they call Ever­est. Yes­ter­day it was con­sid­ered unbeat­able. But that was yesterday.”
That’s the begin­ning of one of Roy Williams’ most famous radio ads for Rolex. Notice how he didn’t bother ask­ing you to imag­ine. He had no need. And nei­ther do you.
“No excuses” + “I get it” +  “Uncom­pro­mis­ing integrity” – File all of these under, “han­dle with care” and under “bet­ter to demon­strate than claim” cat­e­gories.  As my part­ner Tim Miles likes to say, “Don’t tell her you’re polite; open her door.”  So don’t tell me you “get it” – say some­thing that only some­one who gets it would know to say.
Like­wise, don’t tell me you have uncom­pro­mis­ing integrity – show me!  This is very much like claim­ing extra­or­di­nary cus­tomer ser­vice.  Claim it and I think you’re lying.  Tell me a Nordstrom-style story of great cus­tomer ser­vice, and I’ll believe it.
“If you remem­ber only one thing…” This is one of the bet­ter phrases Luntz sug­gests, but I’d warn that if you have to instruct your audi­ence what that one thing is, it’s prob­a­bly a sign that you’re tyring to say too much; go back and sharpen your message.
There’s an apoc­ryphal story about copy­writer meet­ing with a board of direc­tors who wanted him to com­mu­ni­cate 12 points in a sales let­ter he was about to write.  The copy­writer, who knew the pur­pose of the meet­ing ahead of time, walked into the meet­ing car­ry­ing a hockey bag rather than a brief­case, and when dis­cus­sion of the 12 points came up, he sim­ply pulled a fry­ing pan and a board full of nails out of the pan.  The board was a sort of minia­ture bed of nails, and he laid it down onto the con­fer­ence room table.  He then slammed the bot­tom of the fry­ing pan down onto that board as hard as he could.  Then he lifted the merely dim­pled pan up to show his stunned audi­ence.  Fol­low­ing that he pulled out another board with a sin­gle spike of a nail ham­mered through it.  He put that board down on the table, slammed the pan onto it, and the spike punc­tured right through the pan.  He then looked at the exec­u­tives and said: “Tell me again how many points you want me to communicate”
And of course, there’s the “It’s the econ­omy, stu­pid” les­son of “If you say three things you’ve said nothing.”
So, yes, great to sim­plify to “only one thing,” but when it comes to ads, you need to do that before you write them, so that the one thing is shock­ingly clear all the way through, with­out forc­ing you to explic­itly tell your audi­ence on what that one thing is.
“The sim­ple truth” – this one is good, although there is a sense that the sim­ple truth can usu­ally be told straight out, with­out the adver­tiser need­ing to declare it as such.
“Believe in bet­ter” – Sounds a bit slogan-y, and I’d be very ner­vous about promis­ing cus­tomers an unde­fined “bet­ter.”  Avis told us that they tried harder, but they also told us exactly what that extra effort deliv­ered, so we weren’t left with vague and quite pos­si­bly unre­al­is­tic expec­ta­tions.  So don’t use this one unless you’ve given your prospec­tive cus­tomers some specifics on what con­sti­tutes “better.”
“Real-time” + You Deserve – Good, if you can back it up.
“You decide.” – Good.
10) “Let’s get to work” – Not so good if you’re an adver­tiser. Peo­ple expect you or your prod­ucts to do the work, not them.  So unless you’re home depot, leave the “let’s get to work” for the politicians.

090505_luntz_ap_297So I recently came across Frank Luntz’s 11 Words for 2011 on Huff­in­g­ton Post, and it struck me how bad some of those choices were for advertisers.

Maybe those phrases are ok for politi­cians (Luntz’s pri­mary employ­ers and intended audi­ence for the post), but at least some of them are poi­son for adver­tis­ers, with many more falling into the “han­dle with care” vari­ety.  So I thought I’d give you a phrase-by-phrase run down of all 11 of ‘em:

Imag­ine

  • My Take: “Imag­ine” is totally un-necessary at best, and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive at worst.

You engage an audience’s imag­i­na­tion by putting them on the scene of ongo­ing dra­matic action, not by explic­itly ask­ing them to “imag­ine” some­thing, an act that merely telegraphs your intent and invites resis­tance.  Skip the “imag­ine” part and just start nar­rat­ing your story in as visualize-able a man­ner as pos­si­ble, and your lis­ten­ers will auto­mat­i­cally pic­ture (i.e., imag­ine) the scene in their minds.  For example:

You are stand­ing in the snow, five and one-half miles above sea level, gaz­ing at a hori­zon hun­dreds of miles away.  Life here is very sim­ple. You live, or you die. No com­pro­mises, no whin­ing, no sec­ond chances. This is a place con­stantly rav­aged by wind and storm, where every ragged breath is an accom­plish­ment. You stand on the upper­most pin­na­cle of the earth. This is the moun­tain they call Ever­est. Yes­ter­day it was con­sid­ered unbeat­able. But that was yesterday.”

That’s the begin­ning of one of Roy Williams’ well-known radio ads for Rolex. Notice how he didn’t bother ask­ing you to imag­ine; he had no need — and nei­ther do you.

No excuses + I get it + Uncom­pro­mis­ing integrity

  • My Take: File all of these under “han­dle with care” and “bet­ter to demon­strate than claim.”

As my part­ner Tim Miles likes to say, “Don’t tell her you’re polite; open her door.”  So don’t tell me you “get it.”  Instead, say some­thing that only some­one who gets it would know to say. Like­wise, don’t tell me you have uncom­pro­mis­ing integrity – show me!

Using these phrases is very much like claim­ing extra­or­di­nary cus­tomer ser­vice: claim it and I think you’re lying, but tell me a Nordstrom-style story of great cus­tomer ser­vice, and I’ll con­clude that you have “great cus­tomer ser­vice” all on my own.  How much more is that the case with “uncom­pro­mis­ing integrity”? In the land of adver­tis­ing these days, we’re all from Mis­souri: show us.

If you remem­ber only one thing…

  • My Take: This is one of the bet­ter phrases Luntz sug­gests, but I’d warn that if you have to instruct your audi­ence what to remem­ber, you’re prob­a­bly try­ing to say too much in the first place. Go back and sharpen your message.

There’s an apoc­ryphal story about copy­writer meet­ing with a board of direc­tors who wanted him to com­mu­ni­cate 12 points in a sales let­ter he had was asked to “pitch” for.  The copy­writer walked into the meet­ing car­ry­ing a hockey bag rather than a brief­case, and, to the aston­ish­ment of the exec­u­tives, began his “pitch” by pulling a fry­ing pan and a board full of nails out of the pan.  The board was a sort of minia­ture bed of nails, and he laid it down onto the con­fer­ence room table.  He slammed the bot­tom of the fry­ing pan down onto that board as hard as he could.  Then he lifted the merely dim­pled pan up to show his stunned audi­ence.  Fol­low­ing that he pulled out another board with a sin­gle spike of a nail ham­mered through it.  He put that board down on the table, slammed the pan onto it, and the spike punc­tured right through the pan.  He then looked at the exec­u­tives and said: “Tell me again how many points you want me to put in this letter.”

And of course, there’s James Carville’s “It’s the econ­omy, stu­pid” les­son of “If you say three things, you’ve said noth­ing.” So, yes, DO sim­plify to “only one thing,” but do your sim­pli­fy­ing before writ­ing the ads (or at least dur­ing edit­ing).  Don’t expect an added on phrase to make up for an unfo­cused message.

The sim­ple truth

  • My Take: Another good one, although there is a sense that the sim­ple truth, boldy stated, needs no labeling.

Keep in mind that just because something’s the truth doesn’t mean any­one will nec­es­sar­ily believe it — or even want to waste time con­sid­er­ing whether they should believe it. To per­suade with the truth, you have to cause peo­ple to real­ize the truth, rather than sim­ply telling it to them.  That makes this phrase OK for crys­tal­iz­ing a pre­vi­ously dra­ma­tized point, but not so good oth­er­wise.  So tell a great story that illus­trates your truth, and then slam ‘em with a “the sim­ple truth” statement.

Believe in better

  • My Take: Sounds a bit slogan-y, and I’d be very ner­vous about promis­ing cus­tomers an unde­fined “better.”

Avis told us that they tried harder, but they also told us exactly what that extra effort deliv­ered, so read­ers weren’t left with vague and quite pos­si­bly unre­al­is­tic expec­ta­tions.  Fol­low their lead and don’t use “believe in bet­ter” unless you’ve given, or are about to give, your prospec­tive cus­tomers specifics on what con­sti­tutes “better.”

Real-time + You Deserve

  • My Take: These are both good, if you can back ‘em up.

These are great so long as you can deliver on the back end.  And just as for “Believe in bet­ter,” deliv­er­ing on the back end also means shap­ing audi­ence expec­ta­tions with your mes­sag­ing.  This being espe­cially impor­tant for “real-time,” as the imme­di­acy of social media has given rise to some fairly unre­al­is­tic cus­tomer expec­ta­tions for busi­ness response times. If you promise real-time inter­ac­tion, you’d bet­ter have as amped up an under­stand­ing of it as your customers.

You decide

  • My Take: An unre­served A+ on this one.

Let’s get to work

  • My Take: Prob­a­bly not so good if you’re an advertiser.

Peo­ple expect you or your prod­ucts to do the work, not them. So unless you’re home depot, leave the “let’s get to work” for the politi­cians. And even if you’re sell­ing soft­ware or busi­ness tools, bet­ter to empha­size how what you’re sell­ing will help them kick a** than to talk about “work.”

So there you have it.  Those are my caveats around Luntz’s 11 Words for 2011. Of course, if anyone’s expe­ri­ence runs counter to, or in sync with, my rec­om­men­da­tions, feel free to let me know in the comments.

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