OK, having watched the video you know now that the “ad guy” changes the old man’s sign from:
“Have compassion, I am blind”
to
“Today is a beautiful day, and I can not see it.”
So let’s talk about the ad guy’s copy transformation.  In my mind he did 3 things perfectly:
1. He surprised readers with an unexpected reality hook
It was indeed a beautiful day, but it was also an unexpected observation to read on a panhandlers sign.  One normally expects a request or offer like, “Will work for food” or “Please help a disabled vet” or some such.  “Today is a beautiful” day is surprising, capturing the reader’s attention, causing him to wonder where this is heading.
2) He used his reality hook to create an advantageous emotional response.
Whether they wanted to or not, passers-by took at least half a second to confirm the truth of that statement – to mentally assent that, yes, today was indeed beautiful.  Think about how different that thought is from 99% of the pedestrian concerns most of us walk down the street with; how liberating – even for a half-second – to stop worrying about the next meeting or deadline and look up to see what a beautiful day it really is.
This is a crucial step, too, because, as discussed in the book Made to Stick, shifting people into an empathic or emotional state of mind is crucial to the success of charitable requests.  Psychological research shows that if you prime people to think analytically, they’ll give far less than if you primed them to think emotionally.  The “Today is a beautiful day” opening primed people to think emotionally.
3) He forced reader participation by requiring them to connect the dots.
Nowhere did the new sign actually say, “I’m blind.”   Readers had to draw that conclusion for themselves by reading “and I can’t see it” while connecting that with the context clues offered by the old man and his pan-handling.  This bit of reader engagement means that readers “see” the reality of the man’s blindness for themselves, without the typical internal push-back or cynicism generated when a marketing claim is shoved at a person.  This is an incredibly powerful writing technique explained by this Monday Morning Memo from Roy Williams.
Also note that the new sign avoided a hard sell by implying the request.  The ad man let the collection plate, combined with the reader’s realization of the man’s blindness, be the call to action.
Now, applying this to the web, I’d say there are 2 more, extremely important points to make:
4) Eliminating conversion flaws and increasing usability can only take you so far.
The ad guy didn’t try to make the collection plate bigger or more prominent.  Nor did he set up a card-swiping machine so people could donate via debit card.  Usability wasn’t the issue; persuasion was.  If your website optimization strategy only addresses usability flaws or general best-practice issues, you’re never going to achieve breakthrough performance for your website.  You have to address persuasive gaps as well.
5) It’s worth the money to pay a good copywriter what he’s worth.
The dramatic improvement in conversion caused by the new copy may have been fictional for the film, but it’s a recurrent reality on the web – at least for those companies who understand the value of persuasive copy.
Unfortunately, too many companies are willing to spend thousands to tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a website redesign while balking at paying decent money for a top-notch copywriter.  Don’t be one of those companies.
YouTube Preview Image

Don’t read any more until you’ve watched the video!

*****************

Hey, quit peeking down here; watch the video first 😉

*****************

OK, having watched the video you know now that the “ad guy” changes the old man’s sign from:

“Have compassion, I am blind”

to

“Today is a beautiful day, and I can not see it.”

So let’s talk about the ad guy’s copy transformation.  In my mind he did 3 things perfectly:

1. He surprised readers with an unexpected intro

It was indeed a beautiful day, but it was also an unexpected observation to read on a panhandlers sign.  One normally expects a request or offer like, “Will work for food” or “Please help a disabled vet” or some such.  “Today is a beautiful” day is surprising, capturing the reader’s attention.

2) He used a reality hook to create an advantageous emotional response.

2011-03-01_1007Whether they wanted to or not, passers-by took at least half a second to confirm the truth of that statement – to mentally assent that, yes, today was indeed beautiful.  Think about how different that thought is from 99% of the pedestrian concerns most of us walk down the street with; how liberating – even for a half-second – to stop worrying about the next meeting or deadline and look up to see what a beautiful day it really is.

This is a crucial step, too, because, as discussed in the book Made to Stick, shifting people into an empathic or emotional state of mind is crucial to the success of charitable requests.  Psychological research shows that if you prime people to think analytically, they’ll give far less than if you primed them to think emotionally.  The “Today is a beautiful day” opening primed people to think emotionally.

3) He forced reader participation by requiring them to connect the dots.

Nowhere did the new sign actually say, “I’m blind.”   Readers had to draw that conclusion for themselves by reading “and I can’t see it” while connecting that with the context clues offered by the old man and his pan-handling.  This bit of reader engagement means that readers “see” the reality of the man’s blindness for themselves, without the typical internal push-back or cynicism generated when a marketing claim is shoved at a person.  This fill-in-the-gaps interactivity is an incredibly powerful writing technique.

Also note that the new sign avoided a hard sell by implying the request.  The ad man let the collection plate, combined with the reader’s realization of the man’s blindness, act as the call to action.

Now, applying this to the web, I’d say there are 2 more, extremely important points to make:

4) Eliminating conversion flaws and increasing usability can only take you so far.

The ad guy didn’t try to make the collection plate bigger or more prominent.  Nor did he set up a card-swiping machine so people could donate via debit card.  Usability wasn’t the issue; persuasion was.  If your website optimization strategy only addresses usability flaws or general best-practice issues, you’re never going to achieve breakthrough performance for your website.  You have to address persuasive gaps as well.

5) It’s worth the money to pay a good copywriter what he’s worth

The dramatic improvement in conversion caused by the film’s ad guy may have been fictional, but it’s a recurrent reality on the web – at least for those companies who understand the value of persuasive copy.

Unfortunately, too many companies are willing to spend thousands to tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a website redesign while balking at paying decent money for a top-notch copywriter.  Don’t be one of those companies.

And if you’re advertising via mass media, such as radio, think about how foolish it is to pay thousands for air space only to fill it with mediocre, station-supplied copy for your ads. Do you really want to be that company?

Comments

  1. Grant Martin on 03.01.2011

    Great post, and five excellent points to ponder. Thanks for this, Jeff. (Consider also the value of a good proofreader/editor. For example, you probably wanted to say “quit peeking.”) :o)

  2. Jeff on 03.01.2011

    LOL – indeed I did. Please DO keep peaking. Just don’t peek.

    You’re right, of course, a good proof reader is worth it. I’ll look into that.

  3. Human Persuasion on 03.01.2011

    Awesome vid Jeff. And great analysis as usual.

    It made me think of this high-quality while low-cost health-care clinic I know (10 bucks for your 1st visit & $7 ea. additional, and a buck per shot I think).
    Needless to say since they operate without any tax-payer or government assistance they’re constantly facing budget shortfalls. Patients are up 200% but not donations.

    So I told them they should try the tag,

    “We help the poor, not the lazy.”

    Doubt they’ll use it just because it’s kinda blunt (i.e. they’re a charitable Christian based clinic & probably don’t want to appear offensive).

    But what do you think about that line?

  4. Michael Goldfarb on 03.01.2011

    Wonderful video, and you make some excellent points. I agree with you about the importance of tying in the emotion and forcing reader participation.

    Perhaps another lesson is that the ad man never changed the design of the sign. Great design in tandem with great copy will produce outstanding results, but great design and lousy copy will not.

  5. Nick Stewart on 03.02.2011

    Love the video! I want to tweet a link to this post but you don’t have a “Tweet this” badge anywhere that I can see.

  6. Jeff on 03.02.2011

    Nick,

    Yeah, I’m running behind on updating my WordPress platform and the twitter plugin broke. You’ll just have to, sigh, actually cut and paste the url into your twitter tool ; )

    Sorry about that. Look for an update in the coming weeks.

    Oh, and thanks for reading!

    – Jeff

  7. Carlin on 03.02.2011

    Hey Jeff
    Wow, amazing video, and I really get what you’re saying. Thanks so much for posting it!
    Carlin in Canada

  8. Jeff on 03.02.2011

    My pleasure, Carlin. It is a really cool short film in its own right, even aside from its copywriting lessons.

  9. Duane Christensen on 03.02.2011

    I LOVE IT! The video exactly demonstrated the power of words…and how small changes in your advertising copy can make a phenomenal changes!

  10. Jeff on 03.02.2011

    Thanks, Duane!

  11. Jeff on 03.02.2011

    My friend Lorraine from over at MarketCopywriter.com can’t seem to post to my blog (Doh!), but she was kind enough to send me the following through e-mail:

    “Great post, Jeff.

    I love #5–a rendition of “you get what you pay for.” A good copywriter is not just someone with a facility for writing. She/he understands the architecture of persuasive copy and knows it’s not just about crafting a story, but about crafting the right story.

    You don’t get that kind of craft and experience at content mill prices.”

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Lorraine. Thanks so much for going the extra mile to send this in.

  12. The difference between mediocre and great copy « steve holste.in on 03.03.2011

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  13. Martyn Chamberlin on 03.04.2011

    Hey Jeff,

    I discovered you through Copyblogger’s Magentic Headlines Intensive Webinar. I haven’t gotten 48 seconds into the Headlines Webinar (I’m sure it’ll be awesome) but I wanted to find out who you are first, so I visited this site.

    This is an absolutely incredible post. That video is absolutely pathetic (in the good old sense of the word) and your analysis is brilliant.

    This is one of those rare moments where I get to grace Google Reader with a new subscription.

    Thanks for creating art.

  14. Jeff on 03.04.2011

    Martin,

    That. Made. My. Day.

    Thanks, Dude.

  15. Jennifer on 03.05.2011

    Thanks for the inspirational post! I’ve been trying to tackle how to connect with readers emotionally and create more interactive copy. The video was a wonderful example and your analysis really helped me put together how these two elements work synergistically as part of the greater scheme of solid copywriting.

  16. Chief Conversionista on 03.12.2011

    Great stuff Jeff.
    I used it as inspiration for the Title of my latest post:
    “What a New York Prostitute can teach you about Conversion”

    http://www.conversionista.com/what-a-new-york-prostitute-can-teach-you-about-conversion/

    Again, thx for the inpiration.

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