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. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. Jeff on 03.02.2011

    Thanks, Duane!

  11. 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.

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

    […] Jeff Sex­ton Writes Cat­e­gories Uncat­e­go­rized LikeBe the first to like this […]

  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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