by Jeff

Paul Wolfe was kind enough to nom­i­nate me for this “con­test” and, in an effort not to let him down, I’ve pro­duced the fol­low­ing rin response to the 7 ques­tions / cat­e­gories of links:

Your most beau­ti­ful post
While I hes­i­tate to call any of my posts beau­ti­ful (as none of the prose qual­i­fies), there have been one or two posts on beau­ti­ful and heart­felt sub­jects, and this inter­view with Steven Press­field is one of them:
And just in case an “inter­view post” is con­sid­ered cheat­ing, I’ll throw this one in as well:
– Your most pop­u­lar post
– Your most con­tro­ver­sial post
– Your most help­ful post
– A post whose suc­cess sur­prised you
– A post you feel didn’t get the atten­tion it deserved
– The post that you are most proud of

Your most beau­ti­ful post

2011-04-28_1725While I hes­i­tate to call any of my posts beau­ti­ful (as none of the prose qual­i­fies), there have been one or two posts on beau­ti­ful and heart­felt sub­jects, and this inter­view with Steven Press­field is one of them And just in case an “inter­view post” is con­sid­ered cheat­ing, I’ll throw this one in as well:

Your most pop­u­lar post

2010-02-09_2309-203x300In look­ing back through Google Ana­lyt­ics, the front-runner for page views was this pre-release review of Dan and Chip Heath’s highly antic­i­pated book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

But I tend to sus­pect that the front-runner posi­tion of that post has a lot more to do with the pop­u­lar­ity of the Heath Bros’ (deservedly) best-selling book, and a lot less to do with any par­tic­u­lar blog­ging excel­lence on my part. Luck­ily for me, my close-second most pop­u­lar post was also my most controversial…

Your most con­tro­ver­sial post

2011-11-10_1105I had no idea this post on the Web­site for Best Made Axe would be as con­tro­ver­sial as it was, but I stand by my ini­tial premise: if you’re going to declare your­self the “best made” it’s only nat­ural to expect to find sub­stan­ti­a­tion of that claim on your Web­site. When that evi­dence isn’t found on the site, it causes doubt in the mind of the consumer.

For­tu­nately for Best Made Co, they do so many other things right with their mar­ket­ing, that the lack of sub­stance on the Web­site hardly mat­ters.  And I think it is to their great credit that both the head of Best Made Co.‘s Face­book fan page and one of the founders of the com­pany came to com­ment on the post.

Also, for what it’s worth, my intent with the post was always to help other small-scale pro­duc­ers under­stand an impor­tant aspect of per­sua­sive web­sites, and not to slam Best Made Co. Any­way, it’s still good read­ing, IMHO:

Your most help­ful post

Inception-Poster2-202x300This is a tough one because all of my posts are aimed at being help­ful. But I think that this post man­aged to tie together a bunch of really worth­while insights in an inter­est­ing and fun pack­age cen­tered around the block­buster flick, Inception:

A post whose suc­cess sur­prised you

2010-01-25_1148-192x300This par­tic­u­lar post was fairly per­sonal and off-topic for me, so I was sur­prised to find out that it res­onated with as many read­ers as it did.  Of course, after a moment’s reflec­tion, it wasn’t sur­pris­ing at all, since the core essay fea­tured in the post has been con­sis­tently pop­u­lar ever since it was first penned by Keith Bell.  Check it out, you’ll prob­a­bly like it too:

A post you feel didn’t get the atten­tion it deserved

on-a-mission-from-godI think most web and direct response copy­writ­ers have been so ingrained with the “reason-why” adver­tis­ing mantra that we some­times don’t know quite what to do when we’re either short on demon­stra­ble points of dif­fer­ence or ben­e­fits, or legally pro­hib­ited from pro­claim­ing them in our adver­tis­ing. This post rep­re­sents at least one tried and true solu­tion to that prob­lem, but it got pre­cious lit­tle atten­tion. I think you’ll like it:

The post that you are most proud of

moneyboothI’m proud to have writ­ten a hand­ful of guest posts for Copy­blog­ger, and espe­cially proud of how well this one turned out. It was a very solid post to begin with and Sonia Simone did a bril­liant job edit­ing it while Brian Clark did his usual amaz­ing job at cre­at­ing a must-read headline:

And that’s it. Thanks for read­ing and a spe­cial thanks to Paul for nom­i­nat­ing me to par­tic­i­pate in this con­test in the first place :)

Ever won­der what hap­pened to Avis’s “We’re No. 2″ cam­paign?

I always assumed Avis fool­ishly dropped it out of bore­dom. Some brand man­ager wanted to put his “mark” on things and fool­ishly killed the goose that was lay­ing golden eggs. But that’s not nearly as inter­est­ing as what really happened…

See, a few years after Avis and Doyle Dane Bern­bach launched their leg­endary cam­paign, Hertz (aka No. 1) got ner­vous about how quickly Avis was gob­bling up their mar­ket share.  So Hertz got  wise and hired the other leg­endary cre­ative agency of the day: Ally & Gargano.

And here’s the counter-campaign that Carl Ally cre­ated for Hertz:


Hertz basi­cally took that “No. 2″ posi­tion and rammed it right up Avis’s arse, detail­ing point by point what cus­tomers give up when they rent cars from the smaller com­pany: loca­tions, car selec­tion, guar­an­teed per­for­mance, cus­tomer sup­port infra­struc­ture, etc.  And you gotta love that end­ing line: “No. 2 says he tries harder.  Than who?”

That counter-campaign went for the throat.  And the results show that it worked:

2011-11-03_2028 To the right you’ll see a snap­shot from a leaf of a new book on Ally & Gargano.  You can find a dig­i­tal ver­sion of the entire page here. But the impor­tant points to note are:

1) “After only 90 days from the start [of the cam­paign], Avis aban­doned their extremely suc­cess­ful cam­paign and quickly cre­ated adver­tis­ing with no ref­er­ences to Hertz, Try­ing Harder, or being Num­ber 2.”

2) From the launch of the cam­paign at the tail-end of 1966, Avis’s mar­ket share flat-lined and Hertz main­tained their posi­tion as the leader in the indus­try (which wouldn’t have hap­pened had the ear­lier trends con­tin­ued on for another 2 years).

And that’s what hap­pened to the famed “We’re Num­ber 2″ adver­tis­ing campaign.

So what are the lessons to take away from this?

First, I think Avis wimped out on this one. If they were vul­ner­a­ble on their brand­ing, it was because they weren’t fac­tu­ally liv­ing up to their “We Try Harder” claim. But even then, they could have re-vamped their cus­tomer expe­ri­ence and fought back rather than vol­un­tar­ily sur­ren­der­ing the one cam­paign that was actu­ally work­ing for them.

Before the Avis cam­paign was launched in 1963, Bill Bern­bach insisted that Avis revamp their fleet and actu­ally improve the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence so that he had a “bet­ter real­ity” to adver­tise. If Avis was really seri­ous about keep­ing the cam­paign — and they should have been — why didn’t they make another revamp and show exactly how they “tried harder” than Hertz

Sec­ond, you sim­ply can’t afford to ignore great adver­tis­ing. If a com­peti­tor has launched an immensely suc­cess­ful ad cam­paign that res­onates with the pub­lic and that’s dri­ving increased mar­ket share, you must respond. And the only way to do that is with great adver­tis­ing of your own.

Third, counter brand­ing works both ways. Ries and Trout famously advised chal­lenger brands to “find the weak­ness in your competitor’s strength” and that’s exactly what Avis did with their “No. 2″ cam­paign. But “Mar­ket­ing is often a bat­tle for legit­i­macy.  The first brand that cap­tures that con­cept is often able to por­tray it’s com­peti­tors as ille­git­i­mate pre­tenders.”* And that’s how Hertz coun­tered Avis’s counter brand­ing — by recast­ing Avis as an ille­git­i­mate pre­tenders to the “cus­tomer ser­vice” throne.

At least, those are my take­aways.  I’d be thrilled to read yours in the comments…

* Quote taken from The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

Yes­ter­day I was researching/browsing inter­est­ing and inven­tive print ads on the inter­net and came across this one:

25.creative-adsIf you can’t make out the print, it says “Extremely Fast Inter­ent” right next to the brand name and logo of what I can only assume to be some kind of ISP.

Clever, right? But will it drive sales?

Prob­a­bly not. And there’s two rea­sons for this:

1) No Call to Action

2) No sup­port­ing facts

Now, the call-to-action part is obvi­ous to any­one with any direct response copy­writ­ing expe­ri­ence what­so­ever. How do I find out more about this “extremely fast inter­net”? How can I tell if it’s offered where I live? In other words, how can I buy the darn thing, you’re sup­pos­edly offer­ing for sale?

If you want peo­ple to respond (usu­ally by buy­ing) it helps if you give them clear, easy direc­tions on how to do so. Sort of a no-brainer, that one is. But at the risk of draw­ing the ire of the DM crowd, I have to say that…

If I’m Inter­ested Enough, I’ll Find My Own Path to Buying

While I don’t want to dimin­ish the impor­tance of the CTA, I really think that the absence of sub­stan­ti­at­ing facts in this ad is, if any­thing, more harm­ful to its effec­tive­ness than the lack of any sort of Call to Action.  If you get me inter­ested enough in what you’re sell­ing, I’ll fig­ure out my next action on my own.  Google is great for that; I can just search “OI3 Netvi­sion” and see what comes up — IF, and only if, I’m inter­ested enough.

But I’ll never be inter­ested enough if you just show me the clever visual anal­ogy and think you’ve made your point. My nat­ural instinct in this sit­u­a­tion (really, anyone’s nat­ural instinct) is to assume par­ity. You say you’re fast, but you’re prob­a­bly no faster than my reg­u­lar inter­net provider. Clever ad, but it’s still an ad, mean­ing its mes­sag­ing is assumed to be self-serving bull­shit until proven otherwise.

Fac­tual Romance

And then there’s “Fac­tual Romance.” Fac­tual Romance is the term J. Peter­man came up with to describe his phi­los­o­phy towards prod­uct selec­tion and mer­chan­dis­ing, as used in this semi-famous quote:

Peo­ple want things that are hard to find. Things that have a romance, but a fac­tual romance, about them.” — J. Peterman

And what I believe the man meant by this was romance bol­stered by some hard truth or fact that pre­vented the log­i­cal mind of the buyer from dis­miss­ing the romance as so much self-serving BS.  J. Peter­man can romance the Swaine Adeney Brigg umbrella as the “King of Umbrel­las” because it is, in fact, the umbrella of kings — the com­pany actu­ally has a Royal War­rant to pro­vide umbrel­las to the Royal Family.

Like­wise, it’s fine to romance the speed of Netvision’s inter­net con­nec­tion, but you’ve got to pro­vide a bit of fact to go with it.  How much faster is it than reg­u­lar DSL or the aver­age cable modem?  What does that mean in terms of down­load­ing a movie or talk­ing over a VOIP connection?

Imag­ine that ad with a big, bold, white font on the back of the com­puter screen pro­claim­ing “2X Faster than DSK.  Down­load High Def­i­n­i­tion movies in 3 min­utes or less.” Wouldn’t that make for a more effec­tive ad? Even with­out the CTA, it would at least get me inter­ested enough to research the company/claims, and maybe, just maybe, stick in the back of my mind, should I ever become dis­en­chanted with my cur­rent ISP.

Want an exam­ple of how to do this right? Check out this old Union Car­bide com­mer­cial for their high-tech insulation:

YouTube Preview Image

Yes, they’ve got the drama of the baby chicken. What a great prod­uct demo. But they also pro­vide lots of cool facts. Some stated plainly as facts, such as “it’s 25 to 100 times bet­ter than [any other insu­la­tion] we’ve had before.”  And some are stated in terms of con­crete, almost dra­matic exam­ples: “One inch of super insu­la­tion wrapped around a rail­road tank car can keep liq­uid helium at 420 degrees below zero all the way from New York to Los Angeles.”

The drama keeps you riv­eted to the screen in antic­i­pa­tion, and the facts let you know that it’s not BS. You leave con­vinced. And that’s what it takes for your ads, too — regard­less of whether you’re using print, radio, TV, or Web-based advertising.

Or, as my busi­ness part­ner, Roy Williams puts it:

  • Details and specifics add cred­i­bil­ity. Names! Dates! Prob­lems! Solu­tions! Any thing less is an unsub­stantiated claim and will be sum­mar­ily dis­missed by the customer.”
  • Always sat isfy the left brain when you can. It holds veto power when the right brain wants to do some thing that is obvi­ously dan­ger­ous or fool­ish. No, I’m not say­ing that logic trumps emo­tion. I’m say­ing only that lazy writ­ers too often try to work the heart because it’s eas­ier. They’re unwill ing to do the research and hard work required to sat isfy the mind.”