“…it is James Thurber’s Walter Mitty who, in the space of a single afternoon, is the commander of a navy hydroplane, a life-saving surgeon, an expert marksman, and an intrepid army captain. Walter Mitty isn’t crazy. He just has trouble convincing the outside world of who he is inside.

‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is a favorite American story because it speaks to the Mitty in each of us. Who among us has never played cowboy, astronaut, princess, or nurse? Like Don [Quixote] and Walter, each of us has a secret life, and it is silly to pretend that our outward choices are not influenced by the people we are inside.

In we are to insist on intellectual honesty, we must urge Don and Walter to abandon their childish dreams. But if we would sell our products and make two customers happy, we will speak not to a tired old man and a henpecked husband, but will eloquently address the needs of a chivalrous knight and an intrepid army captain.

It’s called ‘Advertising.'”

Roy H. Williams, The Wizard of Ads

In my last Practical Tactical Tuesday post, I mentioned that features might be dramatized to show something other than immediate, objective benefit, that features might be dramatized, instead, so as to tie the product into the values and self image of the prospective customer. When you choose this other path, you end up advertising to the felt needs of  your prospects’ inner Walter Mitty, rather than to their actual, real-life needs.

SUVs vs. Minivans

Examples of this abound, but here’s one we’re all familiar with: the millions of mothers driving around in SUVs instead of minivans.  They chose the more expensive SUV despite the fact that SUVs cost more, guzzle more gas, are more likely to roll-over, and just generally aren’t as well suited to the actual commuting demands of most moms. By all objective standards, the minivan (or, maybe even the station wagon) is the better choice.

But does the average mom see herself as a minivan-driving Soccer Mom?

Um, no, actually.

So why would she want to drive a vehicle that’s stigmatized by such an unflattering stereotype?  Well, quite a few of these moms wouldn’t.  So they opted, and continue to opt, for a vehicle that better fits their inner image while retaining most of the seating and cargo capacity they really need. Hence the cross-over SUV craze.

But I’m far from picking on mom’s or SUV drivers — I’m saying we ALL have at least a few areas of our lives where we pick the objectively sub-optimal choice in order to chose the product or service that better fits our inner values and identifications.

2 Ways of Making Decisions

Copywriters need to keep in mind that we have two ways of making decisions: one is the self-interest, pros and cons model, and the other is the identity model:

  • The Self-Interest Model asks: “What’s In It For Me?”
  • The Identity Model asks: “What Kind of Person Am I and What Would That Kind of Person Do In This Situation?”

Best of all, your copy doesn’t have to exclusively choose one over the other.  In fact, a blend of the two is usually your best option, when you’re fortunate enough to have options.  But if you’re really hankering to see an almost pure use of identity in ad copy, go read a J. Peterman product description or two, and you’ll see this style of copy at work.



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