“Balls Beat Brains, Balls Beat Budgets” — Andy Nulman
Advertising with heart kicks two ways:
1) Advertising with Values & Passion (heart = soul)
2) Courageous Advertising (heart = lion hearted)
And, as you can see, both ways intersect in the heart. The word “courage” even comes from the French word for heart, which is why you can not only be courageous, but can encourage others, helping them to “take heart.”
This isn’t just theory, either; it’s observable fact.
Every small business advertiser I’ve worked with who had the guts to take a strong stand in their advertising (and then to back their claims up when the time came) always found the source of their gutsy courage in deeply and passionately held beliefs and values. Values imparted through family traditions, defining moments, and relationships.
This is important because it’s the business owners capable of advertising with heart that experience the most impressive (and sustained) growth.
So let’s take a closer look at Andy Nulman’s quote:
Balls Beat Brains
Of course smarts matter and sound strategy is crucial. But when it comes to small business advertising, the obstacles to adopting and implementing a sound strategy is rarely a lack of smarts or the inability to come up with (or have a professional come up with) a great strategy. The obstacle is always a lack of courage to embrace that great strategy once it has been presented.
Because great strategies are always gutsy.
This isn’t to say they are risky, though. Often the riskiest thing is NOT to use a gutsy strategy.
Gutsy gets confused with risky simply because the identity of a privately owned company is inextricably tied to the self-image of the owner. So an owner of good taste and respectability can’t help but react to any necessarily outrageous (i.e. gutsy) advertising strategy by feeling as if it requires taking exceptional risks with her self image.
Here’s how that usually manifests:
1) “The risk of insult is the price of clarity”
To make an advertising claim powerful, you have to use surprising, vivid language, and your statements have to be made without the usual conditionals, exemptions, caveats, and contextual preambles that would render them perfectly defensible.
In other words, your words have to be dramatic. And to be dramatic you have to “cause a scene,” which is to say you have to exhibit the crass bad manners of drawing attention to yourself by leveraging other people’s attentional triggers.
Business owners with manners don’t want to “cause a scene,” so their natural tendency is to wimp on the messaging by filing off all the sharp edges from the ads. “We just can’t say that!”
It takes courage (or shamelessness in general) to look at sharp messaging strategy and commit to it without flinching.
2) Saying what you stand against means making enemies
This one’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? If you choose whom to lose and state what you stand against, you’re not only purposely excluding some people and drawing a line in the sand, you’re also calling out anyone who believes otherwise.
Most business owners don’t want to do that. They want everyone to like them (and give them their business), so pissing off anyone seems like a bad way to advertise. Unfortunately, no business can be all things to all people, and you can’t have insiders without outsiders. You have to be for someone in particular, not everyone in general, if you want your message to resonate.
So only those business owners with the emotional passion to take a stand and the courage to make enemies end up with loyal customers, real brand value, and advertising capable of attracting and building such.
3) Strong Offers Absent Fine Print Means Occassionally Taking It On the Chin
My partner, Roy Williams calls it “budgeting for the knucklehead factor,” and it comes down to this: when you make unconditional guarantees on something — the quality of your products, a no excuse delivery date, an offer of a free trial — you have to overcome the fear that people will take advantage of you.
Make no mistake, it’s not a baseless fear; a small percentage of people WILL take advantage of you. That small percentage will shamelessly return an obviously abused or past-the-service-life item and ask for a replacement. Or gluttonously thieve three or four free trials, rather than limiting themselves to one. And so on.
Those people are knuckleheads, and yes, you should anticipate and budget for their shenanigans, precisely so that you can take it on the chin and smilingly live up to your promise.
Yet the real fear that business owners face isn’t the reasonably assessed risk that a small percentage of people will take advantage of them; it’s the nightmare scenario where 30% to 100% of them do. Fortunately, that scenario only exists in nightmares. Any business owner with the heart and the courage to face that fear down inevitably finds that the knuckleheads make an exceedingly small percentage of the population.
Believe it or not, the vast majority of people will treat you fairly, the vast majority of the time. Just ask companies like Walmart and LL Bean and Nordstroms — companies that make unconditional guarantees and suffer the knuckleheads in order to enjoy the business and loyalty (and profits) from the rest of us.
So for small businesses, this kind of advertising requires a double dose of courage: one to look past the irrational fear and make the strong promise or guarantee, and another to take it on the chin when the inevitable knucklehead forces the issue.
4) Telling Your Genesis Story Requires Real Vulnerability
Telling an audience about your life-defining moment takes guts because you are openly exposing your soul. But it’s also one of the only ways we’ll ever believe in your mission and your irrational commitment to it. As I wrote earlier, if you want us to believe in your superpowers, you’ve got to tell us about your genesis story.
And because telling a genesis story requires vulnerability, including one in your advertising takes guts. It takes heart in both senses of the word. Some business owners have it. Most don’t. Just ask yourself, would you be willing to expose something like this:
“When I was seven years old, I held my father’s head in my hands as he took his last breath and died. A thing like that stays with you. It helps you understand that relationships – people – are what life’s all about.You gotta tell’em you love’em.
This is J.R. Dunn. So now you know why I became a jeweler. Fine jewelry is one of the ways we tell people we love ’em. When I got older and fell head-over-heals for Ann Marie, the love of my life, I didn’t have enough money to buy her an engagement ring. She married me anyway. Go figure.
But I can promise you this: If you’re thinking of getting engaged to the love of your life, come to J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point. No one in Florida, no one in America, is going to give you a better engagement ring for your money than me. One of the great joys of my life is to make it possible for guys to give the woman they love the diamond she deserves.
There was nobody there for me when I needed an engagement ring. But I promise I’ll be there for you.”
That’s J.R. Dunn’s Genesis story. And it took real heart to broadcast it to the world in a radio ad. Would you have the courage to do the same?
Balls Beat Budgets
The formula is quite simple:
Salience * Repetition = Long Term Memory Storage
Salience is just another word for emotional importance (aka relevance). The more emotionally important something is, the less repetition it takes to lodge in your long term memory.
You can probably remember how and when you proposed to your wife, even though you only proposed once (and if you had to propose more than once, that definitely got permantly chiseled into your consciousness). You can also likely recall exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news about 9-11.
And as a former high school teacher, I can also tell you that the opposite is true: as emotional importance falls to zero, the number of repetitions required to make something stick approaches infinity.
Courageous Advertising amps up the emotional importance — the surprise and the audacity — of the ads in order to boost the salience of the message. Assuming, of course, that the message had any relevance to the customer to begin with. Commiting to a relevant message to begin with requires courage, and then accepting gutsy wording/copy requires additional courage from the business owner.
The upshot is that courageous ads require significantly less repetition. And in advertiging, repetition = money. That’s how small budgets beat big budgets, or in Andy’s terms, how Balls Beat Budgets.
Better yet, audacious advertising gets it’s own free press and attention — on an order way beyond what even most big budgets can buy. Just ask the creators of the Poo Pourri video below how much free news coverage and viral sharing their video received. It’s on the order of hundreds of millions. And it was made for just a few thousand dollars.
Of course, it takes some audacity to make an ad like that, but that’s the point, isn’t it?
And it’s not just about videos. This applies to publicity stunts, signage, store decoration, direct mail packages — everything. Audacity gets noticed, remarked on, and spread by word of mouth, social media, news, etc. This is another way that balls beat budget.
Of course, audacity is one thing, but audacity that reflects your values and deeply held beliefs is even better. Remember, it’s best to combine both meanings of courage — heart and balls.
That’s why effective advertising is almost always courageous advertising.