“It’s like groundhog day around here”
If you get that reference, it says something pretty incredible about Groundhog Day: it’s not only a modern classic, it’s become a cultural touchstone.
But apart from the obvious reasons why we love the movie — Bill Murray, pitch perfect comedy, a boy-gets-girl movie that even guys love — what’s really going on here?
Basically, the premise of the movie allowed Harold Ramis to dramatize a profound character arc in ways that are delightful within this movie, but that would have come off as contrived or forced in a typical romcom or drama.
Phil is literally living the same day over and over again, walking through the same scenes and encountering the same situations. That means the only thing that’s changing is him, so we can see his transformation with startling clarity.
It’s also why there are YouTube clips of the movie with “All The ____ Scenes” in them. Here’s one with All the Ned Scenes:
And more touchingly, here’s one with All the “Old Homeless Man” Scenes:
You could not possibly come up with a more powerful way of dramatizing character growth than this. And this unique element of Groundhog Day plays to three very powerful psychological dynamics:
- It plays to our day-dreams and desires for a do-over for various moments in our life. “Ooh, if only I’d said ____”
- It symbolically highlights the routine “daily grind” of most of our days, along with our desire for progress instead of stagnation
- It allows us to vicariously enjoy Phil’s transformation and growth, which we’re all striving for ourselves
So what’s this got to do with persuasion or advertising?
Well, I touched on some of it in my post on New Year’s Eve. But the point I’d emphasize is that many businesses could use these techniques to emphasize customer benefits and transformations. In other words, what most customers are really buying is transformation. And if you wish to emphasize that kind of before and after change you ought to:
Put people in the same location or situation as previous to showcase their change. It’s not enough to show people the beautiful new deck you built in a customer’s back yard. You should show them what the backyard looked like BEFORE you put the deck in so they can appreciate the transformation. It’s not enough to get a testimonial from a family enjoying their new pool. You need to get them to talk a little bit about what life (or a typical summer Saturday) was like BEFORE they had a pool vs. now that they have one.
Provide them with an anniversary or “full circle” style prompt so that they can mentally appreciate the change. Last year I was working with my very talented partner, Charlie Moger, to get video testimonials created for a bariatric surgery center. They’re previous video testimonials had good production quality, but piss poor persuasive value. And a good reason for that was that there was no sense of before and after transformation along with the accompanying emotion. To ensure we got that on the new videos, we came up with the idea of showing the client a “before” picture of them while filming their reaction to the photo and response to questions about what life was like before the surgery. The picture was the prompt necessary to spark the emotional appreciation of their own transformation.
Make the before and after transformation as visual and tangible as possible. One weight loss clinic I worked with actually handed patients a backpack of sand that weighed the same as the weight they had burned off. Just handling and wearing that backpack brought home the changes they had made. One accountant specialized in taking business owner bookkeeping and tax basket cases and saving them from themselves. When new clients inevitably brought in the messy box stuffed with receipts and paperwork, he’d take a picture of it and include it when he handed them their neat folder of completed tax returns and accounting ledger.
Capitalize on your wish fulfillment and “Bippity-Boppity-Boo” moments. Frankly, most of my clients don’t work in inherently sexy industries. Most companies don’t. But while those companies can’t be sexy or cool, there is a moment in which they ARE magical: when they’ve entered on the scene and saved the day by solving the customer’s dilemma. Plumbers and Drain cleaners aren’t anywhere near sexy, but you’ll want to hug them at the moment they’ve turn a potential flooding situation into a fixed drain. Same thing with AC repair. Or pest control. And so on. But most people in these businesses don’t take advantage of this by recording client testimonials during the peak emotion of that Bippity-Boppity-Boo moment. Don’t be one of them. Get that testimonial when the emotions, the relief, and the clarity of before-and-after are all at their highest peak.
And that’s how you can leverage the subtle persuasion of Groundhog Day to your advantage.
Happy Groundhog Day everybody. May Spring be always on your horizon.