The Mighty HIPPO

The Mighty HIPPO!

“Adver­tis­ing is the only busi­ness where the largest clients with the most amount of money can bully and demand the agency’s worst work…while the small­est clients with lit­tle or no money must meekly accept the agency’s best.”

I don’t think there’s an adver­tis­ing or mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sional work­ing in Amer­ica today who hasn’t had the chal­lenge of con­vinc­ing their boss or client to run what should have been an obvi­ously bril­liant ad cam­paign or mar­ket­ing idea.

The first solu­tion to this, of course, is to learn how to explain, defend, and sell your work and then hav­ing the sim­ple courage to do so.

Learn to Wres­tle — and Defeat! — The HIPPO

But even pro­fes­sion­als who are nor­mally great at sell­ing their work run into obsta­cles when faced with an obsti­nate, heavy-weight HIPPOHigh­est Paid Person’s Opin­ion.

And that’s when one has to use the magic words.

The Magic Words

The magic words are: Let’s Do An Exper­i­ment. Or per­haps, “Let’s Just Test It, First.”

No one wants to be seen (or to think of them­selves) as a don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts dog­matic bully. And that makes it hard to refuse an exper­i­ment or a test, which then gives you some room to prove out your idea.

Unfor­tu­nately, you still have to con­vince the HIPPO of the valid­ity of your test, and this is where per­sonas come in.

The One Opin­ion to Rule Them All

With­out a per­sona, the ques­tion of whether this or that ad or ini­tia­tive is worth doing (or even worth test­ing) comes down to per­sonal opin­ion and gut feel. So nat­u­rally, the high­est paid person’s opin­ion wins out. Hence the power of the HIPPO.

But, when you have a 3-dimensional, fleshed-out Per­sona that rep­re­sents the customer’s use-case, buy­ing moti­va­tions, and descision-making style and cri­te­ria, you’re no longer forced to argue your opin­ion vs. the HIPPO. You can now resort to the persona’s opion. And since the per­sona rep­re­sents the cus­tomer (and there­fore sales), that becomes the one opi­o­nion capa­ble of trump­ing the HIPPO.

Com­bine the power of the Per­sona with the magic of lets do an exper­i­ment, and you’ve got the key to push your best work past the HIPPO. The per­sona lets you argue why your idea is mean­ing­ful to the cus­tomer, and the test gives your idea a fair chance at prov­ing itself with actual customers.

Build Your Own Per­sonas & Learn From The Best

2014-10-30_1027So now all you need to do is craft and get buy-in for your personas.

And for­tu­nately for you, THE experts in the field of persona-based mar­ket­ing have just cre­ated a short, how-to on doing just that in the form of an easy to read kin­dle book avail­able for just $2.99.

It’s called Buyer Leg­ends and if you buy it now, you can have a set of per­sonas fin­ished within a few hour’s work.

Need help sell­ing your ideas/ads/campaigns/strategies/initiatives?

Down­load your copy of Buyer Leg­ends now. Then use the magic words.

P.S. As a “side ben­e­fit,” per­sonas will not only help you sell your bril­liant ideas, they’ll also help you cre­ate more of them 

P.P.S. If you’re too cheap to pay $2.99 for the book, my Wiz­ard of Ads col­league (and all-around good guy), Tim Miles, is giv­ing copies away, no strings attached.

22

Apr

by Jeff

com.quora.androidHave you ever heard of Quora?

It’s a Q&A-style social media site. Peo­ple ask ques­tions and gen­uine no-kidding experts answer them. Then mem­bers vote the answers up or down. The Q&As you see in your news­feed depend on who you fol­low, the inter­ests you indi­cate, and (of course) the ques­tions you pose.

My addic­tion to Quora flows from the qual­ity of the answers: they’re almost always insight­ful, experienced-based, and often brilliant.

The List of Trig­gers I Snagged from Quora

At any rate, one of the first Q&As I read on Quara was this one on cog­ni­tive biases: “What are some good exam­ples of biases being exploited in mar­ket­ing?”

And this answer from Kevin William Lord Barry struck me as well worth read­ing, copy­ing, and (even­tu­ally) post­ing and riff­ing on as a (series of) blog post(s) [bold­ing is mine]:

I think exploita­tion is too strong a word. Humans com­mu­ni­ca­tion in gen­eral is an emo­tional thing. In any case, here’s my mas­ter list:

1) Ethos (your per­ceived char­ac­ter) is the most impor­tant, as opposed to an appeal to pathos (emo­tions) or logos (logic).

2) Peo­ple make judg­ments by comparison/anchor­ing.

3) Peo­ple process infor­ma­tion best from sto­ries.

4) Peo­ple are fore­most inter­ested in things that affect them.

5) Break­ing pat­terns gets attention.

6) Peo­ple look to other peo­ple’s deci­sions when mak­ing decisions.

7) Peo­ple will believe things more eas­ily that fit their pre-existent mind­set. The con­verse is also true.

8) Peo­ple han­dle one idea at a time best.

9) Peo­ple want more choices, but are hap­pier with fewer.

10) Peo­ple decide first, then ratio­nal­ize — If peo­ple are stuck with some­thing, they will like it more over time.

11) Expe­ri­ence is mem­ory, the last part of the expe­ri­ence is weighted heavily.”

I’ve got to admit, Kevin cre­ated a pretty good list — why esle would I have reprinted it here? — but…

  • One, it’s hardly exhaus­tive. I bet most of you could think of a few prin­ci­ples and biases well worth adding, and I invite you to do so in the comments,
  • and Two, there’s no com­men­tary, just the bare list, even though each item begs for some elaboration.

So in future posts, I’ll dis­cuss what I’d add to the list, and then move through Kevin’s list and offer a deep-dive on each item. But for now, I’m just kind of inter­ested in your thoughts.

What psy­cho­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples or levers would you read­ers add to or take away from this list?

P.S. I’m sure many of you Cial­dini fans will rec­og­nized item #6 as an expres­sion of Social Proof — which sort of begs one to add the other “Weapons of Influ­ence” to this list of cog­ni­tive exploits. And if you’re not famil­iar with Ciadlini, you can get an excel­lent quick and dirty intro to his 6 Prin­ci­ples of Influ­ence from this video that my col­league, Tim Miles, sent me:

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2014-04-23_0836Balls 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.

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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.

I recently came across this post on Joss Whedon’s 10 Tips for Writ­ers and thought that the tips applied equally well to adver­tis­ers and ad writers.

If you’re ask­ing your­self “Joss who?” — you’re miss­ing out! Joss Whe­don is the script doc­tor that worked his magic on Toy Story when the whole movie was in jea­pardy of fail­ing. He’s also the cre­ator of Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer, Fire­fly, and Seren­ity. But if none of that really strikes a bell, then you prob­a­bly will rec­og­nize him as the direc­tor of the block­buster Avengers movie.

At any rate, I found his writ­ing tips to be thought­fully on-target, so here’s my advertising-centric trans­la­tion of Whedon’s 10 Tips:

1. FINISH IT

In business/entrepreneurship this means “Ship,” as Seth Godin would say. But to stretch it past that a bit and into the realm of adver­tis­ing, I’d para­phrase David Ogilvy and say, Don’t buy a ticket half-way to Europe — fin­ish the jour­ney.

From a brand­ing per­spec­tive that means don’t mess around with 12 dif­fer­ent plat­forms, cam­paigns, and media; com­mit to one cam­paign, one pri­mary media and buy enough rep­e­ti­tion for a long enough time to fin­ish the job you started.

From a direct mail per­spec­tive, actu­ally mail out the let­ter — fin­ish that job, for sure — but also com­mit to a series of mail­ings, or a mail­ing fol­lowed up by a sales call, rather than a one-off postcard.

2. STRUCTURE

To quote from Joss Whedon’s orig­i­nal advice: “Struc­ture means know­ing where you’re going; mak­ing sure you don’t mean­der about.” In small busi­ness that means hav­ing a grip on your busi­ness model and your goals and not falling prey to bright shiny object syndrome.

From an adver­tis­ing per­spec­tive it means work in cam­paigns. Don’t move and mean­der from one unre­lated ad to another unre­lated ad; have a cam­paign and an over-arching mes­sag­ing and brand posi­tion that you stick with. Know where you’re going and have the dis­ci­pline to get there. Note that adver­tis­ing one sale after another auto­mat­i­cally con­demns you to mean­der­ing with­out structure.

3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY

Again, to quote from Joss Whe­don “This really should be num­ber one.” If you’re pay­ing to be on the air with radio or TV, or you’re pay­ing to mail a mes­sage to some­one, you really need to have some­thing sub­stan­tive to say. It doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to be a Unique Sell­ing Propo­si­tion (USP), but you should have:

  • an offer to make,
  • a value that you stand for (or some­thing you stand against),
  • and an advo­cated posi­tion around your business/industry that you’ll stand behind.

And, really, just like in writ­ing, hav­ing some­thing to say IS the #1 thing about advertising.

4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE [And It’s Not About You!]

I don’t care if you’re the brand­ing equiv­a­lent of Apple, Harley David­son, and Jack Daniels all rolled into one: your role in the lives of your cus­tomers is at the far periph­ery. Your rel­e­vance and inter­est is extremely lim­ited. Keep that in mind and fig­ure out those con­texts in which you are rel­e­vant to cus­tomers. Tie your prod­uct or ser­vice back to the things that really do exist at the cen­ter of customer’s lives. Don’t let your adver­tis­ing pre­sume that your busi­ness is impor­tant to peo­ple out­side of those nar­row con­texts in which you can help them with an imme­di­ate prob­lem or concern.

As a corol­lary to this, real­ize that for most prod­ucts and ser­vices, adver­tis­ing through mass media means that 98% of the peo­ple see­ing (or hear­ing) your ad are NOT cur­rently in the mar­ket for what you sell.

Some peo­ple see this as a bad thing, but the truth is that speak­ing to peo­ple who aren’t (yet) in the mar­ket for what you sell is really one of the best things about broad­cast media.

Why?

Because the best time to con­vince peo­ple of how won­der­ful you are is BEFORE they need you. The idea is to have these peo­ple enter into the mar­ket — to start their use-case sce­nario — already biased in your favor.  You don’t want them typ­ing your busi­ness cat­e­gory into Google and mak­ing a deci­sion based on search results. You want them typ­ing your busi­ness NAME into Google, hav­ing already (largely) made their buy­ing decision.

But if you take this approach, you must real­ize that you’re talk­ing to peo­ple who aren’t inher­ently inter­ested in your prod­uct pre­cisely because they are not yet in the mar­ket for it. That means you must give these lis­ten­ers a rea­son to pay atten­tion anyway.

In other words, you have to seduce and enter­tain peo­ple into pay­ing atten­tion.  Make your ads more inter­est­ing and enter­tain­ing than the thoughts cur­rently run­ning through the minds’ of your audi­ence. And do it in a way that strength­ens rather than obscures your sales message.

Being both enter­tain­ing and on-brand and per­sua­sive is tough, but it’s what sep­a­rates the pros from the ama­teurs in the adver­tis­ing game.

5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE

Clients will often be so enam­ored with things they love and that they feel the prospec­tive cus­tomer should care about, that they’ll insist that you put it into the ad. Some­times the cus­tomer does (or can be made to) care about it too. Then you’re in luck.

Unfo­tu­nately, it’s more likely that the cus­tomer will remain totally apa­thetic about your client’s pet obses­sion no mat­ter how much he “ought to” care about it. And that’s when the busi­ness owner (aka your adver­tis­ing client) has to fol­low the advice to “cut what you love” and focus on what’ll actu­ally move the needle.

And of course, as a copy­writer, you often have to “kill your dar­lings” (aka cut some of your best lines) in order to strengthen the over­all ad copy — espe­cially when you’re run­ning short on time for that 30 or 60 sec­ond script!

6. LISTEN

If the idea is to talk to the dog, in the lan­guage of the dog, about what’s in the heart of the dog, then that means you’ve got to:

  1. Under­stand what’s in the heart of the dog — what the prospec­tive cus­tomer really cares about, and
  2. Have a sense of the lan­guage of the dog — what kind of words, atti­tudes, phrases, etc. your cus­tomers really use when talk­ing about their desires and frus­tra­tions and needs.

You can’t know or do any of that with­out lis­ten­ing to the cus­tomer. And these days, a lot of lis­ten­ing is done through your eyes by search­ing through reviews, forums, and social media com­ments. Lis­ten to how peo­ple talk and what they talk about so that you can talk to them in your ads about the same things they care about, using the same lan­guage they use.

7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD

This one goes along with “Lis­ten.” You’re goal is to emo­tion­ally con­nect with your audi­ence. You want your ads to cause them to think of you first and feel the best about you when they DO finally need what you sell. That way they come to you as a pre­ferred provider and rec­og­nized expert — some­one wor­thy of pre­mium pric­ing. In order to do that you have to sep­a­rate out the effect you intended your ads to have from the effect they actu­ally have.

Some­times the fea­ture or ben­e­fit or the line of copy or brand­able chunk that you think will really con­nect with peo­ple doesn’t, while some seem­ingly “throw-away” phrase or line res­onates in a way you never antic­i­pated. If you’re track­ing the audi­ence mood, you’ll be able to do more of what res­onates and less of what falls flat.

8. WRITE LIKEMOVIE

This means write cin­e­mat­i­cally and visu­ally. This is easy to under­stand for TV, but it applies equally well to radio. It always amazes me the amount of peo­ple in radio who talk about “The­atre of the mind” but don’t really under­stand what the phrase means or never write ads that cre­ate that kind of cin­e­matic response in lis­ten­ers’ imaginations.

So regard­less of whether you are cre­at­ing TV Ads or Radio Ads, write your ads like a movie rather than an ad. Don’t just talk about your prod­uct or ser­vices ben­e­fits, dra­ma­tize them. Sear the men­tal image of that ben­e­fit onto the imag­i­na­tions of your audience.

9. DON’T LISTEN

Yes, I know: this con­tra­dicts Tip #6. Stick with me a moment and it’ll all make sense.

When your ad has impact and can’t be ignored, and espe­cially when such an ad is aired with the proper fre­quency to make a dif­fer­ence, you’ll get com­plaints. An ad’s abil­ity to attract is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to it’s abil­ity to repel; if nobody hates it, nobody will love it either.

So when you’ve got an emo­tion­ally pow­er­ful, un-ignorable ad on your hands, pre­pare your­self (and/or your client) to get com­plaints. Expect the com­plaints to come, and then don’t lis­ten to them. Apple’s “I’m a Mac” cam­paign got a TON of com­plaints, from all kinds of peo­ple who thought the cam­paign was mean spir­ited or smug or what­ever. Good thing Apple decided not to lis­ten, huh?

10. DON’T SELL OUT

The real­ity of the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence has to match the promises made in the ad. This has ram­i­fi­ca­tions for both ad writ­ers and small busi­nesses. For ad writ­ers, it means don’t sell out by tak­ing on clients who run bad busi­nesses and who can’t deliver on what your ads promise.

For busi­nesses, it means to guard against let­ting the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence slip as you grow. Instead do the oppo­site: rein­vest in mak­ing the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence bet­ter and more closely aligned with the brand.

This also means occa­sion­ally allow­ing your­self to get “called out” on your brand promises, often in unrea­son­able ways. If you’ve got the guts to plant a flag and make a stand, some­one will test you on it sooner or later. And you can bet that that “some­one” will more than likely be unrea­son­able about it.

For exam­ple, some­one will lik­ley abuse your life­time guar­an­tee, or your “no sur­prises” guar­an­tee. Then you can be like LL Bean and write off the abuse as a cost of keep­ing your guar­an­tee, or you can refuse the unrea­son­able request, quib­ble over your guar­an­tee, and add fine print to your promises. If you quib­ble, you sell out. And then word will get out. If you stand and deliver (even in spite of the knucklehead’s unrea­son­able­ness), word will get out on that, too. And the reward for that will exceed the cost by a fac­tor of 10X, at least.

 

And there you have it. Ain’t Joss Whe­don great?

Cre­ativ­ity in ads is great — and usu­ally incred­i­bly nec­es­sary as well.

But there’s a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence between cre­ativ­ity that helps to emo­tion­ally com­mu­ni­cate the adver­tis­ing mes­sage and cre­ativ­ity for the sake of cre­ativ­ity. And the dif­fer­ence isn’t always so black and white. Take, for exam­ple, these two ads:

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The ads DO make a point and they ARE cre­ative. But to what extent is the cre­ativ­ity help­ing to sharpen the point of the mes­sage, and to what degree is the cre­ativ­ity get­ting in the way?

First, I’ll say that the CLR ad is the best use of potty-mouth in an ad that I’ve seen in a long time. Much bet­ter than K-mart’s “Ship Your Pants” or “Big Gas Savings.”

Why?

Because CLR used the swear­ing to com­mu­ni­cate the authen­tic­ity of customer’s sur­prise at just how well CLR cleans — a strat­egy based in some sound neu­ro­science. The Kmart ads, on the other hand, just used the potty mouth gag as, well, just that: a gag that was totally gra­tu­itous and uncon­nected with the mes­sag­ing itself.

So the swear­ing was rel­e­vant to the mes­sag­ing, and the mes­sag­ing was based on a true real­ity about the prod­uct itself. Nice.

But while watch­ing that CLR ad, I couldn’t help think that a lit­tle Oxy­Clean and Billy Mays-style demo would have dra­mat­i­cally boosted the cred­i­bil­ity and effec­tive­ness of the ad. Would Billy Mays have pitched you the clean­ing pow­ers of Oxy­Clean with­out SHOWING you just how amaz­ing it was? Heck, no! He insisted on demon­stra­bil­ity for his prod­ucts and actual demon­stra­tions in his ads.

And con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, the two approaches of clever cre­ative and straight-up demo can eas­ily co-exist. It wouldn’t have taken more than 3 or 4 sec­onds at the end of the CLR ad to SHOW the prod­uct in action, instantly remov­ing lime/soap scum, stain­less steel stove stains, etc.

All of which brings us to the sec­ond ad for the Sam­sung vac­uum cleaner, because the prob­lem with that ad, as I see it, boils down to not enough demo. Yes the baby chase con­cept was cute and cre­ative, but how much time did it waste in NOT show­ing the unique fea­ture of the prod­uct that the ad was pre­sum­ably showcasing?

If that ad had cut about 50% of the cute-baby-imitating-cop crap and sub­sti­tuted in more demon­stra­tion of prod­uct it would have ended up a much stronger ad.

As the say­ing goes: “if you’ve got it, flaunt it.” If your prod­uct can be demon­strated to amaz­ing effect, why in the world wouldn’t you want to demo it in your ads? Case in point, this ad for the Dyson ball:

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Or take a gan­der at this very cre­ative but almost purely demo spot for Samsonite’s Spin­ner luggage:

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As I said, cre­ative is great — and nec­es­sary, as an ad absolutely needs to cap­ture and hold people’s atten­tion. But, really, there is just as much adver­tis­ing craft and cre­ativ­ity in the last two demo-heavy spots as there is in the CLR and Sam­sung spots, and the demo-heavy spots man­aged to get the sales mes­sage across far more clearly.

Bot­tom Line: If you can make a TV ad into a demo, you prob­a­bly ought to give seri­ous thought into doing so, regard­less of whether or not it “feels” creative.

 

Spider-biteEvery super­hero fran­chise begins with a Gen­e­sis story.

Action Comics #1 starts with a baby superman-to-be sent forth from the doomed planet Kryp­tonite. Sent forth with his father’s desire that he become a force for good on Earth. The Amaz­ing Spider-Man #1 tells how Peter Parker gained super-powers after he was bit­ten by the radio-active spi­der and how he became Spider-man in reac­tion to his uncle Ben’s murder.

In the same way, if you take any super­hero movie that’s the first in its fran­chise, you’ll find a gen­e­sis story of that super­hero — a tale that tells the audience:

  • How the hero came to posses his powers,
  • Who the hero is as a per­son, and
  • What his mis­sion is and Why he’s ded­i­cated to it

If you don’t do that, you’re hero won’t be believ­able. Nor will he be sym­pa­thetic. You’ll end up with a char­ac­ter whose super pow­ers will seem too fan­tas­tic and “made up,” and who will fail to inspire any­one to care about or root for him.

It’s that sim­ple: no gen­e­sis story, no superhero.

Super­heros and Advertising

Inter­est­ingly, the three tasks of a Gen­e­sis story over­lay per­fectly with Aristotle’s three ele­ments of Ethos — the three things you must estab­lish in order to per­suade through an appeal to char­ac­ter. Here’s how they match-up, using Jay Henrich’s mod­ern updates for the Ethos ele­ments of phrone­sis, eunoia, and arete:

  1. Craft = Phrone­sis / Prac­ti­cal Wis­dom Pow­ers
  2. Car­ing = Eunoia / Good­will = Who the hero is as a person 
  3. Cause = Areté / Virtue = Mis­sion

Want to present a busi­ness owner as some­one prospec­tive cus­tomers should like and trust?

Then you need to cover these char­ac­ter ele­ments. You have to con­vince the audi­ence that the owner is great at what he does, that he cares about his cus­tomers, and that, at the end of the day, he’s on a big­ger mis­sion than just mak­ing money.

And once you under­stand the super­hero angle, it becomes pretty obvi­ous that the most pow­er­ful way to com­mu­ni­cate these ele­ments is through a Gen­e­sis story.

Put more directly, if you’re pre­sent­ing the busi­ness owner as some­one with super­pow­ers — whether that’s the power to hero­ically save the cus­tomer from a tough sit­u­a­tion, or sim­ply the power to do X bet­ter than any other busi­ness on the planet — than you’re pre­sent­ing them as a de facto super­hero, and you need to tell the darn gen­e­sis story to make that mes­sage at all believable.

A Jew­elry Super­hero Gen­e­sis Story

Want an exam­ple of an Adver­tis­ing Gen­e­sis story?

Here’s one from my busi­ness part­ner, Roy Williams [para­graph­ing mine]:

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.”

After hear­ing this ad, you now know, with absolute clarity:

  • What kind of per­son J.R. Dunn is
  • How he got his super­pow­ers (along with how those super­pow­ers can help you)
  • What mis­sion he’s on and why he’s ded­i­cated to it

Bet­ter yet, you not only know these things about him, but you believe them. You believe these things about J.R. Dunn because he told you his gen­e­sis story. See how that works?

So what’s YOUR gen­e­sis story, and are you both­er­ing to tell it the way it ought to be told?