2017-02-24_0932“A woman asks little of love: Only that she be able to feel like a heroine.”  ~Mignon McLaughlin

I like this quote not so much for what it says about women, per se, but what it says about human nature and advertising. 

We want companies and products that make us feel and let us be seen the way we want: heroic, smart, hip, sexy, caring, etc.  

And how we want to be seen usually has as much to do with temperament and tribe as gender.

  • Guardians/Methodicals/SJs want to feel and be seen as dependable, respectable, and judicious
  • Idealists/Humanistic/NFs want to feel and be seen as benevolent, creative, growth-minded, and inclusive
  • Rationals/Competitives/NTs want to feel and be seen as masterful, self-directed, and ingenious
  • Artisans/Spontaneous/SPs want to feel and be seen as lively, high-impact, courageous, and worthy of attention. 

If your advertising and products help scratch that itch, you’ll find customers that love you for it. 

How does your advertising and product help people feel?

P.S. Mignon McLaughlin has lots of great quotes. Here are two more with advertising lessons baked into them:

  1. “Even cowards can endure hardship; only the brave can endure suspense.”

  2. “No matter how brilliantly an idea is stated, we will not really be moved unless we have already half thought of it ourselves.”

1737fd5a3cf53d36655593ca8dd080d6Your alma mater. Your home and neighborhood. Your watch or car.

Few, if any, buy these things based on a reasonable analysis of cost vs. benefit.

Because in our minds, what’s really at stake is our identity.

Are you a Baylor man, or a technical college man?

Frankly, if you’re a high school student, the cost-benefit analysis weighs very, very heavily towards technical college. Seriously. Listen to Mike Rowe. Crunch the numbers. You’ll be amazed.

But if you have a family legacy of attending Baylor (or Alabama or Harvard)…

And it’s very much the same thing with where you live and what kind of home you live in as well as what kind of car you drive. Are you in the swanky neighborhood, or do you live on the wrong side of the tracks?

The point is that a sure way to motivate people to pay a premium for your brand is to associate it with identity rather than logical reason-why appeals. For when identity is at stake, people will spend irrationally. Hence the appeal of Rolex. Or Mercedes Benz. Or almost any luxury brand you can think of.

Identity is also why thousands of parents choose a full size SUV with 3rd row seating over a lower-priced minivan that get’s better gas mileage. Because they’re rather obviously not doing it on a cost-benefit basis.

Put that way, your choices become rather stark:

  • You can persuade people to think in terms of benefit per dollar spent, or
  • You can persuade them to think “what kind of person am I (or aspire to be) and what kind of ______ would that person buy?

Of course, it never hurts to flatter a prospective buyer’s identity by showing him (or her) that her identity-based choices are sensible, wise, and a sign of good taste. It’s not that there’s no place for reason-why appeals, just that they ought to be subordinate to a broader identity-based supposition.

Don’t make the mistake, though, in assuming that identity-based appeals only work for snobby or super lux items. They work just as well when no-nonsense products are advertised for no-nonsense people. Or an icon of rebels appeals to the rebel in all of us. Think craftsman tools or Harley-Davidson motorcycles.


The bottom line: it’s tough making money off of customers determined to squeeze every dollar’s value till George Washington hollers for mercy. Far better to appeal to people who are interested in expressing a value and an identity.

It’s not only where the money is, it’s also where all the satisfaction is for the business owner, as well. I’ve never met a business owner yet, who didn’t want his (or her) business to stand for something.

So what identity are you appealing to?




2017-02-08_0805The sad part of this year’s Super Bowl ads was that almost none of them actually had a big idea — or really any idea — other than to entertain or dazzle or mystify.

The film making and the special effects and the humor might have all been there, but the messaging and product tie-ins were weak to non-existent.

The only ad with a real strong sales proposition and reason-why was Sprint’s. Frankly, I think the idea of “Don’t let a 1% coverage difference cost you twice as much” was pretty darn strong. It really should have made for a great ad.

Unfortunately, here’s what Sprint’s ad agency came up with:

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So what went wrong?

1) The idea of “Dad faking his own death” was in poor taste, and probably didn’t feel very good for anyone that has recently lost a father or male family member. Especially if it was to suicide.

No, that doesn’t make much logical sense, but emotions don’t have to make sense; they just are.

And if you stir up those kind of emotions with the premise of your ad, you can expect the viewer to associate those bad feelings with your brand.

That’s one reason the ad felt in bad taste, which took away from the clarity of the message & offer.

2) Using Verizon’s ex-spokesperson felt cheap and underhanded. And that feeling of cheap betrayal also infected the ad. If your ad stirs up a rather primal sense of betrayal, you can expect those emotions to attach themselves to your brand.

Magical Thinking and Contagion

Most people might consciously deny believing in cooties or essences, but regardless of their stated beliefs, their actions show that they really do believe in that stuff. It’s why signed sports memorabilia fetches the kind of prices it does — and why someone allegedly stole Tom Brady’s game jersey (which experts estimate to be worth $500,000 to collectors).

Subconscious belief in contagion and essences is also why no one wants to live in a murderers old home.

Scientific tests have even shown that cookies bought in a clear plastic container are felt to be unappetizing if that plastic container is then placed on top of something like a bag of kitty litter — the grossness of the litter “infects” the cookies.

Well, this stuff works in advertising too. You don’t want negative, poisonous emotions rubbing off on and attaching themselves to your brand.

The “faking your own death to get out of a Verizon contract” may have seemed clever in a creative spit-balling session, but that’s not how advertising really works. That clever concept didn’t make the message stickier, it just made it stink.

groundhog-repeatIt’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:

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And more touchingly, here’s one with All the “Old Homeless Man” Scenes:

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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:

  1. It plays to our day-dreams and desires for a do-over for various moments in our life. “Ooh, if only I’d said ____”
  2. It symbolically highlights the routine “daily grind” of most of our days, along with our desire for progress instead of stagnation
  3. 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.


2016-12-12_1415If you’re serious about creating great ads, you’ve undoubtedly seen and studied them.

Legendary ads created by the giants of the industry. Ads created by the likes of Ogilvy, Bernbach, Burnett, Lois, Ally, Riney, Clow. Ads that can be referenced by name alone.

They’re supposed to be teaching aids. Unfortunately, most copywriters look at those ads and decide to copy the superficial: the style of the ad, the layout, or the exact phrasing of the headline.

What they don’t copy is how the ad solved a communication challenge — the strategic approach that the advertising team took to make a point more credible, or emotionally resonant.

Here’s an example of one of those classic ads I mentioned. The “Lemon” ad from Bernbach’s VW campaign:

volkswagen_lemon_hires1 Now, there are two major takeaways from this ad, in my opinion:

  1. The (at that time) shocking idea of putting a derogatory word or title next to a picture of the product
  2. Showing off  quality by spotlighting a manufacturers willingness to discard items that fail to meet exacting standards

Now, if you’re a schmuck, you’ll copy the “Lemon” headline exactly as is (and justify it as an homage), rather than copying the strategy. And maybe it’ll work OK-ish for you so long as you include the second takeaway in your body copy.

But if you’re smart, you’ll figure out how to get the juice from the strategy without ripping off the exact headline. Instead of copying the exact phrasing, you’ll copy the strategy and make it your own.

In other words, you’ll do something like this:


Now, the headline isn’t quite as punchy as “Lemon.”  And, no, the ad ain’t perfect.

But whoever wrote this captured the “throw out anything that doesn’t meet exacting standards” strategy perfectly. And the ad works.

In fact, I was just browsing the magazine it came from at an airport when the ad leaped of the page and smacked me upside the face. I ended up buying the entire magazine just to be able to scan the ad.

And that’s how you steal an ad idea: look for the underlying persuasive strategy, copy it, then make it your own.

P.S. If you’ve never read the book Steal Like An Artist, it’s got lots more advice on how to steel ideas and make them your own. And it comes highly recommended by yours truly. 

2016-12-06_2145Ironically enough, it IS an intriguing headline:

Why Writing Creative Headlines Hurt Conversions: What We Learned Analyzing 150,000 Opt-Ins

But the point the author purports to make is a dangerous one.

Now, to be fair, the author, Sean Bestor, says at the outset that article headlines do better when they’re creative and ought to be creative.

But he claims that headlines for pop-ups (i.e., call-outs and offers) shouldn’t be “creative.”

And to that I can only call bullsh*t.

Here’s why:

First, understand that Sean equates “creative” with “designed to create curiosity” (at least for the purposes of his article). And this is the crux of his problem.

Because there are 5 freakin’ letters in AIDAS* and for whatever unfathomable reason, Sean has decided not to read past the initial AI.

Generating curiosity through creative headlines works awesome when it comes to grabbing ATTENTION and generating INTEREST. That’s why Sean (rightly) says that you should continue to create and use creative headlines for content marketing. Because that’s essentially the job of the headline for an article or a print ad — to grab the reader’s attention and create enough interest in the material to get the rest of the ad looked at/read.

But once you actually have the visitor’s attention and interest, it’s now time to create DESIRE and ACTION.

In other words, you have to (eventually) make an offer which your visitor will find relevant (i.e., desirable) and credible (i.e., worth taking action on).

In Sean’s cited examples, the “straightforward” headlines win because they do just that: they provide clarity around what’s actually being offered and substantiate the value of the offered download.

In contrast, the “creative” headlines didn’t do any of that mainly because they were not designed to. They were written  generate curiosity, not instill desire, so the headlines kept the offer vague and provided no substantiation of value. The visitor, in turn, now left in the dark about what was actually on offer, opted out. A confused prospect never buys, as they say.

But don’t take my word on it; take a look at one of Sean’s examples for yourself:


Frankly, I don’t believe there is anything inherently less creative about “Every Tactic, Ranked (With The Tools And Conversion Rates)” than there is about “Are You Collecting Emails Wrong?”

In fact, I’d say the use of the word “Every” and the inclusion of the parenthetical remark in the so-called straightforward headline actually show a great deal of creativity. It’s just that the creativity was aimed at — you guessed it — generating desire and action rather than attention and interest.

Think about it, at this point App Sumo was essentially offering the visitor a toolbox. So how would a copywriter make that toolbox more appealing?

  1. They’d talk about how complete the toolbox was (enter use of the word “every”), and
  2. They’d talk about the included tools’ proven effectiveness at doing this or that job (with tools and conversion rates).

In fact, I’d dare say that more persuasive thought went into the so-called “straightforward” headline than went into the so-called creative headline.

Sure, the creative headline leverages the question technique and the “accuse them of doing something wrong” technique to generate curiosity, but does that really make it more creative or any more finely wordsmithed than the other headline?

The point is that creative copywriting — including the crafting of headlines — can be aimed at any number of goals beyond generating curiosity. Goals like inspiring greater desire for an offered item, substantiating one’s claims, or creating urgency to act now.

At the end of the day, this isn’t about creative vs. straightforward headlines. This is about knowing where and how to aim your creativity based on where the prospect is within the AIDAS persuasion model.

If you already have the readers attention and interest, it’s time to inspire desire and get them to take action. So aim your creativity there.

*AIDAS is a marketing acronym that stands for Attention-Interest-Desire-Action-Satisfaction, although most marketers leave off the final S. 


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