2015-02-01_1414Ira Glass has advice on advertising?

Well… not specif­i­cally, but he did do an amaz­ing four part series on sto­ry­telling, and I thought I’d trans­late his advice to adver­tis­ing, start­ing with the first video in the series.

The first video cov­ers Ira’s two basic build­ing blocks of sto­ry­telling: the anec­dote and the moment of reflec­tion. And in adver­tis­ing terms, I think these are roughly anal­o­gous to Rel­e­vance and Cred­i­bil­ity. But stick­ing with sto­ry­telling for a moment:

  • The anec­dote is the nar­ra­tive that presents action in real-time, pulls peo­ple into the “world” of the story, builds sus­pense, and gen­er­ates inter­est, and
  • The moment of reflec­tion is the part that helps raise ques­tions and frames the mean­ing of the story

You can see Ira explain­ing these two build­ing blocks here:

YouTube Preview Image

Anec­dote = Meaty Fac­toid or Real­ity Hook = Credibility

In adver­tis­ing speak, the nar­ra­tive is often some inter­est­ing fac­toid or prod­uct fea­ture that can then be tied to a ben­e­fit, need, or desire.

  • “Our prod­uct uses a bet­ter grade of X, so it [pro­vides this benefit].”
  • Or, “We spend twice as long doing Y as the other guys, and that means you get [this benefit]
  • The coakroach you see in the morn­ing is the strag­gler behind hun­dreds of oth­ers that were in your home last night.

Or it’s a real­ity hook that’s tied to an imme­di­ate moment of need:

  • You hit your garage door opener and hear this [sound effect of Garage Door spring break­ing], leav­ing your car trapped in your own Garage. Now what?
  • That roach you saw scur­ry­ing away when you opened your pantry…

In the case of the fac­toid, the Anec­dote is pro­vid­ing cred­i­bil­ity and, with the asso­ci­ated ben­e­fit, some degree of relevance.

In the case of the drama­ti­za­tion, it’s 100% rel­e­vance, framed in terms of a recall cue. As in, when this event hap­pens to you, remem­ber [our brand promise]

Moment of Reflec­tion = Raise Ques­tions, Frame Mean­ing of Ad Campaign


Plant­ing a flag on occu­pied ter­ri­tory involves a fight

Brand­ing and posi­tion­ing (almost) always involve theft and warfare.

The mean­ing of your brand and the “posi­tion” you want in the minds of con­sumers is usu­al­lly already occu­pied, or at least con­tested, by another brand. Some­body else owns, or is try­ing to own, what you want because there are only a few posi­tions worth own­ing. If you want to plant your flag on that piece of men­tal real estate, you’ve got to remove their flag first. Either steal the land out from under them or fight for it: theft and warfare.


That bunny HAD to keep going and going if it wanted to take “long last­ing” away from Duracell.

Take reg­u­lar old bat­ter­ies: the only three qual­i­ties peo­ple care about are:

  1. long-lasting,
  2. reli­able, and
  3. cheap*.

And of those three, the only two suit­able for brand­ing are “long-lasting” and “reli­able.” That’s why Ener­gizer spent gazil­lions of dol­lars on that bunny that just kept going and going and going… until it had stolen “long-lasting” out from under Dura­cell. They could have owned some other attribute with far less effort and expense, but it wouldn’t have been worth owning.

So now Ener­gizer owns “long-lasting” and Dura­cell has switched to adver­tis­ing reli­a­bil­ity, sim­ply because it was the only thing left to take that was still worth owning.

The point to all of this is that it’s almost never enough to posi­tion your brand; you have to de-position (aka unseat) your com­pe­ti­tion as well.**

And that positioning-de-positining dance is what the moment of reflec­tion is all about.

When you men­tion the fact that your brand does X (and the other brands don’t), you get to frame the mean­ing of that fact:

We do X because we’re com­mit­ted to deliv­er­ing, [this ben­e­fit]—which means that the other guy sim­ply doesn’t care.

Now the tag end of that state­ment doesn’t always have to be explic­itly stated. In fact, it’s often bet­ter to have the audi­ence draw that con­clu­sion them­selves. Some­times, though, it helps to openly call out the com­pe­ti­tion and rhetor­i­cally punch them in the face. But regard­less of which way you accom­plish it, that bit of de-positioning should be part of your ad.

For exam­ple:

When your garage door breaks, call us, because we’re [the only ser­vice cen­ter in this area that is] open 24–7 and have fully stocked trucks capa­ble of fix­ing your door on the first visit, even at night and on week­ends. We’re here when you need us, not just when it’s con­ve­nient. [Unlike the other jerks that are only open dur­ing busi­ness hours]

But that’s just for one ad. When you start talk­ing brand­ing and posi­tion­ing, you’re really talk­ing about campaigns.

Chances are, if you do X because you’re com­mit­ted to Y, then X isn’t the only thing you do.

In fact, you’re prob­a­bly doing an entire alpha­bet full of things dif­fer­ently or bet­ter than the other guy. Actions that point back to the val­ues that drive your com­pany. And a good ad cam­paign will frame all those fac­toids to con­sis­tently estab­lish and sup­port the posi­tion you wish to claim in the mind of the customer.

So each ad, you raise a fac­toid (or an Anec­dote in Ira Glass terms) and you frame it in terms of this value, or brand posi­tion (through a moment of reflection).

And your ads should do all of this while rais­ing ques­tions about why your com­pe­ti­tion doesn’t do these things and whether or not they really care about the cus­tomer at all. Posi­tion your­self; de-position your competitors.

Where Most Adver­tis­ers Go Wrong

Most adver­tis­ers go wrong in three places:

1) They pro­vide no facts, real­ity hooks, or dra­ma­tized moments of need. There is noth­ing to estab­lish cred­i­bil­ity or rel­e­vance. They have no anec­dote or story, so they come off as bor­ing, irrel­e­vant, and/or unbe­liev­able. In the words of Roy H. Williams, the ad is all cheese and no meat. What most adver­tis­ers want to skip to is the fram­ing part, the moment of reflec­tion, where they just openly state what they believe and stand for, and so it comes off as so much solip­sis­tic blah-blah-blah.

2) They try to cram all the facts into a sin­gle ad, rather than string­ing them out into a cam­paign. When you just list the facts, they lose their dra­matic impact, and you’re back to blah-blah-blah land.

3) They state a fea­ture or function—what should be an anec­do­tatl buld­ing block—but don’t con­tex­tu­al­ize or dra­ma­tize it. There’s no inter­est or dra­matic force in the fact they give the audi­ence, so it doesn’t trans­late into rel­e­vance or even all that much cred­i­bil­ity, either.

4) They attempt to posi­tion them­selves, with­out depo­si­tion the brand that already holds that posi­tion in the minds of cus­tomers. If you claim a qual­ity or posi­tion that another brand already owns, you’re really just pay­ing to adver­tise them—unless you depo­si­tion them in order to repo­si­tion yourself.

And that’s Part 1. Stay tuned for part 2 later this week.

* Yes, eco-friendly or green is another qual­ity peo­ple might care about for bat­ter­ies, but then you’re into the land of recharge­ables rather than reg­u­lar old alka­line bat­ter­ies. Dif­fer­ent market.

** Some­times you are lucky enough to have no mean­ing­ful com­pe­ti­tion in your cateogry, allow­ing you to sim­ply claim what you want for a brand posi­tion. And that’s a very good thing. Take advan­tage of it! Also, I’m aware that “depo­si­tion” is a legal term, which is why I’m hyphen­at­ing the word so as to mean un-position. Thanks for indulging me in this : )

 P.S. I’m usu­ally wary of talk­ing about mar­ket­ing or adver­tis­ing in terms of war, sim­ply because the anal­ogy doesn’t hold: in war you can attack the enemy directly, in mar­ket­ing you usally can’t; all you can do is per­suade the cus­tomer. Wal­mart didn’t kill Kmart, we did when we stopped shop­ping at Kmart and started shop­ping at Wal­mart instead. But the anal­ogy is use­ful when describ­ing a zero-sum com­pe­ti­tion. There is only so much mar­ket share, cus­tomer dol­lars, and brand posi­tions avail­able. Either you get them, or the com­pe­ti­tion does. Just keep in mind that the only way to beat the com­pe­ti­tion is to win the customer.   



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.

2014-10-17_1512A few weeks back I posted a list of 11 Mar­ket­ing Trig­gers I swiped from a Quora answer, and also promised to elob­o­rate on each item on the list, start­ing with the first, Ethos.

If you’re not famil­iar with the list, here are the 11 triggers:

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.

What’s a “Trigger”

First, “trig­ger” is prob­a­bly the wrong word for this list. “Prin­ci­ple” might be a bet­ter term. But for bet­ter or worse, trig­ger is what the author of the list used, so I’m stick­ing with it.

But what is a trigger?ElectricDrill

Ulti­mately, it’s a lever you can pull to give you access to stored energy. Think in terms of elec­tric drills or trim­mers or fire­hoses, and not just guns.

So a mar­ket­ing trig­ger is a com­mu­ni­ca­tional lever you can pull to tap into already present and stored up desires, emo­tions, or instincts for the pur­poses of empow­er­ing action on the part of the audi­ence. You want the peo­ple who see or hear your ad to take action: to buy the prod­uct or service.

And for your ad to cause (or at least influ­ence) action you’ll need to present your audi­ence with more than just infor­ma­tion and reason-why — you need to trig­ger emo­tions, desires, and instincts.

Let’s Talk About Ethos

I’ve writ­ten about Ethos before but let’s start with the ABC’s of the topic:

A)  Cus­tomers pre­fer to do busi­ness with peo­ple and com­pa­nies that they like and trust. If they nei­ther like nor trust you, chances are you won’t get their busi­ness if they have any other rea­son­able option open to them. Ethos deter­mines your lik­a­bil­ity for a given audience.

B) Peo­ple have expec­ta­tions around how a banker, bouncer, and surf instruc­tor should look and act, such that an invest­ment banker who shows up to a nine fig­ure deal in board­shorts prob­a­bly isn’t going to go over so well, and a not-so-muscled guy in a three piece suit prob­a­bly isn’t going to incur much respect try­ing to break up a fight in a biker bar. Meet­ing audi­ence expec­ta­tions through proper deco­rum, or strate­gi­caly vio­lat­ing those expec­ta­tions, is also an aspect of your ethos that should be inten­tion­ally planned out.

C) Given enough respect for another per­son, you’ll not only accept but act on their advice. Maybe that per­son is your grand­fa­ther. Or an old boss or com­mand­ing offi­cer. Maybe it’s a men­tor or coach or a per­sonal hero of yours. Who­ever it is, I’m sure you can imag­ine how their advice is acted on almost instantly while most advice you recieve gets taken with a grain of salt and/or a large dose of pro­cras­ti­na­tion. That’s what makes ethos a pow­er­ful mar­ket­ing trigger.

Dig­ging Deeper

In my arti­cle on Gen­e­sis Sto­ries, I talk about how Aris­to­tle breaks Ethos down into three com­po­nent attributes:

  1. Prac­ti­cal Wis­dom (aka domain exper­tise) — Do you trust this person’s sub­ject mat­ter expertise?
  2. Dis­in­ter­ested Good­will — Do you believe they have your best inter­ests at heart?
  3. Virtue (not just hon­esty and integrity, but over­all excel­lence) — Do you respect this per­son in general?

Or, in the terms of Jay Hein­richs, you could think of these three as: Craft, Car­ing, and Cause, respec­tively. Good adver­tis­ing should pos­i­tively posi­tion the brand / com­pany / owner in terms of their craft, car­ing, and cause. And, as men­tioned, one of the best ways to kick that off is with a strong gen­e­sis story.

But the thing to remem­ber about Ethos and adver­tis­ing is that there are mul­ti­ple aspects of ethos involved in persuasion:

  • How the audi­ence per­cieves you, the adver­tiser (in terms of car­ing, craft, and cause)
  • How the audi­ence per­cieves them­selves (in those same terms),
  • How they WISH or ASPIRE to be per­ceived (again in terms of car­ing, craft, and cause)

When using ethos as a mar­ket­ing trig­ger it’s best to focus on the gaps between these aspects of ethos:

  • What’s the dis­con­nect between how your audi­ence actu­ally see them­selves and how they WISH to see them­selves?  Is the dis­con­nect pri­mariy in terms of car­ing (they wish they cared more or were more pas­sion­ate or maybe more com­pas­sion­ate)? Of craft or skill (they wish they had greater abil­i­ties)? Or in mis­sion (they wish they were moti­vated by a larger cause and could con­sider them­selves a ded­i­cated mem­ber of a tribe)?
  • What’s the dis­con­nect between how they see you and how they see them­selves? Do they see you as more ded­i­cated? More skilled? More objec­tive? All three? Which one will have the biggest impact?  How can you cre­ate that perception?

If you can answer these ques­tions, you can use ethos as a per­sua­sive trigger.

In sit­u­a­tions where you have no real com­pet­i­tive advan­tage (and nei­ther do your com­peti­tors), you can build your ethos to get peo­ple to like and trust you more than your com­peti­tors. This will become the core of your adver­tis­ing strategy.

In sit­u­a­tions where you have a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage or a USP or a spe­cial sauce, you can relate the ben­e­fits deliv­ered by all that to the prospect’s self image. Or bet­ter yet, to bridg­ing the gap between their cur­rent and their aspi­ra­tional self image. How can your prod­uct help them move from who they are now to who they really want to be.

marlboroAnd if this sounds a bit too the­o­ret­i­cal and high-drift, just remem­ber that we’re really talk­ing about the essence of image-based brand­ing. The Marl­boro Man didn’t sell bil­lions of dol­lars of cig­a­rettes by engag­ing in reason-why adver­tis­ing copy. Marlboro’s cam­paign estab­lished an ethos for the brand that appealed to the audience’s aspi­ra­tional gap.

And that’s how it’s done.

Let’s say you raise chick­ens and farm eggs for a living.

And unlike big agribusi­ness, you’re try­ing to raise your chick­ens under humane con­di­tions, to fol­low the spirit and not just the let­ter of the law for “organic,” and that your chick­ens truly are “free range.”

How do you com­pete with all the aggribusi­ness jerks who cut cor­ners, spin words, play the loop­holes and then get to claim the same “organic” and “free range” titles as you?

When the aver­age shop­per looks down at all her options star­ing up at her in the Whole Foods aisle, most of her choices are all going to say the same things, over and over again: organic feed, free range/cage-free, omega 3s, yada yada yada.

How do you make your eggs stand out in a sea of sameness?

Answer: put a num­ber on your claim: 2014-09-13 12.23.41 The other eggs say “Cage Free” and leave it at that.

Alfreco Farms spec­i­fies “108 SQ FT Out­doors Per bird.”

They put a num­ber to the idea of “free range.” And that added cred­i­bil­ity was enough to win my sale.

But it’s the pic­ture they draw on their Web­site that really brings it home: 2014-09-14_2219 Now you know EXACTLY how much the other jerks are equiv­o­cat­ing when they call their hens “cage-free” or “free-range.”

And you not only know, but FEEL in your gut, just how big the dif­fer­ence is between Alfresco Farms’ pasture-raising and some mega-farm’s “organic” and “cage-free” practices.

So when you’re faced with a sim­i­lar chal­lenge, give this a try: Put a num­ber on it, then paint a picture.

P.S. Note that this com­pany also tries to use alter­na­tive labels and cer­ti­fi­ca­tions: “pasture-raised” vs. “free range” and “cer­ti­fied humane” over and above “cer­ti­fied organic.” All good things to do, but none of them have the power of putting a num­ber to the claim. 

I saw an Acura ad tonight that left me rivited.

Frankly, I’m not sure it’s all that great an ad in the big­ger pic­ture, but the edit­ing and sto­ry­telling was genius.

Some may think I’m over­stat­ing my case on this, but no less a genius than Stan­ley Kubric claimed that the very best film edit­ing was being done in com­mer­cials way back in a 1987 Rolling Stone inter­view. Check it out [ital­ics are inter­viewer, nor­mal font is Kubric, bold­ing is me]:

Books I’ve read on you seem to sug­gest that you con­sider edit­ing the most impor­tant aspect of the filmmaker’s art.

There are three equal things: the writ­ing, slog­ging through the actual shoot­ing and the editing.

You’ve quoted Pudovkin to the effect that edit­ing is the only orig­i­nal and unique art form in film.

I think so. Every­thing else comes from some­thing else. Writ­ing, of course, is writ­ing, act­ing comes from the the­ater, and cin­e­matog­ra­phy comes from pho­tog­ra­phy. Edit­ing is unique to film. You can see some­thing from dif­fer­ent points of view almost simu­lu­neously, and it cre­ates a new experience.

Pudovkin gives an exam­ple: You see a guy hang­ing a pic­ture on the wall. Sud­denly you see his feet slip; you see the chair move; you see his hand go down and the pic­ture fall off the wall. In that split sec­ond, a guy falls off a chair, and you see it in a way that you could not see it any other way except through editing.

TV com­mer­cials have fig­ured that out. Leave con­tent out of it, and some of the most spec­tac­u­lar exam­ples of film art are in the best TV commercials.

Give me an example.

The Mich­e­lob com­mer­cials. I’m a pro foot­ball fan, and I have video­tapes of the games sent over to me, com­mer­cials and all. Last year Mich­e­lob did a series, just impres­sions of peo­ple hav­ing a good time –

The big city at night –

And the edit­ing, the pho­tog­ra­phy, was some of the most bril­liant work I’ve ever seen. For­get what they’re doing — sell­ing beer — and it’s visual poetry. Incred­i­ble eight-frame cuts. And you real­ize that in thirty sec­onds they’ve cre­ated an impres­sion of some­thing rather com­plex. If you could ever tell a story, some­thing with some con­tent, using that kind of visual poetry, you could han­dle vastly more com­plex and sub­tle material.

Peo­ple spend mil­lions of dol­lars and months’ worth of work on those thirty seconds.

So it’s a bit imprac­ti­cal. And I sup­pose there’s really noth­ing that would sub­sti­tute for the great dra­matic moment, fully played out. Still…

After read­ing this I tracked down those Mich­e­lob com­mer­cials to see for myself, and of course Kubric was right:

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

Kubric was right about the bil­liance of the edit­ing, but also in the lim­i­ta­tions of these com­mer­cials, as they are the epit­omy of style with­out sub­stance being used to sell style and fash­ion (i.e., prod­ucts with­out sub­stance). There is a hint of a sto­ry­line in these ads, but it’s left very inten­tion­ally vague, impres­sion­is­tic, and, well, fash­ion­able. And that’s OK for beer, I guess, but prob­a­bly not what you want for cars, though I don’t think those ads did any­thing for Mich­e­lob sales, either.

What you need for more sub­stan­tive prod­ucts like cars is a style that keeps the “visual poetry,” but har­nesses it to tell a “story with content.”

Which is pre­cisely what is so bril­liant about this Acura Ad:

YouTube Preview Image

Same visual poetry, but now it’s in the form of a cohent nar­ra­tive that shows the pas­sion behind the sub­stan­tive efforts to make a sub­stan­tive prod­uct: a performance-oriented lux­ury car.

Will this ad sell some freak­ing cars? I don’t know. But it should at least gen­er­ate some inter­est. And maybe make you feel some­thing for Acura you might not have ever felt before.

And that’s no small thing.

But for­get about Acura, let’s talk about you!

Because I pre­dict we’re going to be see­ing more of this form of intense, rapid-fire visual poetry going for­ward. This Cirque Du Soleil-esque form of rapid distraction.

Sure, we’ll still pay atten­tion to the well done, dra­matic mono­logue. And some­times it’s bet­ter to zig when oth­ers zag, like Dodge did a few Superbowl’s back.

But intel­li­gently har­ness­ing the power of rapid-distraction sto­ry­telling is becom­ing more and more com­mon in main­stream adver­tis­ing. And it’s not lim­ited to just big national brands either. Frankly, I think the only thing stop­ping radio adver­ti­sis­ers from doing it is skill. Heck, it’s already been done once.

So what are you wait­ing for?

Do you know how to tell a story in rapdi-fire for­mat?

Came across this DBB ad recently and was struck by how true every­thing in it remains. In fact, by how much more true it is today than on the day it first ran. Read it and see for yourself:

DDB Do This Or Die

Seems like the world of adver­tis­ing — both in mass media and online — is in des­per­ate need of another Cre­ative Rev­o­lu­tion, just as this post and this cool video suggest.

And frankly, if you’re not part of the solu­tion, you’re part of the problem.


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