40 years ago, Coke made their leg­endary “Hill­top” com­mer­cial, fea­tur­ing a cho­rus of young peo­ple singing “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Per­fect Har­mony).”  You can watch it here:

YouTube Preview Image

And 40 years later, Coke made this com­mer­cial, titled “Cho­rus,” fea­tur­ing another cho­rus of young peo­ple, this time singing a small sec­tion of the Oasis song, “What­ever.” It’s another bril­liant ad, that’s start­ingly dif­fer­ent from “Hill­top” despite the super­fi­cial sim­i­lar­i­ties. Check it out:

YouTube Preview Image

So what are these star­tling differences?

There Are 3 Dif­f­ences in Content

1) Ignor­ing vs. Admit­ing the Gritty Reality/Downside

Hill­top” is sort of a fan­tasy world of “apple­trees and honey bees / and snow white tur­tle doves,” with not a cloud in site or so much as an evil or greedy thought to be found.

The “Cho­rus” ad on the other hand, con­tin­u­ously acknowl­edges the exis­tence of tanks, greed, cor­rup­tion, weapon sys­tems, defen­sive and xeno­pho­bic walls, etc.  And yet, the opti­mism of the ad is strength­ened rather than harmed for the acknowl­edge­ment. More on this later!

2) Sen­ti­men­tal­ity vs. Data

The “Hill­top” ad is all about the emo­tional moment, with no text on the screen or fac­tual any­thing to get in the way. They believe in world piece and are sym­bol­i­cally rep­re­sent­ing it by singing in uni­son within their mul­ti­cul­tural youth cho­rus. It’s a sen­ti­men­tal piece purely in step with the zeit­geist of 1971.

The “Cho­rus” ad has an over­all pos­i­tive sen­ti­ment — there are rea­sons to believe in a bet­ter world — but the text on the screen pro­vides those very rea­sons for believ­ing. Rea­sons which take the form of hard math and sta­tis­tics: for every X bad things, there are 10x good things.”

3) Wishes vs. Action

The “Hill­top” ad lit­er­ally sings of what these young peo­ple “would like” to do — “I’d like to build the world a home and fur­nish it with love” — regard­less of how dif­fi­cult or just plain impos­si­ble the feat or of how lit­tle these peo­ple are actu­ally doing to make this candy-coated sen­ti­ment a reality.

In con­trast, when the “Cho­rus” ad cham­pi­ons the rea­sons to believe in a bet­ter world, they con­sist of actions that peo­ple are tak­ing: mak­ing teddy bears, donat­ing blood, bak­ing a cake, hav­ing a baby. For­get what you’d like to do, tell me what you’ve done.

So What Does Coke Know That You Don’t?

Whether Coke con­sciously under­stands this or whether they’re just able to hire tal­ented artists who grok it sub­con­sciously, our cul­ture rad­i­cally changes it’s over­all world­view every 40 years.  The spirit of the times changes on a pro­found level, and if you’re left out of step with those times, you and your mes­sage will get dis­missed and ignored, if not riducled outright.

So what are these 40 year cycles I’m talk­ing about?

I learned about them from my part­ner Roy H. Williams, and to under­stand them, you first need to re-frame the way you think about a “generation.”

We typ­i­cally think of a gen­er­a­tion as a set of birth cohorts: peo­ple born within 5–10 years of each other. But for this model, it helps to think of a gen­er­a­tion as a gen­eral world out­look that kids develop and then upsell to their par­ents.  And there are really only two tem­plates for this outlook:

  1. Ide­al­ist
  2. Civic

So every 40 years we swap from an Ide­al­ist Gen­er­a­tional out­look to a Civic Gen­er­a­tional out­look.  1963 rep­re­sented a swap from  Civic to Ide­al­ist, and 2003 rep­re­sented the shift back from Ide­al­ist to Civic.  And from that you might have a pretty good idea of what the two gen­er­a­tional out­looks are like, but let’s expand on that a bit…

Ide­al­ist Generations

Ide­al­ist gen­er­a­tional out­looks cre­ate spir­i­tual awak­en­ings. And sure enough, we’ve had a “Great Awak­en­ing” in this coun­try every 80 years or so, pretty much like clock­work, start­ing from the first Great Awak­en­ing in 1720 and con­tin­u­ing onto the “Fourth Great Awak­en­ing” in the early 1960s.

Ide­al­ists, or what Roy terms “Me Gen­er­a­tions” prri­mar­ily engage the cul­ture through:

  1. A Beau­ti­ful Dream of Free­dom from Restraint
  2. A Hunger for Self Expression
  3. A Search for Individuality

That sort of sounds like the 60s and 70s, doesn’t it?  Of course, take these val­ues too far and you get the phony pos­ing, con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion, and alien­ation of the 80s. React­ing to exactly that excess, you get a grad­u­ally ris­ing Civic Gen­er­a­tional out­look, first expressed by Gen-Xers, and brought into the main­stream by Millenials…

Civic Gen­er­a­tions

Civic Gen­er­a­tions are gen­er­ally known for com­ing together in the face of a cri­sis, usu­ally through mil­i­tary action. Think “The Great­est Gen­er­a­tion” in WWII. And, yes, you can take that same basic 80 year cycle and track major wars by that same cycle, Rev­o­lu­tion­ary, Civil, and WWII.

As opposed to an Ide­al­ist gen­er­a­tion, the Civic out­look includes:

  1. A Beau­ti­ful Dream of Work­ing Together for the Com­mon Good
  2. A Hunger for Accep­tance as a Mem­ber of a Team
  3. A Search for Significance

If the Boomers of the six­ties rejected con­for­mity, the Gen-Xers and Mil­lenials of the aughts rejected pre­tense — they wanted the truth, even if it was ugly. The didn’t want to “sell out,” but sought to do some­thing “real” that “mattered.”

This is how “Being cool” become “Keep­ing it Real.”  And why the preter­nat­u­rally cool, liv­ing large, and totally in charge James Bond  became the dam­aged and flawed Jason Bourne, deal­ing with a seri­ously messed up sit­u­a­tion that’s big­ger than him and that he didn’t cre­ate, but that he’s forced to solve anyway.

Ide­al­ist = “Hill­top” and Civic = “Chorus”

So ulti­mately, what Coke knows that you don’t is how to stay in-step with the spirit of the age in order to ensure your mar­ket­ing mes­sage is as effec­tive as possible.

So where can you learn more about Ide­al­ist and Civic gen­er­a­tions, and specif­i­cally what to expect and how to suc­ceed as this cur­rent Civic gen­er­a­tion rises to a peak?  For­tu­nately, Roy H. William’s new book, Pen­du­lum, explains exactly that. It’s an eye-opening fas­ci­nat­ing read, from an intel­lec­tual stand­point, and also one of the more prac­ti­cal books you’ll buy this year.

Now, while you cer­tainly can go buy the book from Ama­zon, you can also get that same hardover book for the dis­counted rate of $7 over at Pen­du­lu­mI­n­Ac­tion while also get­ting some extra “imme­di­ately action­able” good­ies thrown in as a bonus.  The extra good­ies were cre­ated by the co-author of the book, Michael Drew, and they include some great stuff.

P.S. As a sort of guar­an­tee, if you buy it on my rec­om­men­da­tion (and for the record, I’ve pur­posely cho­sen NOT to get any kind of affil­i­ate pay­ment for this) and you don’t end up find­ing the book use­ful and impor­tant, let me know and I’ll pay­pal you a refund.

P.P.S. In case you didn’t catch my men­tion of it ear­lier, and in the inter­est of full dis­clo­sure, I am a busi­ness part­ner with Roy Williams and a friend of Michael Drew’s. 

Fact: most of our deci­sions aren’t made on a straight cost-benefit analysis.

Instead, the major­ity of us decide based on con­text and self-image: what kind of per­son am I, and what should a per­son like that do in a sit­u­a­tion like this.

And that’s what’s so great about the sig­nage pic­tured on the left.

I took the photo with my phone after drop­ping my kids off at school the other day, just because the sign was so dev­as­tat­ingly effec­tive. Hon­estly, how much more effec­tive do you think that speed limit sign is at actu­ally reduc­ing unsafe dri­ving speeds due to the added verbiage?

For­get per­cent­ages — I’d say it’s more effec­tive by a mat­ter of mul­ti­ples!  Like 2x or 3x more effective.

Why? Because it reframes how dri­vers inter­pret the sign, mov­ing it from a gov­ern­men­tal impo­si­tion that’s no big deal to flout to a com­mu­nity stan­dard that would be bad man­ners to disregard.

How does it do all that?

By redefin­ing the the speed limit as a “Neigh­bor­hood” speed Limit — i.e., a stan­dard agreed upon by the local com­mu­nity — and by adding in the nor­ma­tive “Nice neigh­bors don’t speed.”

If you con­sider your­self a respectable, decent neigh­bor and you pass that sign­ing going 30 mph, you feel like a heel, as if you were pur­pose­fully or care­lessly endan­ger­ing your neigh­bors’ kids and pets.

And so you slow down!

This does not often hap­pen with just reg­u­lar old speed limits.

The point is that mar­keters fre­quently fail to take this decision-making process into account, rely­ing instead on pure self-interest, as embod­ied in the WIIFM acronym.

Mar­keters rarely con­sider HOW the prospect sees her­self and how we can bring our desired action into align­ment with her self image. We don’t emo­tion­eer our per­sua­sive mes­sages. But we should…

 

The basics are not basic because they are easy, but because they are fun­da­men­tal. And when it comes to Web­site opti­miza­tion, the three fun­da­men­tal ques­tions pretty much never change:

  1. Who is com­ing to the site? How did they arrive? And what are their goals?
  2. What’s the next step for­ward for them both in terms of their goals and your con­ver­sion funnel?
  3. What do they need to under­stand, believe, and feel in order to con­fi­dently take those next steps

The beauty of these ques­tions are that they help you under­stand WHY web vis­i­tors do what they do. Ana­lyt­ics can tell you what vis­i­tors are doing, but you’ll never really fig­ure out WHY they’re doing it until you get a grasp on these questions.

I was reminded of this when look­ing at this week’s Which Test Won col­umn. Now, I like Which Test Won, but my usual pet peave with their columns is that they often fail to give read­ers enough con­text around the tests and the user expe­ri­ence and click­stream in order to make a fully informed guess as to which of the two vari­ants won.

At best you have to sort of make edu­cated guesses regard­ing the three basic ques­tions. Here’s an example:

The con­test explanation/headline is: “Does Adding a ‘Refine Your Search’ Tool­bar Help Click­throughs on a Cat­e­gory Page with 99+ Prod­ucts?” And then they just present you with the two pages, one with and one with­out the ‘refine your search’ tool­bar. I’ve screen­shot the images and pasted them below:

So… it sort of mat­ters how peo­ple got to this page and what they’re shop­ping for, or if they are shop­ping vs. just get­ting infor­ma­tion, and WHY they are shop­ping.  But no one tells you this, so you’re sort of left to imag­ine or “make up” the visitor’s intentions/goals and path to this page. Here’s how I pic­tured it, based on the infor­ma­tion pro­vided in the bread­crumbs up at the top of the page:

  • The vis­i­tors came to buy some sort of wood fin­ish for a home improve­ment project, I’m guess­ing some kind of deck finish
  • They came in from the home page, went to “Dec­o­rat­ing,” select­ing “Woodcare,”
  • Finally click­ing on “Cupri­nol,” OR
  • The vis­i­tor searched on “Cupri­nol Wood Fin­ish” (or sim­i­lar) and this page rep­re­sents the search results.
Either way, you sort of have to assume that the vis­i­tor needs some sort of wood refin­isher for an out­door struc­ture, like a deck or a shed, and that she has an already estab­lished bias in favor of the Curpinol brand.
NOW that you know this, it makes it eas­ier to fig­ure out whether the “Refine Your Search Tool” might help or if the vis­i­tor is already close enough to her goal to pre­fer browsing:
  • Is it eas­ier to refine by price or do you really just want to look and see what the price is?  Prob­a­bly the latter.
  • Does it help to refine by brand? No, because you’ve already done that by spec­i­fy­ing Cuprinol.
  • What about refin­ing by prod­uct type? Meh, what if you’re look­ing for a com­bi­na­tion stain and preser­v­a­tive?  Or maybe you want to see all your options?
  • Might it help to refine by appli­ca­tion? Yes, but would you even have seen that or would you already have dis­missed the refin­ing tool as use­less by now?
So which page would you guess works bet­ter?  The page with the pretty much use­less refine­ment fea­ture or the page that moves the most likely needed prod­uct — the deck­ing pro­tec­tor — up above the fold, giv­ing you encour­age­ment to scroll down and see what’s available?
You guessed it, the page with­out the search refine­ment tool won. You can read the results here. But while you can get the results with­out going through my lit­tle men­tal sim­u­la­tion, you wouldn’t have a work­ing hypoth­e­sis as to WHY the results are what they are with­out answer­ing those three fun­da­men­tal questions.

Bryan Eisen­berg Still Kick­ing CRO Butt w/ the 3 Questions

And who did I learn those ques­tions from?
Bryan and Jef­frey Eisen­berg. And sure enough, they’re still at it, teach­ing the CRO com­mu­nity how it’s done with their recent Con­ver­sion Opti­miza­tion 101 series.  And their most recent post is well worth review­ing in light of the three questions.
Here you can see a Face­book ad that Bryan clicked on while cruis­ing through FB on his ipad:
And here you can see the land­ing page the ad brought him to:
 So let’s run through the questions:

Ques­tion #1:

Bryan got to this page from the Face­book Ad while brows­ing the web on his iPad. His “goal” is to take advan­tage of the free trial offer.  This means that the land­ing page should match the expec­ta­tions cre­ated by the ad. Not just objec­tively, but subjectively.
But does it? Not really.  First, the ad is writ­ten in span­ish, and the land­ing page is entirely in Eng­lish.  Sec­ond, the head­line pre­sented within the frame of the image and within the “active win­dow” men­tions the $7.99 per month instead of a free 1-month trial. In fact, the Face­book Ad fea­tures “Free Trial” lan­guage in the ad image (in Eng­lish instead of Span­ish), the ad’s head­line, AND the ad’s body copy.
So shouldn’t the land­ing pages red stripe with the Net­flix header also say “Free Trial”?  Sure it should — it should match the Face­book ad as closely as pos­si­ble in look and feel.
Yes, there is a “1 Month Free” call-out off to the side, but it’s off to the side, away from the hero shot and from the inter­ac­tive ele­ments on the page.
Also, shouldn’t an iPad brows­ing prospect be shown a land­ing page fea­tur­ing a pic­ture of a movie being watched on an iPad instead of on an iPhone?  This one is a bit nit-picky com­pared to the oth­ers, but for a com­pany like Net­flix, it’s well worth the added effort of proper targeting.

Ques­tion #2:

Bryan’s next step for­ward is to sign-up for the free trial.
So far so good, and the sign-up form is nice and sim­ple. But why sep­a­rate the sign-up form from the rest of the page by abruptly chang­ing the color scheme?  And why make the form feel dif­fer­ent than the ad through the choice of a dif­fer­ent color scheme? This might have worked if sign­ing up was log­ging in with your Face­book login, since the grey and blue echo Facebook’s own color scheme.
But these ques­tions are small change com­pared to…

Ques­tion #3:

In order to move for­ward Bryan Eisen­berg needs to under­stand what’s gong to hap­pen next — what’ll hap­pen after (and IF) he clicks the “Start Your Free Month” button?
So does the page explain this for Bryan?  Not at all.  He has no idea what hap­pens after he fills out the form. Will he be taken to the main site to pick out his movies? Will he get an e-mail with a spe­cial link and coupon code?  Is this all he has to fill out, or will he need to add in his credit card info before he can start watch­ing movies.
You can’t get a vis­i­tor con­fi­dent in tak­ing the next step unless he’s sure of what to expect, and this page fails to do that.
And this is what the 3 ques­tions are all about — giv­ing you insight that you sim­ply won’t get from other approaches.  Why do I say this? Because on Bryan’s com­ment sec­tion for this post, lots of peo­ple have com­mented on the design, usabil­ity, and scent flaws of this land­ing page, but no one has both­ered talk­ing about the mes­sag­ing around the last question.
And, frankly, it’s the mes­sag­ing that usu­ally holds the key to the biggest gains.
Bot­tom Line: Know the Fun­da­men­tal Ques­tions, Use the Fun­da­men­tal Ques­tions, and Never let up on the Three Questions.

Matthew Hutson’s jour­nal­ism on Mag­i­cal Think­ing has been inspir­ing my thoughts on adver­tis­ing for a few years now, so when his book on the sub­ject came out, I made it a point to pester his pub­lisher for a review copy of The 7 Laws of Mag­i­cal Think­ing.

But rather than write a tra­di­tional review, I’m going to:

  • Just come right out and rec­om­mend the book. If you’re read­ing this blog, you’ll love the book — go grab a copy. And also…
  • Pro­vide a quick sum­mary of the 7 Laws as described in the book.

Fol­low up posts will focus on the Q&A’s with the author and adver­tis­ing appli­ca­tions. So now it’s onto those tit­u­lar 7 Laws.

Matthew Hutson’s 7 Laws of Mag­i­cal Think­ing are:

1) Objects Carry Essences

Think sports mem­o­ra­bilia, Catholic relics, his­tor­i­cal arti­facts.  The for­mer own­ers of these objects, for­mer acts that they took part in, and so on have imbued them with greater mean­ing and weight that go beyond the merely sym­bolic — they have essences. Jackie O’s fake pearl neck­lace sold for over $200K at auc­tion, not because the lac­quered mar­bles had any intrin­sic value, but because they had some of Jackie’s essence in them.

A quote from the book says it all:

There are many lay­ers of belief,” psy­chol­o­gist Carol Nemeroff says. “And the answer for many peo­ple, espe­cially with regard to magic, is, ‘Most of me doesn’t believe but some of me does.’” Peo­ple will often acknowl­edge their gut reac­tion and say it makes no sense to act on it—but do it anyway.”

We may not con­sciously believe in essences, but our actions prove oth­er­wise. That’s why peo­ple recoil from a laun­dered arti­cle of cloth­ing if they are told it was worn by a ser­ial killer. It’s why you don’t want an exact replica of your wed­ding ring, but would insist on the actual ring, instead.

2) Sym­bols Have Power

Why did you know you where in trou­ble when your par­ents called you by your full name?  And why, as a par­ent, do you fully name your child when exert­ing author­ity over her?  There’s some­thing pow­er­ful about a name-giver fully pro­nounc­ing a named entity and we instinc­tively rec­og­nize it; sym­bols have power.

I can’t help think­ing of the famous Monty Python and the Holy Grail skit where the peas­ant has his polit­i­cal rant about how “strange women lyin’ in ponds dis­trib­utin’ swords is no basis for a sys­tem of gov­ern­ment. Supreme exec­u­tive power derives from a man­date from the masses, not from some far­ci­cal aquatic cer­e­mony.”  Yeah, it’s the elec­tion and not the cer­e­mony that mat­ters. And yet, the Pres­i­dent of the United States doesn’t become pres­i­dent after the elec­tion. The President-Elect only becomes Pres­i­dent after the swear­ing in ceremony.

And mar­ket­ing sym­bols have tremen­dous power — the power to make lux­ury brand wear­ers feel bet­ter about them­selves, and sporty-brand wear­ers to feel more ath­letic, and to make wine taste bet­ter.  And let’s not for­get Apple icon’s abil­ity to make buy­ers open up their wal­lets. Those sym­bols have power, indeed.

3) Actions Have Dis­tant Consequences

What hap­pens to the voodoo doll also hap­pens to the tar­geted per­son, despite the phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of doll and tar­get. But that’s con­scious belief in Magic. So what about cheer­ing on your favorite team while watch­ing the game in your liv­ing room? Does your men­tal sup­port of the team matter?

What about pre-game or pre–Big Day rit­u­als? Most of us have them, and most of us believe, at least on some level, that they help, that they have an effect on the results we achieve, or else why would we do them, right?

And what about tempt­ing fate? Does switch­ing check­out lines make the line you leave move faster? What about not “jinx­ing” a pick­nick by talk­ing about the weather?  Or “knock­ing on wood”?  If you think about it, almost all super­sti­tion is based on “spooky action at a dis­tance.” And super­sti­tion is uni­ver­sal. You can’t ignore it when mod­el­ing how peo­ple make decisions.

4) The Mind Knows No Bounds

Two words: The Secret. But again, that’s an exam­ple of peo­ple con­sciously believ­ing in Magic, rather than hav­ing their sub­con­scious belief reveal itself through every­day behav­iors, despite a con­scious denial of said belief. So how about Syn­chronic­ity. Even if we don’t believe in syn­chronic­ity, we see a causal con­nec­tion between think­ing about our spouses, only to have the call us at that very moment.  A part of us believes that they called us because we were think­ing about them.

Sim­i­larly, most of us have also held the notion that we can “feel it” when some­one stares at us. We under­stand what it means to feel as if we’re being watched.  And how exactly would we be able to feel that if we didn’t have some notion that the con­scious­ness of one per­son can be picked up on by another with­out any sort of medi­a­tion or direct communication?

5) The Soul Lives On

Even those of us who don’t believe in heaven or an after­life, still act as if they do. They’ll still go to a grave to pay their respects (to whom, exactly?), or hang on to con­tact infor­ma­tion in their cell phones or com­put­ers.  Or, in a more famous exam­ple that Hut­son quotes from The Year of Mag­i­cal Think­ing, Joan Did­ion real­ized why she had an emo­tional block against giv­ing away her dead husband’s shoes: she couldn’t do it because, some­where in her uncon­scious, she still felt that “he would need shoes if he returned.”

And like most exam­ples of Mag­i­cal Think­ing, the mere real­iza­tion that one’s think­ing is mag­i­cal doesn’t release the spell. As Did­ion wrote of her he’ll-need-shoes rev­e­la­tion: “The recog­ni­tion of this thought by no means erad­i­cated the thought.” To re-quote Carol Numeroff: “Most of me doesn’t believe, but part of me does.”

6) The World Is Alive

If you’ve ever thrown a ham­mer after hit­ting your thumb, or kicked an inan­i­mate object after bump­ing into it, or yelled at your car, you’ve acted as if the thing was alive and in pos­ses­sion of a con­scious will, if not out­right mal­ice. Another great exam­ple of this comes from the movie Back­draft:

YouTube Preview Image

Again, this guy is will­ing to con­sciously square with his idea of liv­ing fire, but most of us, at some level, have sim­i­lar beliefs. Or at least we act as if we do.

7) Every­thing Hap­pens for a Reason

We are wired to find mean­ing, and espe­cially to look for and find mean­ing in the events that befall us. As Matthew Hut­son writes in the book:

We com­pose our life sto­ries using the data given — the some­what ran­dom hap­pen­ings of our pasts — but then we get the roles of the data and the inter­pre­ta­tion con­fused: we stare in won­der at how well the events seem to fit the theme, for­get­ting that we cus­tom fit the theme to the events. It’s another exam­ple of the Texas sharp­shooter fal­lacy, but instead of draw­ing a tar­get around a clus­ter of bul­let holes and gawk­ing at the aim of a marks­man, your con­struct­ing a story around a series of occur­rences and mar­veling at the wis­dom and insight of prov­i­dence. One stray bul­let and you wouldn’t be who you are today”

You can see some of this mag­i­cal think­ing at work in the roman­tic com­edy trope of “meet­ing cute.” To arrange for your leads to meet cute is to arrange for them to acci­den­tally bump into each other through chance or hap­pen­stance, so that when they later fall in love, it feels more like their cou­pling was fated rather than self-directed.

Why This Stuff Matters

In a word, you have to meet peo­ple where they are, and per­suade them on their terms, not yours. Peo­ple aren’t ratio­nal lit­tle robots. They are irra­tional. Or, if you pre­fer, supra-rational. The good news is that they are, to bor­row a phrase from Dan Ariely, pre­dictably irrational.

Mag­i­cal Think­ing is one of the ways in which peo­ple are pre­dictably irra­tional. And know­ing the laws of mag­i­cal think­ing helps you make those predictions.

In other words, you really ought to go buy a copy of The 7 Laws of Mag­i­cal Think­ing if your job involves influ­enc­ing decisions.

An images story appeal is its abil­ity to cause view­ers to imag­ine the story sur­round­ing the cap­tured moment.  What hap­pened before and after the moment depicted in the paint­ing of photo, and, by exten­sion, what’s the mean­ing of the moment being captured?

The idea is for peo­ple to see the image and ask them­selves, “What’s the story here?” That’s story appeal.  And at least accord­ing to David Ogilvy, story appeal is cru­cial for adver­tis­ing imagery, which makes it a skill worth studying.

And with that in mind, is there any­body in the world bet­ter at cre­at­ing images with story appeal than Nor­man Rockwell?

Just take a look at the following:

Any chance you could look at any of those and NOT under­stand the story that’s being told, not “pic­ture” the imme­di­ate before and after moments belong­ing to these images?

How He Does It

Rockwell’s depicts rituals.

It is the eas­ily rec­og­nized and self-identifiable nature of these Amer­i­can rit­u­als that give his paint­ings their emo­tional appeal. And because we rec­og­nize the rit­ual, we also instantly know what took place just before and after the moment cap­tured in the pic­ture. In our minds, we enter into the sto­ry­land Rock­well illus­trates for us.

With­out rit­ual it’s much harder for an audi­ence to have that reac­tion, or for an image to exert that kind of story appeal.

Show me a car dri­ving down the road and I feel no auto­matic urge to enter into the story of that car and it’s dri­ver. There’s no rit­ual there. Show me a car dri­ving down the road that’s drag­ging a bunch of shoes from the bumper and has a “Just Mar­ried” on the back win­dow, and the story becomes clear — both of what hap­pened before the cou­ple got into the car and what’ll most likely hap­pen when they get out of the car at their destination.

That’s the sto­ry­telling power of rit­ual. But rit­ual isn’t just lim­ited to sacra­ments and for­mal­i­ties. We all have our daily rit­u­als, too. Show me a guy climb­ing into his car with his travel cof­fee mug and a brief­case, and I’ll think “com­mute.” Our take lunchtime for example:

Why This Matters

While the impor­tance of story appeal is obvi­ous for visual ads, it’s impor­tant for radio (and TV) ads, too. Here’s why:

Just as every writer has heard the advice to “Show, Don’t Tell,” every writer of drama has heard the adage to “enter late and leave early” when writ­ing their scenes. Basi­cally, skip the expo­si­tion at the begin­ning (enter late), and let the audi­ence fig­ure out the obvi­ous con­clu­sions while you move onto a new scene (leave early).

But that sort of begs the ques­tion: how do you do that?

Answer: tap into the power of rit­ual — show rec­og­niz­able situations.

And how do I know this works and is sound advice?

An Adver­tis­ing Example

Want to see an inter­est­ing exam­ple of a com­mer­cial that taps into the power of rit­ual and both enters late and leaves early?  Check this out:

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So what about you? How are you har­ness­ing into the power of rit­ual and story appeal with your ads?

The Alamo Draft­house, pretty much the coolest movie the­atre chain on the planet, came out with the fol­low­ing pro­mo­tion for the sum­mer of 2012:

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Yup.  That’s pretty much PURE GENIUS.

They aren’t play­ing up the tan­gi­bles of the movie busi­ness — the lat­est release, the avail­abil­ity of 3-D IMAX or dolby sound, or say the com­fort of ultra-plush seat­ing — they’re tap­ping into the intan­gi­ble draw that many or most 40 and 50-somethings have for the pop-culture mile­stones of their youth.  

As a result of this emo­tional draw that they pur­posely tapped into, Alamo Draft­house will likely pay less to show these movies and draw large crowds of very appre­cia­tive, excited audi­ences — crowds that likely wouldn’t have come out for the lat­est and great­est sum­mer block­buster fare.

Why Not Your Business?

Sure, The Alamo Draft­house is IN the enter­tain­ment busi­ness. It’s prob­a­bly eas­ier for them to gen­er­ate excite­ment around a night out at the movies than it might be for, say, a plumber to tap into the power of nos­tal­gia. But it’s not impos­si­ble for the plumber. How about sell­ing claw-foot tubs big enough to let a 6-foot adult stretch out and float, the way you used to be able to when you were a lit­tle kid?  Sort of a feel like a kid again, bath­tub for the afflu­ent type promotion…

Maybe you’re reject­ing that spe­cific idea, and that’s fine, the point isn’t that that’s a great idea, but that it’s pos­si­ble for most busi­nesses to inject an ele­ment of sen­ti­ment and nos­tal­gia and excite­ment into their busi­ness rather than resign­ing them­selves to push­ing noth­ing but tangibles.

Because when you’re noth­ing but tan­gi­bles, you’re a com­mod­ity, or on the road to commodity-ville. 

So ask your­self this:

  • What are your cus­tomers will­ing to re-call, com­mem­o­rate, and cel­e­brate with you?
  • How can you help them do that?
  • What kind of anniver­sary or con­nec­tion or his­tor­i­cal asso­ci­a­tion could you choose to celebrate?

Most impor­tantly, how could YOU use nos­tal­gia and sen­ti­ment in your business?

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