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:

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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?

by Jeff

I have guest posted over at Web Mar­ket­ing Today for a while now, but the Web­site itself has recently under­gone a redesign as well as a slight edi­to­r­ial change with regards to my posts.  While the focus on Web Mar­ket­ing for small to medium-sized busi­nesses remains the same, my  posts are now focused on:

  1. Web­site Improve­ment for Service-Based Businesses
  2. Con­tent Mar­ket­ing for Service-Based Businesses

I’m excited about this because SMB Ser­vice Providers are a largely under­served mar­ket when it comes to Web Mar­ket­ing.  Most exam­ples focus on either etail­ers or enterprise-sized B2B ser­vice providers.

Yet, a major­ity of what my Wiz­ard Part­ners call “Main Street Busi­nesses” are either ser­vice providers (think HVAC, car­pet­ing, con­trac­tors, print­ers, adver­tis­ers, Web design­ers, accoun­tants, con­sul­tants etc.) or are retail­ers who man­age to stay prof­itable and, frankly, rel­e­vant to the cus­tomer based on their abil­ity to pro­vide ser­vices around the sale (most niche or spe­cialty stores & bou­tiques). So this is an extremely impor­tant mar­ket to serve and speak to, and I feel uniquely priv­i­leged to be able to do so.

If you’re inter­ested in this kind of con­tent, you can find all my Web Mar­ket­ing Today posts here.  A recent one that I think many of you would like is this post on 5 Sales-Generating Pho­tos for Ser­vice Web­sites.

At any rate, I hope you  like what you find, and please let me know if there is any­thing that you’d like me to cover in future articles.

by Jeff

Did you know that there are 12 kinds of Ads?

Granted, this model is geared towards TV ads, but, yes, accord­ing to Don­ald Gunn, a for­mer cre­ative direc­tor at the leg­endary Leo Bur­nett agency, there are only 12 kinds of ads.

I’m not going to go into them here, since you can read all about Gunn’s cat­e­gories over at, but I am going to give you an alter­nate frame­work for think­ing about ads.

So what’s the framework?

It’s the same Frame­work that’s been made famous — or, at least more famous — by its men­tion by the Heath Broth­ers in the open­ing chap­ters of their justly famous book, Made to Stick, wherein they men­tion an Israeli research paper, “The Fun­da­men­tal Tem­plates of Qual­ity Ads.”  Accord­ing to the pub­lished research, 89% of award win­ning ads could be clas­si­fied into 6 basic templates.

More impor­tantly, pro­vid­ing ama­teurs with just 2 hours of train­ing on the use of these tem­plates boosted their abil­i­ties to pro­duce ads that pos­i­tively affected audi­ence per­cep­tion of the adver­tised prod­ucts by 55%

And now I’m going to break those tem­plates down for you :)

Just keep in mind that, again, these tem­plates were dis­cov­ered while research­ing award win­ning ads, not nec­es­sar­ily sales increas­ing and market-share win­ning ads. But for what it’s worth, here are the tem­plates, com­plete with handy-dandy examples:

Tem­plate 1: Pic­to­r­ial Analogy

In tech­ni­cal terms, this type of ad cre­ates a dra­matic sit­u­a­tion and then makes a sub­sti­tu­tion between the prod­uct and another item with sym­bolic sig­nif­i­cance in order to illus­trate the value or worth of the prod­uct.  The idea is to cre­ate an unex­pected or sur­pris­ing expla­na­tion of the value of the prod­uct through visual metaphor.

If that’s hard to fol­low, just look at the nike exam­ple to the right.

In the ad you are intro­duced into a dra­matic sit­u­a­tion of hav­ing to jump from a burn­ing build­ing only to find that the fire­fight­ers’ safety net/trampoline — an item with huge sym­bolic value — has been swapped for a nike air shoe.

This pic­to­r­ial anal­ogy cre­atively illus­trates the pro­tec­tive and cush­ion­ing func­tion of Nike Air tech­nol­ogy and is rein­forced by the ad copy which calls the air tech­nol­ogy, “Some­thing soft between you and the pavement.”

 Tem­plate 2: Extreme Situation

This tem­plate shows a prod­uct per­form­ing beyond the lim­its of nor­mal use in order to exag­ger­ate a key attribute or worth.

This may seem sim­i­lar to the pic­to­r­ial anal­ogy, but it’s dif­fer­ent because it requires no use of sym­bol­ism or anal­ogy — it’s more straight­for­ward in it’s extrem­ity.  The cleve out­door ad for the super­glue isn’t try­ing to make a visual pun, it’s just show­ing the glue used in an exag­ger­ated extreme.

The same can be said for this ad for WMF knives:








Tem­plate 3: Extreme Consequences

This tem­plate shows the exag­ger­ated results of either using the prod­uct or the exag­ger­ated con­se­quences of not using it.  This lis­ter­ine ad shows the extreme con­se­quences of NOT using their mouthwash.

While this ad for Won­der­bra indi­rectly shows an extreme con­se­quence from using their product:

Tem­plate 4: Competition

As the name indi­cates, this tem­plate shows the prod­uct in direct com­par­i­son with either com­pet­ing prod­ucts or exag­ger­ated alter­na­tives. This Ver­i­zon ad is about as straight­for­ward a com­pe­ti­tion ad as you can get:

While this Land Rover ad is a bit more indi­rect, both in its exe­cu­tion and in what it sees as the product’s real competition : )

Tem­plate 5: Inter­ac­tive Experiment

Yes, boys and girls, non-internet ads can be inter­ac­tive. And, no, that doesn’t require the use of QR codes and such. Just take a look at this great ad for DHL:

Tem­plate 6: Dimen­sion­al­ity Alteration

This is where you show some attribute of the prod­uct or ser­vice by alter­ing the envi­ron­ment.  A clas­sic exam­ple is this old-school head­line for a faster cruise ship:

Start­ing next tues­day, the Atlantic ocean becomes only one-fifth as long”

But my favorite exam­ple of this isn’t an ad at all, but a quote from Billy Wilders immor­tal, Sun­set Boulevard:

You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pic­tures; you used to be big”

I still am big — it’s the pic­tures that got small.”

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Here’s what it looks like in a print ad that com­presses time to show consequences:


And that’s a quick and dirty break-down of the ad tem­plates.  Hope you find ‘em useful.

P.S. if you’re inter­ested, most of these 6 cat­e­gories include sub-categories, that you can read about in the orig­i­nal research.  But for those too lazy to do that, here’s a quick and dirty chart show­ing all the sub-categories:

 “In fact, I’m going to apol­o­gize. This whole ‘dream myth’ has been prop­a­gated by news reporters like me. Because we love telling this story, we love the dream. When­ever you write a pro­file of some per­son who is a suc­cess or who is going to jail, you always start at the end and fol­low the line back so it looks like it all makes sense. You sit some­one down and you ask, “When did you first dream of being an opera singer (or a Nobel–prize win­ning econ­o­mist, or the worst inside trader of all time)?”

Then you ask, “What obsta­cles did you have to over­come? How did you tri­umph?” Reporters are no dif­fer­ent from every sto­ry­teller through time. We want to tell and hear the hero’s jour­ney. The epic myth.

You know what never makes it into the hero’s jour­ney? All the dreams that didn’t work out. There’s just not time. You never hear the part of the leg­end where the hero just wanted to chill for the sum­mer, hang out in Port­land, and fig­ure some stuff out. Get his head straight. That hap­pens, but every sto­ry­teller edits that out.”

NPR Reporter, Robert Smith, dur­ing his Reed Col­lege Com­mence­ment Address

It is per­haps fit­ting that Steven Press­field has run a series of arti­cles on “The Hero’s Jour­ney” of late, because his lat­est book explores exactly those areas of the jour­ney that Robert Smith accuses reporters of leav­ing or edit­ing out of most sub­jects’ “suc­cess sto­ries.”  The part where the hero — delib­er­ately or uncon­sciously — choses the wrong career path, some­times repeat­edly. Or where she sand­bags it for a sum­mer to “get her head straight” or work through some stuff.

In other words, most peo­ple leave out exactly the part that the rest of us des­per­ately need to know — what hap­pened to get you from the point where you weren’t mak­ing it to the point where you were!  How’d you make the leap, man?  Tell us!

And there’s a sim­ple rea­son most peo­ple don’t tell us, even beyond the reporters desire to present us with slices of life with the bor­ing parts cut out. Quite frankly, that shit is embar­rass­ing. Who wants to talk about self-sabotage, mis-steps, and unsuc­cess­ful careers. Not me.

That’s what makes Steven Press­field such an incred­i­ble trea­sure and stand-up guy: he’ll do it. And in Turn­ing Pro, he does just that; he gives you exactly the nitty gritty on HOW to turn pro, what hap­pened before he turned pro, and what you can expect in the journey.

So if that’s the kind of stuff you’d like to learn — if you’re tired of read­ing all those dream come true sto­ries with the impor­tant shit cut out — then link on over to Black Irish Books and grab your­self a copy!

P.S. Black Irish Books is the new pub­lish­ing com­pany started by Steven Press­field and Shawn Coyne.  It’s a great ven­ture and worth sup­port­ing, so even if you’d rather get your copy from Ama­zon, please con­sider order­ing direct from the author.


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