When I rant about flimflam products, I'm often asked what harm results as long as the product makes someone happy, say by providing hope or a placebo effect. Call me a softy, but I think that hundreds of human beings being blown to bits qualifies as harm.
Despite scientific tests to the contrary, many people still believe in dousing — divining for water, oil, buried treasure, etc. Those who sell divining rods are either deluded (they truly believe their device works) or they are con artists.
You decide which of those applies to Jim McCormick, of ATSC Ltd. McCormick recently sold the Iraqi government a supply of divining rods that he claimed could detect bombs — for $85,000,000. Since then, hundreds of people have been blown to smithereens as a direct result of believing his device "told" them they were safe. Deluded or con artist, McCormick is a mass murderer.
I am pleased to say that McCormick was just arrested. I am not pleased to say that, while awaiting trial, he is free on bail.
You might call this an extreme case. Agreed. But if we didn't indulge more "innocent" dousing devices — say, divining for water — the extremes would have no precedent to rely on. And, for the record, I do not agree that divining for anything can properly be dismissed as "innocent." But that's another blog.
"Remove the 1 from in front of the toll-free number," my client said.
I asked why.
The RESPONSE Agency was creating a direct mail package for a worldwide financial institution to send to 300,000 clients. The objective was to increase signature-based debit card transactions.
You might think that it's silly to obsess over whether or not to place a 1 in front of a toll-free number. Actually, it's only silly to obsess over things if they don't matter — and sometimes seeming minutia make a difference. In fact, a 1 in front of a toll-free number will ever-so-slightly increase the number of calls you receive.
But in this case, it wasn't worth arguing. For one thing, we'd have lost the argument. Policy, you know. For another, the desired action wasn't phone calls; it was behavior change, from PIN-based to signature-based transactions. Even without the 1, response was over 25%.
JUST FOR FUN: Click here to watch msnbc's 10 worst Super Bowl commercials. (Actually, there are 11. I guess 10 makes for a more compelling headline?) Thanks to hindsight bias, you can marvel that anyone produced them, much less ran them during the Super Bowl. (This year, one 30-second exposure starts at $2.5 million.) Equally amusing is msnbc's psychobabble as to why each spot failed. Perhaps they feared that they wouldn't sound intellectual enough if they simply said, "This was a really dumb idea."Steve Cuno
Amelia and 'friends'
I just found a great example of powerful direct response copywriting. It was a scrap of paper taped to my doorknob. I assume the writer is seven or eight years old, since she identifies herself as a Girl Scout Brownie. Here is the text in its entirety: Hi! My name is Amelia, and I'm a Brownie selling Girl Scout cookies. I was wondering if you would like some cookies. Do you think you would? The money I get I will use for Girl Scout camp and other fun activities. If you would like some, I'd appreciate it. And if you don't want to eat G.S. cookies, you can buy them, then our troop will give them to a family homeless shelter. Each box costs $3.50. Please call me if you would like to buy some. The cookies should be delivered in early March. Thanks! [Hand-signed:] Amelia Great copywriting. Its strongest attributes are its clarity; its outright, soul-baring honesty; and its strong, easy-to-follow call to action. Sure, these should be basics. But sometimes we so-called professionals get so caught up with being clever that we overlook them. How could I resist? I sent Amelia a check with a request that my cookies go to the homeless. I urge you to contribute as well. Contact Amelia by clicking here now: firstname.lastname@example.org. Amelia can deliver cookies in Utah's Sandy-Draper area only, but if you want to donate your cookies to the homeless, you can contribute no matter where you live. PLEASE RESPOND NO LATER THAN JANUARY 29. Who knows… not too many years hence, Amelia might be making a living as a copywriter. Steve Cuno
The boys in the scout troop nodded solemnly as the scoutmaster explained that the most important part of their uniform was none other than the scarf. It said so, right there, in the manual. You could use it to make a bandage, carry things, shade yourself, etc., etc.
But at lesson review time, the scoutmaster had the misfortune to ask my brother Pete, then 11, which part of the uniform was most important. Quickly jerking his mind back from elsewhere, Pete said, "The pants."
"No," said the scoutmaster, "the scarf."
It was a snowy January night in upstate New York, Land of Unforgiving Winters. Pete said, "Let's go outside. I'll wear pants. You wear a scarf. Let's see who lasts longer."
I would call that an example of critical thinking trumping Argument from Authority.
It pays never to let down your critical thinking guard. This is good advice for life in general, including marketing. Be especially suspicious when the accepted wisdom smacks of magic. (For instance, "If it's truly creative, it will sell.") Ask questions like, "How do we know that's true?" And beware answers like, "Because everybody knows." Everyone knew the earth was the center of the universe, too.
I just received a direct mail flyer from a local dentist. It is laden with photos of smiling people with lovely teeth.
Every person in every photo is white.
Note to dentists: Even in Sandy, Utah, not everyone is caucasian. Not even if you weed out the toothless.
I suppose one could argue that the dentist's objective is not to promote racial equality, but to acquire new patients. Moreover, 89% of Utah is white, so one could argue that the dentist is appealing to the greater market.
From a pure marketing view, I can't argue against those points. But I can as a marketer who also happens to be a human being. Advertising has a powerful opportunity to depict the human family as more than one ethnicity, without (except in rare cases) compromising other objectives. Given the human tendency to separate into "us" and "them," it's an opportunity we shouldn't waste.
I doubt that the dentist intended any slight. This is the kind of oversight that's easy to make. Which is exactly why we all need an occasional reminder. I hope this one serves.
NOTE: This blog, which originally ran last November, bears repeating from time to time. It seemed like a good idea to rerun it today.
Two of the best-known advertising jingles in America belong to the Oscar Mayer Company. Who hasn't hummed about wanting to be an Oscar Mayer wiener, or rhapsodized bologna's first name?
But Oscar Mayer worries that the ubiquity of the jingles eclipses their other products. So they're launching a jingle-free campaign touting all their lunch meats together. It's another "we're not—we're also" move, in the tradition of Radio Shack calling themselves "the Shack" ("we're not just radio stuff") and Pizza Hut calling themselves "the Hut" ("we're not just pizza anymore").
I predict the jingles will be back.
AOL has a new marketing strategy for taking the world by storm. It consists of—drum roll, please—a new logo displayed over various images, such as a goldfish, a rainbow, and a tree.
Sometimes I think I should quit trying to do marketing based on evidence as to what works, and join the myriad agencies that sell ineffective, ego-bolstering fluff to gullible marketing directors with large budgets to waste. Morals can be so inconvenient at times.
Last year, 30 seconds during the Super Bowl would have set you back some $3 million. This year, it'll be somewhere between $2.5 million and $2.8 million. If that isn't belt-tightening, what is?
Fans seem not to like Leno early, and not to like O'Brien in Leno's old spot. So NBC has decided to move Leno back to the Tonight Show, in the old time slot. O'Brien's fate remains TBD.
Those who accuse the media of pushing content on us unsuspecting viewers should take note. We have more power than one may realize. NBC is desperately trying to figure out what we want, so that they can deliver it to us.
The slickest, most skilled marketer cannot sell you something you don't, at some level, want. Marketing consists of discovering a want, and filling it. Despite what fear-mongers say, we cannot control your mind.