We wrote an ad that read something like this: “Your widget does this, that and the other. But when…” The client for whom we created the ad objected to the use of but. “It’s so negative,” he whined.
People buy products that fill needs or wants. When you need or want something, you have a problem in the form of not having the thing that you need or want. A smart marketer offers a solution to the problem in exchange for your money.
For a marketer to convince you that a product solves your problem, it’s necessary to point out the problem. Doing so is arguably negative. But not in a bad way, because talking about the problem sets you up to talk about the solution.
A handy way to point out a problem is with but. For instance: “You love that new car smell. But in a few weeks…” That word but also provides an apt transition from problem to solution: “But thanks to a revolutionary new process, you no longer need to put up with…”
Call both such uses of but negative if you like. But they work. That is why throughout successful direct response marketing you consistently find sentences and clauses that open with but.
This client is a devoté of Positive Mental Attitude (PMA for short) seminars, and has been fed a steady diet of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP for short) nonsense. For instance, he believes that answering “thank you” with “my pleasure” instead of “no problem” makes everyone healthier, happier and more successful. But empirical testing shows that, for the most part, NLP is utter flimflam. But I knew better than to try convincing my client of that. People defend their PMA and NLP stuff with religious-like zeal.
So, I found a way to render the ad but-less. Yes, it weakened the ad. But hey, it was ultimately his company, his product, and his ad.
By the way, not counting examples, I opened five sentences in this post with “but.” I bet you glided right through them. But (and that’s six) I also bet you didn’t suffer the slightest negative karma.