If you hope to sound smart about advertising, avoid saying “it’s not the steak that sells, it’s the sizzle.” Aside from its being a tired cliché, it happens to be meaningless at best, untrue at worst.
Permit me to wax literal. On a hot grill, a low quality steak will sizzle just like a high quality one. So will a wet sponge. So unless you don’t get out much, the sound of a steak sizzling at, say, Denny’s won’t do the same thing for you as one at, say, Morton’s. I hope you wouldn’t pay for a steak at Denny’s what you’d pay for one at Morton’s based purely on noise coming from the grill. Conclusion: It ain’t the sizzle you’re buying, ergo, it ain’t the sizzle that sells.
And now for those who prefer to wax metaphorical. Sizzle is a term people use for that certain je ne sais quoi that makes them love an ad. I get that. Trouble is, one person’s sizzle is another person’s so what?; and presumed hot and presumed not-so-hot ads alike have been documented to sell and fail to sell. This makes hotness rather a useless standard for judging an ad’s selling potential.
Some people reserve their pronunciation of hotness until after an ad has had its run. If they love the ad and it succeeded, they deem it as having sizzle, and hold it up as proof that sizzle sells. This is great only if you like circular arguments.
So, what does sell? You might try relevance and see what happens.
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