Thoughts Walking Down the Aisle
There I am in the supermarket, with my shopping cart and my little list, making my appointed rounds. I sprint past the ice cream, make a graceful turn around the end-cap display, and come face-to-face with that supremely un-American collection of no-hype, plain-Jane boxes and cans the "generics."
You've seen them. All your favorites, from pancake mix to peanut butter, packed in white, cadaverous boxes and jars, and selling for less money than name brands. It's food, plain and simple, without the promotion and without the higher price.
I knew I had tuna on my list and I quickly spotted the generic tuna fish can sitting on the shelf. The label was a sickly off-white. The typeface was a stark, no-nonsense sans-serif. The price was right, but I just couldn't bring myself to buy it.
Later I thought about what happened, and came to several conclusions.
First, I realized that logic was not on my side. The generic products frequently are packed by brand-name companies and are of the same high quality. I was reacting on a deeper emotional level. I guess I just wasn't comfortable unless the can said "Chicken Of the Sea." (That's one weird product name if you think about it!) All that advertising and product usage had built in me an apparently unshakable brand loyalty. A loyalty that fought off a competitive challenge and kept me in the fold.
Now, a lot of people who claim that they are oblivious to the power of advertising don't understand how things really work. I didn't watch a commercial for Chicken of the Sea, develop an uncontrollable urge for a tuna sandwich, and then run to the supermarket to buy a can. The process is more subtle. The name recognition is built over a long period of time. One day, you're standing at the tuna section, your list says "tuna," your eye scans the shelf, and your hand starts to reach. That's when all that advertising kicks in and YOU GO FOR THE NAME YOU KNOW AND TRUST! That's the advertiser's moment of truth. Do you reach for the ten-cents-off mystery tuna, or go for your old friend Charley the Tuna? Do you choose Farmer's Pride corn or turn to the Jolly Green Giant? Do you want to ride on Splendid Choice tires or on Goodyear's?
The fact is, we spend time with people we like, and we buy products from people we like. Advertising and marketing communications materials in general create relationships between buyers and sellers ... which leads me to an important point.
If your copywriting is flat and devoid of personality, you will not be able to effectively motivate your target audience. You will not create a positive relationship with them. This means your product or service will quickly become the generic brand, just like the no-name tuna fish on the supermarket shelf. What you need to do (as I've often said in my newsletter, The Levison Letter) is write with energy. Loosen up and realize that you are talking to human beings. So much junk is written in the passive voice, so much is uninvolved and just plain boring.
The take-away message this month? Next time you have to evaluate some Web copy, direct mail, advertising, or other marketing materials, demand writing that isn't afraid to reveal some humanity, personality and honesty. Believe me, you won't go wrong!
Ivan Levison is a freelance direct response copywriter who works for companies like Bank of America, Fireman's Fund, Intel, Microsoft and many others. Levison writes direct mail sales letters, e-mail letters and ads. For a free subscription to his monthly e-mail newsletter for software marketers, visit his Web site at http://www.levison.com. He can be reached at (415) 461-0672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.