Ugly Works In Selling! (Except When It’s Your House)
The high priest of ugly advertising design was Fred Briesmeister of Greystone Press. Above is one of his masterpieces from the 1960s.
A reader coming upon this monstrosity in a magazine or newspaper is stopped cold. The first thing you see is the word “FREE” inside a giant arrow. The arrow points to a free book.
When the eye hits the book cover, it travels down the spine where it picks up a human hand cradling the bottom of the book.
The fingers of the hand point upward, sending the eye into a mass of jarring interruptions — subheads, decks, mini-headlines, short paragraphs and the Holy of Holies: the Order Coupon.
No gray walls of type here. These bite-sized short paragraphs are today’s equivalent of the text or tweet, short, intense, easily digestible.
In all of his promotions, Briesmeister always showed the free book slightly larger than life and the human hand slightly smaller. This design trick said to the eye: “THIS FREE BOOK IS HUGE. AND IT’S REALLY, REALLY FREE! NO RISK! NO OBLIGATION!”
In all this seeming mess, if the reader gets bored for even a second, something nearby is sure recapture attention and rekindle the excitement.
For the record, these ads sold tons of books and made Greystone owner John Stevenson enormously rich.
For a brief history of this direct marketing genre, check out Continuity Marketing: Pleasures and Pitfalls by yours truly.
Selling a House Requires Absolute Neatness
“Neatness rejects involvement,” said my very first mentor, Lew Smith — later executive vice president of the Wunderman Agency.
Peggy and I are downsizing from a five-story house (four flights of stairs) to an apartment on one floor. The advice from realtors, top interior designers and house “stagers”:
For example, here is our third-floor den. For 22 years the shelf at left was filled with tchotchkes — gizmos, doodads and a dizzying gallery of little framed personal photographs.
One of them was a photo-op from an Aspin conference where Peggy and I got our picture took with Bill Clinton. Suddenly we have inserted ourselves into the prospect’s train of thought that would distract from the house itself.
“Hey, look, here’s Bill Clinton!”
“Yech, these people are Democrats!”
All of this clutter was squirreled away out of sight — replaced by an innocuous wooden bird carving and an open art book with a beautiful photograph of polar bears.
Below is my section of the closet. For 60 years every closet I ever had was a pigsty. Realtor + wife ordered me to clean it up. We took five big plastic garbage bags of my stuff to Goodwill Industries. I’m now down to only clothes that fit — five sports jackets and dress trousers along with four suits: winter, hot summer, spring/fall and a tux.
All dress shirts are on elegant narrow hangars acquired from The Container Store and arranged by color — from dark to light.
When a prospective buyer sees a closet like this, in the back of his mind is the thought this house will be an inspiration to turn over a new leaf and get organized.
Every nook and cranny of our house is tidy. For example, under our kitchen sink was a mini-junkyard of crap. Today all is neatly arranged in two medium-sized plastic bins — just in case anybody peeks.
In short, we are living a lie.
Takeaways to Consider:
- “Neatness rejects involvement.” —Lew Smith
- "Avoid walls of gray type." —David Ogilvy
- “Ugly works.” — Bob Hacker
- Do not expect home buyers to have an iota of imagination.
- Many years ago I was in the checkout line at Turn-of-River Hardware in Stamford, Connecticut. As the guy ahead of me was paying the woman at the register, she exclaimed, “Oh ... why, you bought that house! We looked at that house and we loved it.” “You should see it now,” the guy said. “You know why we didn’t buy that house?” she said. “I give up. Why didn’t you buy the house?” “We couldn’t handle the wallpaper in the hall.”
- When selling a house, it should be as depersonalized and comfy as possible — like a hotel room when you first walk in. Here’s the Presidential Suite at New York’s Waldorf Astoria:Let them imagine how this beautiful space can become theirs!
Denny Hatch is marketing consultant, copywriter and designer. The author of four novels and seven business books, his newest is Write Everything Right!
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firstname.lastname@example.org • www.dennyhatch.com