By Tom Trush
Rosser Reeves is a name in the advertising world that rings with grand achievements.
First, he’s credited with creating the phrase “unique selling proposition” – the idea that any product or service must offer a clear explanation of what makes it different from its competitors.
And second, he was among the first ad men to produce television spots for presidential campaigns. Among his most notable are ads created for Dwight D. Eisenhower and the “I Like Ike” slogan. Here’s an example:
Reeves is also widely known for one of the most famous stories in advertising – one that demonstrates the importance of clarity in your marketing message. In fact, you may have even seen a version of the tale in your Facebook feed.
It goes like this…
One afternoon, on the way back to the office after eating lunch in Central Park, Reeves and a colleague saw a man on a park bench begging for money. Next to the man was a cup and a handwritten sign that read “I AM BLIND.”
Unfortunately for the guy, his cup only held a few coins.
Seeing this, Rosser turned to his colleague and made a bold claim:
“I bet I can dramatically increase the amount of money that guy is raising simply by adding four words to his sign,” he said.
Rosser then walked over, introduced himself to the man on the park bench, and offered to make a slight change to his sign. The man agreed and Rosser went to work…
He pulled a marker from his coat, added the four words, and then stepped back to watch.
Almost immediately, a few people walked up and dropped coins into the cup. Then another group did the same.
Before long, several people were stopping and talking to the beleaguered man, some even donating dollars. Before long, the cup was brimming with bills and coins.
The once-sad man reached over, discovered his bounty, and a smile spread across his face.
So, what were the four words Reeves added?
“It is springtime and”
So, the updated sign read:
“It is springtime and I am blind.”
In this case, a contrast in situations is likely what moved more people to part with their money. They empathized with the man by comparing their reality with his.
You see, we often understand situations better when we have something to compare them to.
In his book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Daniel H. Pink suggests asking the following question to add clarity to the outcome of what you sell:
Compared to what?
The simple, three-word question allows you to contrast your product or service with alternatives, helping you amplify your message’s persuasive power.
In the case of the man on the park bench, it’s tough for a passerby to identify with being blind. However, once springtime sights are added to the message, you can’t help but understand what the man is missing out on.
Even as someone who writes marketing materials for a living, I’m amazed at how little tweaks like these can make major differences in response.
Another minor change that can bring you big benefits is referencing time. To help you understand why, let me start by asking a question…
Which do you value more: time or money?
When marketing, it’s safe to assume that many business owners and entrepreneurs put considerable focus on money (i.e., the amount needed to buy a product or service).
After all, price is a common hurdle for prospects, regardless of what you offer.
However, could focusing your message on cost (even if it’s a favorable price) make your marketing less effective?
It’s a strong possibility – at least according to a study by Stanford Graduate School of Business researchers.
When interviewed for a Stanford website article, Jennifer Aaker, the General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, gave the following explanation:
“Because a person’s experience with a product tends to foster feelings of personal connection with it, referring to time typically leads to more favorable attitudes – and to more purchases.”
Aaker and her coauthor in the study, Cassie Mogilner, analyzed 300 ads in Money, New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, and Rolling Stone and found that 48 percent included a reference to time.
So, they set up several experiments to see what effect mentioning time could have on sales and product perception.
They started with a lemonade stand – staffed by a couple 6-year-olds – and tested the wording on 3 different signs…
- Spend a little time and enjoy C&D’s lemonade
- Spend a little money and enjoy C&D’s lemonade
- Enjoy C&D’s lemonade
Customers were then told they could pay between $1 and $3 for a cup of lemonade – the amount was up to them.
So, which sign do you think produced the most sales?
The sign referencing time not only attracted twice the amount of people as the “money” sign, it produced buyers who spent twice as much.
In another experiment, Aaker and Mogilner questioned students about their Apple iPods. One group was asked “How much time have you spent on your iPod?” and the other “How much money have you spent on your iPod?”
Those asked about time expressed more favorable feelings toward their iPod than those asked about the money they spent.
A similar outcome came from questioning people waiting in line for seats at a free concert. Random individuals were asked “How much time will you have spent to see the concert today?” or “How much money will you have spent to see the concert today?”
The most positive concert comments came from those asked about time, especially among people who waited in line the longest.
So, keep this time concept in mind the next time you develop a marketing message. Instead of focusing on money or cost, consider how your product or service improves your prospects’ lives and delivers a lasting experience.