What Congressman Mark Foley Taught Me About Marketing To American People

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Thu, 2006-10-12 06:28.
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The hypocrisy of a Congressman, say, fronting a committee to abolish child abuse while simultaneously indulging in that exact social obscenity is appalling only for its obviousness. In much subtler ways, most people act completely opposite of the “mask” they’ve created for facing the world.

You should never be surprised when the straightest guy around turns out to be a hooker-obsessed drug addict in off-hours. And you should particulary doubt the ones who protest the loudest and claim self-righteousness with the most energy.

All sleep-walkers are hypocrites, aggressively blundering about the landscape unencumbered with self-doubt. And the majority of your target market is sleep walking… no matter what business you’re in.

Waking up and allowing the reality of our human condition to wash over you can be a jolting experience. It’s a BIG damn soap opera out there.

Yet, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to attain sales mastery.

Anyway, one example I couldn’t fit into The Rant concerned the idiocy of trying to educate people into buying your stuff.

A long-ago client created software that — in his view — eliminated the need for pen and paper on anyone’s desk. You could take notes with it, use it as an early version of the Blackberry for storing data and contacting people… everything that used to require writing stuff down.

I thought “Uh… okay”, willing to give it a go. Not the software — the ad. No way was I gonna get rid of my writing equipment. Ninety percent of the creative thinking I do is by applying pen to paper.

The client’s own staff was also not cooperating with this utopian vision. Despite an order to clear all desks of “outmoded” quill and scroll nonsense… everyone hid notebooks and pens all over the place. The boss went berserk on a regular basis — WHY couldn’t everyone just get with the program and admit what a genius he was, and how RIGHT he was about not using paper and ink anymore?

The project never gained traction. And no amount of evangelizing worked — people were just addicted to their “old world” ways.

And, while today many people do get by with mostly digital note-taking and such… I have never seen a desk of any creative worker that was paper-free.

I have, however, known many folks who have lost their entire database of phone numbers, calendar appointments, and important letters… because of a battery failure or power surge. (And some of them have been known to call me, desperate for a lost phone number, because they know I still log everything into my Rolodex by hand.)

Now, maybe we still will eventually move beyond paper and pen (at least until the latest Crackberry lawsuit over arthritic thumbs gets going)… but not because some software inventor really, really wants us to. This particular client’s vision consumed him — he saw a better way to live, and got pissed off when no one agreed with him.

He truly thought his common sense product could trump human nature.

This is why I often tell people not to try to market through education. If you have to “bring people up to speed” on the need for your product, you’re gonna fail. Much easier — and much more efficient — to find out what they already want, and offer them that.

Now, that said… I’m gonna back pedal a bit here.

A short time ago, I was having lunch with marketing legend Joe Sugarman and his lovely wife in Las Vegas. Great guy, Joe. An advertising genius who also works hard — and don’t ever bet against that combination.

But he had just heard me give a presentation at a seminar, and politely disagreed with my statement that marketers shouldn’t try to sell by educating.

And, mostly, he was right. His early ads were all about educating people on ion generators, and his great Blue Blocker infomercials educated people on the science of sunglasses.

So, in deference to a man I admire, I am trying to explain what I mean in better terms. Because once I explained myself better to Joe, he agreed with me, finally.

Here’s my advanced explanation: If you have to educate people as to why they might want what you’re selling… you’ve got an uphill battle, unless what you offer is still within their comfort zone.

In fashion, for example — people will, in October, proudly wear things they would have never dreamed they would like back in July. A thorough dousing of educational marketing by the fashionistas changed their minds… but no one is wearing sacks. The shocking nature of the new couture is still within reason. (And yellow is the new black, I hear.)

The first cell tower rights often went begging back in the 1980s… because few investors believed that cell phones were going to catch on. (Echoes of those brilliant men who insisted no one wanted to fly in planes, electricity had no practical uses, and ads run late at night on TV were destined for failure. Common sense idiots.)

And remember — well into the early days of the DotCom boom, industry leaders who should’ve known better were doubting that this strange new Internet thingie would ever become a common tool for regular people.

So here’s the rule I’ve developed — and I thank Joe for forcing me to think deeper on this, and not be so glib: There are 3 categories of advertising education.

(1) You will forever have trouble attempting to convert unbelievers to your side, regardless of how naive or ignorant you think they are.

(2) You will lose if you try to circumvent human nature, too. You may have lost hundreds of pounds with your special Spartan diet and hours of grueling exercise every day… but your gleaming example of self-reliance and discipline simply will not play out for the rest of your market.

(3) You CAN, however, perform “continuing education” to inform the “almost ready” segment of the market… people who are open to believe (or at least entertain) your premise, because they are interested in the benefits you offer.

Twenty-eight years ago, I discovered one of Joe Sugarman’s first ads for his ion generator machine. I was working in a Silicon Valley art department… and my pal Randy and I got so excited by what Joe wrote that we pooled our money and bought one of the new-fangled devices.

The other four people in the department thought we were nuts. While we had a passing knowledge of the science, and were open to the idea that flooding the joint with negative ions would do all these great things for us… the others labored under no such “delusion” (as they called it).

These people were actually afraid of the generator when it arrived and we plugged it in. Even when it collected black soot out of seemingly “clean” air, and even when they admitted to having better moods around it… they were NEVER ready to admit there was anything “to” this ion nonsense.

That’s a good way to describe what you’re up against when you buck the easy road, and decide to sell products that are not already accepted in the general public.

Joe’s long-copy ad did educate, by going deep on the science of ions. But he wasn’t out to convert anyone — he was after those “almost ready” folks who were open to joining the negative-ion underground. (Didn’t hurt that he was a world-class writer, of course.)

It is human nature to be hostile to new stuff. It is human nature to believe that everything contained in your private version of “common sense” is how the world actually operates (again, despite evidence to the contrary).

But it’s also human nature to want a better life, better health, and better everything else… and it’s often even more better when you get it all before anyone else.

So, by all means, use educational copy in your ad if you’re going after the “almost ready” folks in your market.

But don’t bang your head against the wall trying to convince pigs to climb up on the barn and fly into the horizon. Metaphorically, I mean.

Hope that covers it.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

The Irresistible Offer: How to Sell Your Product or Service in 3 Seconds or Less