Seducing Strangers. How to Get People to Buy What You're Selling (The Little Black Book of Advertising Secrets)

by Josh Weltman


2015 Apr 17


The job is using words, pictures, stories, and music to seduce strangers. In the industrial, mass-media, consumer economy of the past, the job was called advertising, and “Mad Men” did it. In today’s service-based, social media-focused, information economy, the job is called life, and everyone does it.

Here’s how you can do it. And do it better.

Notes & Highlights

To help me understand a client’s goals, I often ask, “It’s a year from now, and we’ve all come back into this conference room to celebrate the success of this ad campaign we’ve created. Tell me, what are we celebrating? What did we do? What happened? How did we know when it was time to stop working and open a bottle of Champagne?”

“When I get asked …‘What’s the secret to success?’ I just say: ‘Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell, and advertise.’” —Ted Turner at Montana State University–Northern, 2011

Advertising is one of the most effective ways for businesses to establish customer expectations. And when a company sets a level of anticipation that its products or services meet or exceed, it creates happy customers.

“Better” is in the mind of the person who’s buying the mousetrap, not the person building it.

If you come up with an innovative idea for a new mousetrap but fail to advertise or communicate why it will forever change what people expect from a mousetrap, you’re going to miss out on a lot of customers—not to mention end up with a warehouse full of mousetraps.

In Rhetoric, a 2,500-year-old book on the art of persuasion, Aristotle describes a technique for engaging listeners called an enthymeme—literally meaning “something kept in mind.” It’s a way of using people’s implicit assumptions to grab their attention. Here’s the basic premise: If the first part of the speaker’s statement confuses, the second part must explain. And if the first part explains, the second part should confuse. For example, Samuel Johnson could have said, “London has everything a man could possibly want to see or do.” Instead he said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” The first part confuses and the second part explains. It’s much more engaging.

When people talk about a brand as if it’s an advertising agency’s responsibility or invention, I don’t know what to do. When I think of a brand as a reputation-building process, however, I know exactly what to do, because I understand the equation: Promise + successful delivery = good reputation.

I divided the four types of ads into the following categories: introductory, trial, differentiating, and mutual-love-and-respect.

With my four different kinds of ads, I considered my client’s original question. Is there a proper ratio of facts to emotions present in every persuasive message?

  • In introductory and mutual-love-and-respect ads, emotional appeal powers the message.
  • Trial ads are driven by a fact-based limited-time offer.
  • The differentiating ads look like a fifty-fifty split. Yes, there is an optimal ratio, but it varies according to the type of ad.

Every message that is trying to persuade, sell, or seduce needs to answer one of the four fundamental questions people ask before choosing any product or service:

  • What is it?
  • Why do I need it now?
  • What makes it different from other things?
  • Who else thinks it’s good? Answering these questions intriguingly, economically, truthfully, and memorably is the art of advertising.

Soon we’ll see smart online marketers showing stock dwindling from their shelves. Car dealers will show cars disappearing from their lots. Clothing retailers will show clothes vanishing from their racks. And hotels will show rooms filling up before online shoppers’ eyes.

The next generation of online advertising will be less about companies letting you know what’s on sale and more about making you aware of opportunity slipping away. Your competitors may be planning it already. The clock is ticking.

If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can own.

Two types of motivation, two types of advertising. That’s why in the early stages of a project, it never hurts to ask the question, “Are we doing this to grow the top or the bottom line?” just to see how the people you’re working with respond. What drives them is what drives them—it’s not right or wrong. But it’s up to you to figure it out before you start spinning your wheels.

There are four realistic business goals companies can hope to achieve through advertising:

  1. Increase inquiries by making people curious.
  2. Boost sales by giving customers temporary opportunities or limited-time offers.
  3. Improve market share or get a bigger piece of the pie by reminding people what makes the company or its products and services special.
  4. Build or defend profit margins by aligning the company’s philosophy or reason for being with its customer’s philosophy or reason for being.

Offline advertising messages are designed to show a single hero product or service answering one of four consumer questions: What is it? Why now? What’s different about it? And who else thinks it’s good? Online—where the customers are the hero—persuaders should consider four different consumer questions before placing messages in an online environment:

  • Does this change what I think is possible?
  • Does this change what I think is probable?
  • Does this change my status or position within my network and, if so, who should know about it?
  • Does this help me leave what I want to leave behind?

Instead of the traditional “What is the product?” “Who is it for?” and “What makes it different?” we need to be asking something completely different: “Where are my customers? Who do they dream of becoming? How can we help?” And perhaps most important: “How will the story about my products improve my customers’ odds of becoming who they want to be?”

Before posting any ad or banner or buying any search engine optimization program or “viral” video online, the questions need to be “Who is my customer?” “What person, place, or thing are they trying to get closer to?” and “How will this help them?”

At the end of Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy offers some sage advice to young people starting their careers in advertising agencies. He recommends that you pick a subject about which your agency knows too little, and become an authority on it.

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Seducing Strangers. How to Get People to Buy What You're Selling (The Little Black Book of Advertising Secrets) by Josh Weltman