9 secrets Mark Twain taught me about advertising

“A lot of little things have become big with the right kind of advertising.” Advertising is life made to look bigger than...

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9 secrets Mark Twain taught me about advertising
9 secrets Mark Twain taught me about advertising

“A lot of little things have become big with the right kind of advertising.”

Advertising is life made to look bigger than life, through pictures and words that promise hopes fulfilled, dreams come true, problems solved. Even Viagra follows Mark Twain’s keen observations about advertising. The worst types of advertising that are exaggerated to get your attention, at best, get your attention without going overboard. It simply states a fact or expresses an emotional need, then allows you to make the jump from “small to big.” Worst example: before and after photos for weight loss products and cosmetic surgery—both of which are almost comical disbelief. Best: Apple’s “silhouette” campaign for the iPod and a breakthrough ad featuring Eminem—both catapulted the iPod into “instant cool” status.

“When in doubt, tell the truth.”

Today’s advertising is full of gimmicks. They relentlessly cling to products like balls and chains, keeping them from moving quickly ahead of the competition, preventing communication of benefits or real urges to buy. The thinking is, if the gimmick is outrageous or silly enough, it should at least get their attention. Local car dealership ads are probably the worst offenders–using zoo animals, sledgehammers, clowns, bikini-clad models, anything that has nothing to do with the product’s tangible benefits. If people who think about this outrageous gimmick spend half their energy just sticking to the real benefits of the product and buying motivators, they’ll have a great ad. What they don’t realize is, they already have a lot to do without resorting to gimmicks. There are products with all their merits, brands, which they no doubt have spent money on promoting, their competition and drawbacks, and two powerful buying motivators—fear of loss and promise of profit. In other words, all you really have to do is tell the truth about your product and be honest about your customers’ wants and needs. Of course, sometimes it’s not easy. You have to do some digging to find out what your customers really want, what your competitors are offering them, and why your product is better.

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more flexible.”

In advertising, you have to be very careful about using facts. As any politician would say, facts are scary things. They have no stretch, no flex, no room for misinterpretation. They are undeniable. And used properly, it’s very powerful. But statistics, now there is something that advertisers and politicians love. “Nine out of ten doctors recommend Preparation J.” Who can dispute that? Or “Five out of six dentists recommend Sunshine Gum.” Makes me want to run out and buy a pack of Sunshine right now. Stand. Replay.

“Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.”

Let’s see how this statistic—the real majority—perhaps. First, how many doctors did they ask before they found nine out of ten agreed that Preparation J did the job? 1,000? 10,000? And how many dentists resent the idea of ​​their patients chewing gum but relent, saying, “Most gum contains sugar and other ingredients, which spoil your teeth, but if that person has to chew the damn stuff, maybe so. Sunshine, which has less sugar in it.” The point is, statistics can be manipulated to say almost anything. And yes, the devil is in the details. The fact is, there is usually a 5% chance that you can get any result just by accident. And because many statistical studies are biased and not “double-blind” (both subjects and doctors don’t know who was given the test product and who got the placebo). Worst of all, statistics usually require a relentless crutch of legal disclaimers. If you don’t believe me, try reading the full page of legally mandated warnings for the weight loss pills you take. Bottom line: stick to the facts. Then back them up with a sales argument that satisfies your customer’s needs.

“The difference between a proper word and an almost exact word is the difference between a thunderbolt and a lightning bug.”

Writing truly effective ad copy means choosing the right words at the right time. You want to direct your customers to every benefit your product has to offer, and you want to explain each of the best benefits. It also means you don’t want to give them excuses or opportunities

hey make us feel we might be as attractive, famous, wealthy, or admired as we’d like to think we can be. Because there’s a “Little Engine That Could” in all of us that says, under the right conditions, we could beat the odds and catch the brass ring, win the lottery, or sell that book we’ve been working on. Great advertising taps into that belief without going overboard. An effective ad promoting the lottery once used pictures of people sitting on an exotic beach with little beach umbrellas in their cocktails (a perfectly realistic image for the average person) with the line: Somebody’s has to win, may as well be you.”

“The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession.”

We’re all part of the same family of creatures called homo sapiens. We each want to be admired, respected and loved. We want to feel secure in our lives and our jobs. So create ads that touch the soul. Use an emotional appeal in your visuals, headlines and copy. Even humor, used correctly, can be a powerful tool that connects you to your potential customer. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling shoes or software, people will always respond to what you have to sell them on an emotional level. Once they’ve made the decision to buy, the justification process kicks in to confirm the decision. To put it another way, once they’re convinced you’re a mensche with real feelings for their hopes and wants as well as their problems, they’ll go from prospect to customer.

“A human being has a natural desire to have more of a good thing than he needs.”

Ain’t it the truth. More money, more clothes, fancier car, bigger house. It’s what advertising feeds on. “You need this. And you need more of it every day.” It’s the universal mantra that drives consumption to the limits of our charge cards. So, how to tap into this insatiable appetite for more stuff? Convince buyers that more is better. Colgate offers 20% more toothpaste in the giant economy size. You get 60 more sheets with the big Charmin roll of toilet paper. GE light bulbs are 15% brighter. Raisin Brain now has 25% more raisins. When Detroit found it couldn’t sell more cars per household to an already saturated U.S. market, they started selling more cars per car—SUVs and trucks got bigger and more powerful. They’re still selling giant 3-ton SUVs that get 15 miles per gallon.

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Who gets the girl? Who attracts the sharpest guy? Who lands the big promotion? Neiman Marcus knows. So does Abercrombie & Fitch. And Saks Fifth Avenue. Why else would you fork over $900 for a power suit? Or $600 for a pair of shoes? Observers from Aristotle to the twentieth century have consistently maintained that character is immanent in appearance, asserting that clothes reveal a rich palette of interior qualities as well as a brand mark of social identity. Here’s where the right advertising pays for itself big time. Where you must have the perfect model (not necessarily the most attractive) and really creative photographers and directors who know how to tell a story, create a mood, convince you that you’re not buying the “emperor’s clothes.” Example of good fashion advertising: the Levis black-and-white spot featuring a teenager driving through the side streets and alleys of the Czech Republic. Stopping to pick up friends, he gets out of the car wearing just a shirt as the voiceover cheekily exclaims, “Reason 007: In Prague, you can trade them for a car.”

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