Keep Presenting Benefits. Or, How Marketing Hasn’t Changed in a Pandemic.

claude hopkins scientific advertising

After being served my umpteenth “QUARANTINED, ALONE, AND DESTITUTE AMIDST CORONAVIRUS? BUY THIS TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE.” marketing pitch on Facebook, I decided I needed to scratch the itch of writing and get my thoughts down.

Should you discuss the current pandemic in your ads, or not? Should you use the *gasp* coronavirus in marketing efforts at this point? What emails should you send?

All of these are questions many advertisers have right now, and as I have been considering these same things, I think the thing we need to do is remain faithful to a core tenet of marketing:

claude hopkins scientific advertisingHighlight the ways your product/service benefits your customer, and they should purchase it (insert qualifications of other factors, for instance, they may not have the money to purchase it and in that case no perfect marketing message will work).

In other words, our marketing shouldn’t change based on the crisis, even if our messages shift around. This concept has been around since as long as advertising (seriously, go read this oldey but goodey by Claude Hopkins: Scientific Advertising -pdf-).

 

That being said, I believe an aggressive run to a crisis in advertising doesn’t actually help your long-term brand. Let me point to some made-up (but highly relevant) ad examples to illustrate.

 

“At Home All Day With Your Kids? Buy our Noise Cancelling Headphones!”

“Need Some Quarantine Ideas for Dinner? Try These 3 Recipes.”

“Need a place to store your car while you’re stuck in your apartment? Try our Pick-up Storage option. We come to you!”

 

Someone on Twitter teased it out like this, in twitterly fashion:

advertising in covid 19 era

 

 

At first glance, these ads seem great, right? They are timely, to the point, and get a good product in front of the right audience. So what problem could I possibly have with them?

 

I would point to these 4 less-than-ideal elements of the majority of COVID-19 era ads I have seen since the crisis began:

(1) These are simply part of the noise, along with everyone else saying the same thing. Literally everyone is writing ads like this, so rather than stand out, you’re now, *snore*, just one of the gang with these call-outs.

(2) These unconsciously remind everyone of the negative experience the user is in, rather than calling them to hope in solving their dilemma. It’s using negativity to sell rather than positivity.

(3) These run the risk of taking advantage of tragedy, by explicitly calling out the tragedy as the springboard for selling.

(4) These are (often) utilizing facts, rather than benefits to sell, and thus breaking the cardinal rule of marketing in never presenting the benefit of your product/service to the customer.

 

Let’s unpack these points below as we all become better marketers.

 

(1) These are simply part of the noise, along with everyone else saying the same thing. Literally everyone is writing ads like this, so rather than stand out, you’re now, *snore*, just one of the gang with these call-outs.

 

One of the things we want to do as marketers in order to sell our product or service, is to stand-out from the crowd. If you can catch someone’s attention, you have won half the battle. You can’t close what you haven’t opened!

That being said, an ad that says “literally” the same thing that everyone else’s is saying right now about “…these difficult times.”, “14 Day quarantine”, “staying alive in the crisis”, etc, etc, etc… just isn’t really standing out at all. You’re saying the same thing as everyone else.

What should we say instead? Keep reading…

 

(2) These unconsciously remind everyone of the negative experience the user is in, rather than calling them to hope in solving their dilemma. It’s using negativity to sell rather than positivity.

Okay Kirk, so you have our attention. Sure, we don’t want to join in with the crowd talking about “the pandemic” in their ad text. What else? Well, I would argue that another reason to avoid bringing outright attention to a crisis in your selling (unless you are literally selling something like masks, or something directly related to the crisis. It’s okay to advertise what can help others!) is that you are subconsciously confirming the negative “hopeless” feelings your customers are battling.

Your customers KNOW they are in a crisis. They KNOW they are stuck in their homes for weeks on end. They KNOW they are overwhelmed by their children, unemployment, health issues, etc.  Rather than use the bad news to sell, how about giving hope? In this way you will actually STAND OUT (cough, point 1) more from the crowd of naysayers by being a positive ray of sunshine by solving the problems they already have.

 

 

ILLUSTRATION:

At this point, it’s going to be easiest to illustrate what I mean. Here is an example, let’s say you sell wood-working tools and think this could be a boost to your business, when everyone is stuck at home working on their hobbies (those that aren’t just trying to deal with small children, that is!).

 

Ad Headline A: Stuck At Home With Nothing To Do? Try a New Hobby. Buy The Best Hammer You Could Ever Wrap 5 Fingers Around.’

Not bad, but see how it confirms subconsciously in the user’s mind how horrible their current situation is? Insert sad GIF response feeling in customer who reads your ad:

Sad Michael Cera GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Let’s try again, but this time leaning into positivity and using hope to sell.

Ad Headline B:  Your New Woodworking Skill Is Only Missing One Thing: The Greatest Hammer on Earth!

Ad Headline B2:  How’s that Woodworking Skill Doing? Make Your Hits Even More Precise With This Titanium Hammer.

 

In those examples, we still connected with the user’s current experiences without taking advantage of tragedy… which brings us to the next point.

 

(3) These run the risk of taking advantage of tragedy, by explicitly calling out the tragedy as the springboard for selling.

 

Whenever a marketer takes advantage of tragedy in selling, we are simply confirming the oft-repeated notion that “marketers ruin everything.” There is a crucial difference between positioning a product or service that is needed in a tragedy (such as online streaming services during quarantine), and piggy-backing on a tragedy in our ad text just to turn heads. Ethical considerations aside, for the points I noted previously, I think there is actually a practical reason not to do this as well since “crisis fatigue” sets in for consumers. In other words, your ads using “coronavirus” in the headlines will begin to be ignored for the very fact that they remind users of all the other ads out there like yours, and subconsciously associate your brand with a negative emotion tied to that word.

I’m sure we’ve all seen ad examples of cringe-worthy cases. Some car brand jokes about quarantine, or maybe a candy brand jokes about unemployment (not an actual case that I’m aware of, but it wouldn’t surprise me). In this case, there is also a very real risk that a brand takes on in discussing the crisis, that I believe outweighs the potential upside.

The question is, can you connect with your customers in a way equally successful to utilizing the tragedy to sell? If so, then the risks of appearing in poor taste, or offensive to a wide swath of people severely outweighs the potential upside that can’t be gotten another way.

Okay, so what is the “other way” to sell in a tragedy that doesn’t risk unnecessary offense? Last point below 👇👇👇

 

(4) These are (often) utilizing facts, rather than benefits to sell, and thus breaking the cardinal rule of marketing.

If you’ve been doing advertising for awhile, this is review… but I find myself needing review from time to time as well. The key to marketing your product or service well isn’t simply to post benefits about it in front of a group of people, it is to make the connection between the benefit that your product or service offers to your potential customers.

Let’s go back to our hammer and discuss moving from Facts to Features to Benefits.

 

Hammer Facts:

  • Custom Colors
  • 350 Year Warranty
  • Titanium-Vibranium Material
  • Self-Guided Striking

 

Hammer Features:

  • This isn’t your grandfather’s boring colored hammer
  • Longer-Lasting
  • Durable, Unbreakable
  • More accuracy when you swing it

Homer Simpson Snowball GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Hammer Benefits to Your Customers:

  • Catch the attention of Potential clients as you swing your multi-colored hammer, and thus establish a unique brand. Stand out from the boring, normal hammer swinging crowd!
  • No more stressing about tools breaking and killing your profit with our 350 Year Warranty. You break it, we buy it.
  • The unique 90% lighter, but 150% stronger material we use keeps your arm swinging all day long. Work 3x as hard for the same day’s work before buying our hammer.
  • Save your thumbs from painful swings and expensive ER visits. With our patent pending, Self-Guided Strike® option, this hammer uses Artificial Intelligence to help you hit your target. Every time!

 

See how we started with the facts of the matter, and moved to the Benefits?  In this way, regardless of the time, we need to make sure we are marketing well. That is, identify the way your product or service will actually benefit your customer in this time and bring THAT out.

Don’t focus on the crisis (this one or the next), focus on how your product or service meets the needs of your potential customers (while they’re in the midst of this crisis, by the way) and they will naturally feel connected to your offering without feeling like they are being hard-sold. You’ve won, and you didn’t have to put the word COVID in any ads.