don't insult your customers in ads

Hey Stupid, Stop Insulting Your Customers

In Branding, Customer Loyalty, General, General Marketing Principles, SMB Marketing Tips by Kirk Williams

don't insult your customers in ads

See what I did there, in the title?

There is no shortage of insulting ads in the market place. Whether you’re watching TV, searching for a product/service online, or driving past a billboard, you are likely to be insulted. By the people who are trying to sell to you.

People Buy from People They Like

Guess what, people don’t like mean people. We marketers need to stop insulting our customers.

Ok sure, you might see some initial sales because maybe there is no other option in your industry (watch out if you ever get a competitor, though!), or you may get some sales from the other mean people out there who thought your ad was funny, but frankly, since those people are mean too, they’re probably not your new loyal fan base. In fact, maybe your customers service actually gets more difficult with all those new mean customers you attracted with your mean ads?

That being said, aside from the fact that it is mean, there is another major issue with taking the insulting approach in an ad:

People buy from people they like.

I mean, don’t you want to go out and get Thai Life Insurance after seeing this video??

Sure, the insulting, annoying salesperson might sell here and there (though likely never repeat sales), but overall, people surprisingly don’t want to buy from someone that just told them they were the dumbest person on the planet. It’s in our nature.

4 Ways to Insult Your Customers

Here are 4 ways to insult your customers that I suggest you avoid while advertising for your company or clients. So we don’t end on a negative note each time, we’ll also watch a video in each case of an ad that I believe does the opposite of each insult.

Insult Their Looks

People really want to buy your weight loss product when you try to shame them into losing weight. Even better, they ALWAYS go for that beauty product you’re trying to sell when your ad makes them feel helplessly ugly. Again, I’m not saying it doesn’t work. I’m not saying making an individual feel ashamed about the way they look will never cause them to buy your product. I’m saying that if a competitor ever comes along who gives them hope, rather than tears them down… goodbye customers.

Rather, as a marketer give your customers hope. You are selling them a product or service that they genuinely need (this doesn’t just go for image-related products, this principle applies to all products!). Instead of making them feel terrible for not having it and shaming them into buying, provide them hope so they can’t wait to buy it (or so that they have a positive emotional experience toward you brand)!

I actually found it difficult to find a good example ad for this one. I realize there are lots of things at play here in terms of sensitive material and content so hopefully we can take the principle and begin to give our customers hope from here on out (even if I don’t have a great video to show you). The closest I could find was the Dove “You Are More Beautiful Than You Think” video. Admittedly, there were concerns people had about this video, but I think the general principle of attempting to encourage customers rather than bring them down was there… even if the final product could have been packaged differently.

Insult Their Loves

When you advertise, make sure to make fun of things that are precious to your target audience. People LOVE buying things from companies that have offended them. What this does is to have the welcome effect of putting your audience on the defensive before you have even told them why they should buy your product. It’s always easier to sell to someone who resents you for making fun of their work, life, gender, hobby, religion, political views, or whatever else people hold near and dear.

I jest, I jest.

Rather than take a cheap shot at things your audience may enjoy, take the chance to affirm them in their choices and demonstrate how your business model supports those choices/loves. The following videos exemplify this. They take everything near and dear to their target audience, and affirm them (and they do it without ripping on someone else! No cheap shots at the “other guy”!). I mean, I’m not a farmer, and I wanted to buy a Dodge after watching that commercial! I also wanted to go hug a farmer. Make your customer look good, and they will love you for it. Make them look bad, and they will resent you and wait eagerly for the chance to get even.

This video by American Greetings incorporates a fun twist to affirm that person in our lives we hold near and dear.

Insult Their Lobo

Ok, so this is a stretch but I needed another L word here. As a marketer, a great way to get people to resent you is by insulting their intelligence, making them feel stupid. When you get a harsh, sarcastic tone in your ad voice, you are immediately asking for a defensive response in the customer. Communicating in an ad that the customer would be an idiot not to buy your product or hire your service tells the customer one thing, and one thing alone. They are already an idiot. They’ve never bought your product or hired your service before and therefore, (so your ad tells them), they already deserve to be removed from the earth by natural selection.

Congratulations, you just made your job more difficult because now you not only have to convince them that they will be better served by buying what you are selling, but you also have to now overcome their natural defense mechanism that wants to argue for the current strategy they chose which did not involve your product.

Rather, appeal to them as an intelligent, rational human being. I think this is brought out well in the old “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads by Apple. Think about what’s going on here. Apple is treating you, the viewer, like you are “in” on the joke against PC. Basically, the entire series said: “You the customer are smart enough to go with the right solution here.” Package that in a fun box and you have a very successful ad campaign. Regardless of whether or not you like Apple or not, you probably know an Apple user well and truth be told, that Apple user thinks they’re smarter than a PC user. Don’t blame us, we were taught to be that way by Apple’s brilliant marketing 🙂

Insult The Little Guy

There are ways to communicate about your competitors and industry partners in ways that are insulting and bullyish, and there are ways to do it well. One problem with this, as a sidenote, is that you could be giving your competition free advertising! I spoke to this in a previous post: Stop Marketing for Your Competition! – A Bing Case Study. The other problem with this, however, is that you will just look like a bully. You will look like the big guy with all the power, that no one looks like. Whatever the business size, we need to be careful to not portray our competition (or our customers or anyone else) as the little person who needs to be rescued from the evil regime. Guard your marketing so you always appear like “one of us” rather than like “one of them.”

I still think no ad does this better than Apple’s good ole 1984. It’s still awesome in it’s underdog taking on “the man” main power. People love being part of a revolution for a good cause, help them see the revolution in your product or service!

So there you have it. Stop insulting the people you’re trying to sell to. Rather, give them hope. Affirm their likes and choices and demonstrate how your business model supports those choices/loves. Convince them that they are intelligent, and intelligent people like them purchase your product/service. Stand up for “the little guy” against “the man”. Do these things, and you won’t just keep customers because they don’t have another option. You will keep them because they love you, and when they love you, they tell others about you on social media, while golfing, at basketball practice, and online.

What about you, any thoughts to add? Tweet them to me using my twitter handle: @PPCKirk or catch up with me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.