Bing Crosby had it wrong. You can’t accentuate the positive without — at least implicitly — admitting the negative. (Not if you want to be credible, anyway.)
The Law of Compromise is built into our worldview. We’ve all learned and relearned the painful necessity of denying ourselves one thing in order to gain another. Try to “eliminate the negative” aspects of your product with glowing web copy, and that image will eventually clash with the reader’s sense of reality. It raises suspicions.
My advice: Leverage (don’t fight) the customer’s belief in compromise by addressing a product’s downsides head-on.
People are as likely to assume that a downside has a corresponding upside as vice versa. They’ll also gladly accept negative admissions, whereas they’d otherwise demand substantiation for positive claims. Combined, these two principles work magic. For example, take this lame and totally unsubstantiated claim for a made up photo printer:
“Our new IQ268 photo-quality printer produces the most stunning, nuanced black-and-white prints in the business.”
Credibility on that one? Zero. Now read this:
The ink for our new IQ268 printer costs more than the competition’s — 30% more, on average. In addition to the normal five ink tones everyone else uses, our printer uses two extra gray-scale inks, exclusively for printing monochrome photos. Why the expensive ink? Because, without it, the IQ268 wouldn’t produce the most stunning black-and-white prints in the business.
Since the reader automatically accepts the negative admission, they become more likely to accept the implied upside. Does mentioning the extra gray-scale inks help, too? Sure, but only insofar as it’s linked to better picture quality. That association is more likely to be accepted coming on the heals of an admission. In other words, the downside still highlights the upside by contrast, making the bigger claims that much more believable.
Coors used to do a brilliant job of this with the whole “cold” thing back in the 80′s by hyping its refrigerated trucks and warehouses. It worked like a charm, driving considerable growth and market impact — at least until they stopped using it.
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Think about that. By implying that the flavor of Coors required non-stop refrigeration to properly preserve itself (i.e., by “admitting” a downside), the brewery was able to garner increased credibility for it’s totally unsubstantiated claim of superior taste. In fact, this particular bit of marketing brilliance only stopped working when consumers saw a Coors ad with Coors beer being sold UNREFRIGERATED on the shelves. So Coors had its spokesman, Mark Harmon, go on national TV to claim that Coors wasn’t any more vulnerable to room temps than other beer.
And then the ride was over. Without the downside, there was no believability in the upside.
So, how do so many luxury or professional-grade items enjoy high credibility without ever admitting a downside? Is there really a downside to owning, say, a Lexus LS 460?
Sure. The downside is the $60-70K you spent to own that car. High prices often serve as their own form of credibility/downside. In the trade-off between cost of production and quality, some companies (or so it’s rumored) choose to keep quality and raise prices. So, as Cialdini has pointed out, we’ve become conditioned to see high prices as both an implied downside and a reliable index of high quality.
That’s why “fabulous quality at low prices,” with no mention of a downside, tends to draw suspicious questions in the mind of the consumer: Where’s the angle? Why are you doing this?
Again, the smart copywriter/marketer leverages those reflexes; he doesn’t fight against them. Want to bring added credibility to your web copy? Stop dancing to Crosby’s old tune, and start giving the negative side a chance to work its magic.
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