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Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008 at 5:43 pm

Sell Me Something, Not Some Thing

By John Quarto-vonTivadar
November 13th, 2008

During recent casual browsing, I noticed the following magicJack ad (on the left):

Now can anyone tell what the heck the product is? (I happen to know, since I also remember a late night commercial that explains it.)*

Put yourself in the place of the site visitor who is seeing this for the first time. I mean, thanks for the Freebie and all, and congrats that PC Magazine seems to like it … but what is it?

A product? Perhaps magicJack is a flat tire fixer? Is it an apple-flavoredĀ  children’s breakfast cereal with a magic toy inside?

From the picture, I might guess maybe it plugs into a phone jack and does…well… something phone-ish?

Or maybe it’s a service by a local magician? The possibilities are endless.

What isn’t endless is a prospective customer’s attention span, even when a Freebie is involved.The best way to sell something is for the customer to have a recognized need for that something. If I don’t know what you’re selling, it’s unlikely I can recognize that need on my part. It strikes me that an awful amount of marketing dollars are being spent to get a prospect to act on the freebie offer for something which remains indistinct.

Here on the Grok we often talk about the three fundamental questions of Persuasion Architecture(R): “who are you talking to?”, “what action do you want them to take?”, and “what do they need to take that action?” Most of the time our posts touch on how easily companies flub #1 or #2. However, this is an example of a company flubbing #3: What I need to know to take action is “what the product is” !

In your own marketing efforts, do you ever forget what it is not to know about your wonderful company and its product or services? Are you forgetting to say the obvious?


* For the curious, I’ll save you a google search and tell you that what MagicJack does is plug into your computer’s USB port, and then you plug your traditional landline phone into MagicJack and make phone calls through the internet. Easy enough to understand once you hear it. Now, look at the ad again and see if it makes more (or less) sense.

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Comments (24)

  1. This is a classic failure to market to your audience on several levels – what is it I am buying, and what are the benefits. Once they get that then the call to action could have been effective.

    I’ve seen this more and more for banner ads in general. The other macro problem with widespread poor execution is that it adds to banner blindness.

  2. thanks for explaining, I wouldnt have guessed accurately. Some advertisers want to put everything in their ads, too cumbersome, who reads all that anyway. KISS. Then again i often critique ads myself (broadcast..what are they thinking? fire the agency!)

  3. I worked in advertising. Their job is mostly to be creative. This is an example of creativity.

    What’s wrong with it? Surely you don’t want the ad to work as well as be creative?

    C’mon Bryan, you’re asking for too much (heh, heh)

  4. Oops, just noticed John wrote this. My apologies, John. :)

  5. you are right, but who knows maybe they target only specific customers that knows exactly what the product is?

    Or maybe they are so confident that EVERYBODY heard of magicJack so – what was the point for further explanations?

  6. How about we toss out a bit of a challenge and ask the readers to come up with the wordsmithing they would have chosen for this product?

    I don’t work for or sell this product but would be interested in using this article as a real world example to offer up ideas as to how it should have read.

    Just a thought.

    My message would be:

    “Save money by using your computer to bypass your expensive phone company. Learn How”

  7. You’ve demonstrated the exact reason I avoid display ads for the majority of our sites. I wish every single one of our merchants could read this post.

  8. John,
    your blog post was probably more effective for product announcement and branding than their entire advertising campaign.

    At the same Google & co have tagged another reference for the company or product as they found it in your blog post.

    Unfortunately you have posted no link to their website: that would have increased their SERP, as Grocdotcom has PR 6.

    Our try:
    “magicJack lowers call costs using your PC to connect to your landline.” (12 words)

  9. Great Post. Sometimes we become blind to our own sites after having seen them for so long.

    I find it is good to get a fresh perspective from someone who is not so close to the business.


  10. Agreed, this is just “working” and not being smart. It’s like I do a lot of the time. I just work and not have any goals etc.

  11. I think they have a bit of an ego personally; and they thing they have this huge brand that is “THE MAGIC JACK” from a couple of low-budget TV commercials run late at night.

    If it was a free BIG MAC that would be okay, as opposed to the full description of the TASTY BURGER WITH TWO PATTIES SEPARATED, or THE MAGIC JACK, USED WITH YOUR PC YOU COULD REDUCE YOUR PHONE BILL TO $20 A YEAR, GET THE EQUIPMENT FREE.

    A little ahead of themselves in my opinion.

  12. Unless the product has a strong brand name recognition, there really needs to be more in the ad to entice me to click it.
    While I do agree that the message was not helpful in the ad, I surely appreciate John’s article as now I found a potentially good product.

  13. That ad was probably sold as a “value added” and the “creative” was developed for “free” as part of the value added because the person who bought it was told the company cut the budget for expensive “creative.” The person who actually dictated the copy was probably someone’s assistant because it was cheaper to do it taht way.

  14. It’s beyond me in this day and age how people(companies) still don’t have a clue. This would maybe catch my eye, but just like John, what the heck is it? I surely would not click to find out. Ad’s like these are just a waste of time and probably lots of money.

  15. Contextual text advertising is what works best of all. Graphic ads is a 20th century.

  16. I feel very strongly about this subject: commercials and ads that don’t tell you what they’re selling. Unless the person is a real techie, they will have no idea what this gizmo does.

  17. Very rare I watch commercials. If I spend my time on watching them I want to know what product is advertised from the very first seconds. If I dont catch the meaning I just dont bother. It is obvious that those kind of commercials dont make me a buyer…

  18. By the package I would have never guessed.. I saw the USB port, so just assumed it was a flash drive. Good catch!

  19. 100% accurate, if you can’t be obvious with what you are selling then you are only appealing to a small portion of your target market. If only those who already are aware of your product understand your advertising then the rest will generally not take the time to research more. There is so much to take away attention already that any advertising must be clear, precise and viewable!! Entertainment factor is a big consideration too for many. Why why why would Magic Jack not pick up on that fact? Have they now?

  20. Yeah, I think companies assume that customers are mind readers or something. I think they need to get back to basics.

  21. To be honest, I like to be sold when things look good. I like to buy new things.

    All the best, Mike

  22. Hi, you are smart in playing words. But it’s great and I like it. Thank you

  23. Personally I fall in love when things when I see tham and usally after a very short period im loosing the interrest. I guess this is just that way some people is, I think im easy to sell something.

  24. I don’t know…the USB connector there is quite apparent. And I think it’s one of those products where they’re assuming you’ve already heard of the brand.

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John is the co-author of the best-selling Always Be Testing and 3 other books. You can friend him on Facebook, though beware his wacky swing dancer friends, or contact him directly at

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