Past Episodes: January 2011 Archives

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Season 5: Caution: Speed Bumps. The Magical Ingredient in Marketing.

Airs January 29th/February 3rd, 2011

This week on the Age of Persuasion, the topic is "Marketing Speed Bumps." We'll look at how smart marketers use perfectly-placed speed bumps to slow the selling process down and generate greater sales. We'll talk about how Clairol made their conditioner successful by making it more inconvenient for women, how Buckley's Cough Medicine used a negative slogan to increase their sales by 500% and how Apple made their products sell by making them harder to unpack. Plus, we reveal why Van Halen wanted all those brown M&Ms taken out of the bowl. You just might be surprised.

Listen to this episode as streaming audio (runs 26:30)
Or subscribe to the podcasts by RSS or by iTunes.

All of the TV commercials and print elements we referred to in the episode, as well as some bonus materials, are below. Enjoy.
I've long believed that the use of perfectly-placed "speed bumps" can be a powerful element of advertising and marketing.

A smart speed bump can create friction by slowing the selling process down, and make for a more meaningful interaction.

Yet, the advertising industry is moving faster and faster all the time.

Not long ago, Honda introduced a series of 5-second TV ads for its new model, The Fit. In the campaign, each short ad highlighted a feature of the Fit, followed by a computer-type voice saying:

It was an interesting strategy, because the Honda Fit ads were placed at the end of commercial breaks, as an "anti-zapping" strategy against DVR users.

They took advantage of the fact that when a DVR user stops fast-forwarding, the machine automatically jumps back a few seconds to compensate for the user's reaction time - so viewers saw the last few seconds of the commercial break, and saw the Honda ads as a result.

In Belgium, they created a one-second commercial for a breath freshener called, appropriately, "One Second."

The ad was run 500 times in one day on Belgian TV.

But even though advertising is getting faster and shorter, slowing the process down can be a very effective strategy.

Back in the early 1970s, Clairol introduced a new hair conditioner or "rinse." They told women to keep the conditioner in their hair for 30 minutes.

In reality, the conditioner worked in less than two minutes.

Since women were used to the conditioner taking 30 minutes to "set" at hair salons, Clairol wanted their product to have "hair salon credibility."

So they added the incredible inconvenience of sitting around at home for 30 full minutes with conditioner in your hair.

That's a major speed bump, considering the product worked in under two minutes.

Buckley's invented a cough medicine 80 years ago that worked really, really well, but tasted really, really bad. Up until the late 80s, they had a 2% market share. Then, in 1987, they changed their advertising to say:

"Buckley's tastes really bad. And it works."

Their sales shot up over 500%.

In the 1980s, Van Halen was one of the top selling bands in the world.

Part of their touring strategy was to perform in the small, third-tier towns. That meant Van Halen had to truck in nine 18-wheeler loads of equipment, and set up staging that weighed a few tons. But the band soon realized that promoters in small towns were treating the technical details of their concert contracts casually, putting the band at great risk. So Van Halen hid a little rider in the middle of the contracts. It said that "all brown M&Ms had to be removed from the backstage area" or else the band would forfeit the show.

So, if Van Halen walked backstage and saw brown M&Ms, it was a warning sign that the promoter hadn't read the entire contract, and the band would double-check all the staging to see what else the promoter missed. And inevitably, they would always find other omissions or errors.

It was a perfectly-placed speed bump that made sure the band was safe.

Boston surgeon Atul Gawande wrote a book last year called "The Checklist Manifesto." TheChecklist-bookshot-432x550.jpg

In the book he stated that over 150,000 people die from preventable mistakes and infections after surgery in the United States every year.

Dr. Gawande wanted to change that. So he asked other high-risk professions how they prevent mistakes. One group he talked to was pilots.

Since the 1930s, pilots have used checklists to prevent errors. Gawande took that idea and created checklists for operating rooms. Here it is:


Many surgeons resisted the checklist - they thought it created too much friction, slowing them down too much. But the hospitals that used the checklist saw a stunning 80% drop in operating room mistakes.

Saving thousands of lives per year.

So Gawande asked those "hold-out" surgeons the following question:

"If you, yourself, were going to be operated on by another surgeon, would you want that surgeon to have completed the checklist?"

95% said yes.


The ancient Yin/Yang symbol represents the seemingly opposing forces of life that are interconnected and interdependent in our world. The black stands for Yin - or "soft." The white stands for Yang - or "hard."

It symbolizes the duality of life. Night cannot exist without day, winter cannot exist without summer, strength without weakness, etc.

But have you ever really looked at the black and white Yin and Yang symbol?

There is a tiny dot of white in the black side, and a tiny speck of black in the white side. It means that inside every yin, there is some yang. And vice versa.

Within the hard, there is a touch of soft.
Within the smooth, a grain of sand.

There, in a symbol that has been with us for thousands of years, is the insight.

Friction is a secret ingredient to life.

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Season 5: Candid Commercials: Real People in Advertising

Airs January 22nd/27th, 2011

This week on the Age of Persuasion, the topic is "Candid Commercials: Real People in Advertising." The advertising industry has a long history of using real people in advertising. It may be a testimonial, a hidden camera, a man-on-the-street interview, a prank phone call or a blind taste test. The results are often hilarious and memorable. More importantly, they always deliver that one thing actors cannot - genuine spontaneity. We'll take a fun look at this time-honoured technique in advertising, and why it has been used by advertisers for over 100 years.

Listen to this episode as streaming audio (runs 26:30)
Or subscribe to the podcasts by RSS or by iTunes.

All of the TV commercials and print elements we referred to in the episode, as well as some bonus materials, are below. Enjoy.
On June 28th, 1947, a very unusual radio show began on ABC.

It was called "Candid Microphone" and was created by Allen Funt. He was an advertising art director, who later became a copywriter working in the ad agency radio department. It was there he found his calling.

Funt experimented with on-location recording at the agency, and later in WW2 with the Signal Corp.

When his tour of duty was done, he came back to New York, took his recording experience, and created Candid Microphone.

In the show, he secretly recorded the conversations of real people, creating situations where they had to react, capturing a spontaneity that had never been heard before on radio.

Shortly after, Funt created "Candid Camera" on ABC TV.

It would be on and off the air until 1960, where it had a long uninterrupted run until 1967. The show was hilarious, and it raced up the ratings:

Here is a wonderful tribute to Candid Camera and Allen Funt, narrated by his son:

While Candid Microphone, and later, Candid Camera, inspired Madison Avenue to use real people in broadcast advertising, it wasn't the first time advertising had tapped its own customers.

Back in the late 1800s, Pears Soap was one of the first brands to use "real people" in its ads. In their print advertisements, they did an unusual thing by combining the testimonial of a famous actress (to give the soap prestige) with a testimonial from a highly respected doctor (to give the soap credibility).



This campaign was one of the earliest examples of testimonial advertising. It made Pears Soap one of the top brands of its time. It also demonstrated the true appeal of using real people in advertising, which was to achieve "believability" - the elusive element that every advertiser craves. When an advertiser says they are the best, it's self-serving. But when a non-biased customer sings its praises, that's credibility.

When broadcast finally arrived, advertisers rushed to air with testimonials. It led to pitches that stated "8 out of 10 people prefer the taste of a certain coffee" or that "4 out of 5 housewives prefer a certain dish soap" or that "More doctors smoke... camels!"

Sometimes, testimonials were provided by letters sent by real people. Here's an early commercial for Geritol where the host reads a testimonial from a happy customer:

Decades later, in the 1970s, a campaign featuring real people led to one of the biggest advertising battles in history.

Pepsi wanted to increase their market share in the southern U.S. They knew from research that people preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coke in blind taste tests (interesting to note that when Coke and Pepsi squared off in taste tests where both brands were revealed, Coke won hands down. Proving again that people taste the "brand" when drinking Coke, more than the actual formula).

So Pepsi created the famous "Pepsi Challenge" campaign, crossing the country with blind taste tests.


The campaign featured real Coke drinkers from all over the country surprising themselves by choosing Pepsi in blind taste tests. Their shock was real and honest. It was incredibly persuasive television.

As the Pepsi Challenge continued, the company hired actor Gabe Kaplan from the 70s sitcom "Welcome Back Kotter" to host the commercials:

A pool of over 300 "real person" Pepsi Challenge commercials was shot, which allowed Pepsi to make claims like "Denver Chooses Pepsi!" or "San Diego chooses Pepsi!" Here's a commercial they ran that showed viewers how the Pepsi Challenge was sweeping the country:

Pepsi Director of Marketing, Sergio Zyman, (who later held the same job at Coke) has since said that the purpose of the Pepsi Challenge was not to prove that Pepsi tasted better than Coke, but to say it tasted AS GOOD.

Zyman felt that if Pepsi never tried to be better than Coke, the public would rally behind them. He was right.

As he said, so much more meaning is conveyed through the non-verbal cues we all give off when we speak spontaneously - the facial expressions, the body language and the intonation of our words themselves. It was a genuine reaction that actors could not achieve.

That was the power of the real-person Pepsi Challenge.

As everyone knows, the success of the Pepsi Challenge led Coke to change their revered formula and create New Coke:

New Coke.jpg

Well-loved comedian Bill Cosby was hired by Coke to become the New Coke ambassador:

Sensing disaster, Coke then quickly switched back to its original formula only 77 days later, in one of the biggest marketing blunders in history.

John Sculley, the President of Pepsi at the time, who would later go on to run Apple, said of the Pepsi campaign, "Never before had comparative advertising had such spontaneity and believability."


In his book titled "Odyssey," Pepsi President John Sculley made a shocking admission:

When he took the taste test himself, he chose Coke.

You never can tell what a "real person" taste test will reveal.

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Season 5: Luxury Advertising

Airs January 15th/20th

Luxury Marketing is a category that is completely different from traditional brand marketing - because it is in the business of selling fantasy. We'll look at the top 10 most powerful luxury brands in the world (six of which were created at almost the same time in the 19th century) and we'll analyze luxury marketing techniques. Most of all, we'll delve deep into our collective psyches to examine why we all desire expensive products in our lives -and what that really says about our inner selves.

Listen to this episode as streaming audio (runs 26:30)
Or subscribe to the podcasts by RSS or by iTunes.

All of the TV commercials and print elements we referred to in the episode, as well as some bonus materials, are below. Enjoy.
The way to sell luxury items is to sell fantasy.

It is the "Dream Business."

Luxury marketers have to "create" a vision of the future that propels their customers to a place they could not have imagined themselves.

Few marketers do it better than Chanel. For years, they have set the standard for fantasy-fueled TV commercials, beginning with this one from 1979:

Remember the opening lyric to Queen's first big hit, "Killer Queen?" It said "She keeps Moet et Chandon, in a pretty cabinet..." For years, I wondered what that meant. Now I know. The number seven most power luxury brand is Moet & Chandon champagne.
The ultimate symbol of wealth and taste. Founded in 1743, the company sells over 26 million bottles of bubbly annually.

Here's a film promoting Moet & Chandon starring Scarlett Johansson:

Dom Perignon is another powerful brand when it comes to champagne. Here is a film shot by fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, who also sells fantasy in his fashion lines:

Tiffany & Co is a study in class and branding. Their patented blue boxes have set many hearts a-fluttering. Here's a beautifully shot commercial with Sarah Vaughn providing the lovely soundtrack:

Buying luxury goods says many things about our inner selves. Sometimes it is conspicuous consumption (a phrase coined in 1899), which is the need to show off your extravagance. Sometimes this need can be a big statement, like a Mercedes (narrated by Mad Men's Jon Hamm):

Sometimes luxury means wanting to belong to an exclusive group. Membership has its privileges, as seen in this American Express ad.

Another way marketers advertise luxury brands is to link them to a celebrity. I have long believed that the concept of "prestige" must be transferred. A product, on its own, isn't prestigious until it's seen in the right company.

Like this campaign for Gucci, with actor James Franco:

But maybe the best, and most famous, celebrity campaign was for Blackglama Mink Coats. It ran for 30 years, and has recently re-appeared in the pages of Vanity Fair.

It was the ultimate use of transferring prestige from legendary personalities to a little-known association of mink farmers. It put Blackglama on the map. Click on "Campaign" then on "Legends Galley":

The very underpinning of Madison Avenue is based on the notion that you are really two people: The person you are, and the person you want to be.

The dreams and fantasies that luxury marketing weaves only want to talk to person number two.

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