Bookmark and Share

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.