By Roy H. Williams
“My name is Natsu and I’ll be serving you today.”
Pennie said, “Natsu… What a pretty name!”
“Thank you. I was named after my grandmother. It means ‘summer’ in Japanese.”
Thirty seconds earlier, Natsu had looked like any other waitress. But now that we knew her grandmother was Japanese, we couldn’t help but see the obvious signs of Japanese heritage in her face.
“Obvious” knowledge such as this is the reason business owners are uniquely unqualified to write their own ads. Business owners are unable to put themselves in the shoes of their uninformed customers because they can’t quit knowing what they know.
Elizabeth Newton, a psychologist, conducted an experiment on this “curse of knowledge” while working on her doctorate at Stanford in 1990. She gave one set of people, called “tappers,” a list of commonly known songs from which to choose. Their task was to rap their knuckles on a tabletop to the rhythm of the chosen tune as they thought about it in their heads. A second set of people, called “listeners,” were asked to name the songs.
Before the experiment began, the tappers were asked how often they believed that the listeners would name the songs correctly. On average, tappers expected listeners to get it right about half the time. In the end, however, listeners guessed only 3 of 120 songs tapped out, or 2.5 percent.
The tappers were astounded. The song was so clear in their minds; how could the listeners not “hear” it in their taps?
– Janet Rae-Dupree, The New York Times, Dec. 30, 2007
Experts always answer questions that no one was asking. This is why they come across as tedious, boring and obsessed. When ads are written at the level of the public’s understanding and interest, business owners complain, “But I can’t say that! It’s not accurate!”
No, the statement is accurate enough. It just feels woefully incomplete to a person who knows as much as you. But guess what? The public doesn’t know as much as you.
And they don’t want to know as much as you.
Here’s a 30-second radio ad created for a client of the Wizard of Ads office in Australia:
MALE: Sometimes, bigger is better.
FEMALE: Sometimes, bigger is definitely better.
MALE: Electricity bills are an exception.
FEMALE: No one needs big electricity bills.
MALE: Sunshine is free.
FEMALE: Sunshine is happy.
MALE: Sunshine is natural.
FEMALE: Country Solar turns sunshine into free electricity.
MALE: Talk to Country Solar. No pressure, no commitment,
FEMALE: just free electricity.
MALE: Free electricity.
FEMALE: Get your free electricity at Country Solar dot com dot au.
If you knew a little too much about this subject, your ad would sound like this:
Save money and save the planet! The wind doesn’t always blow, but the sun ALWAYS shines. This is why a solar energy solution from Lester’s Alternative Energy Systems is superior to wind energy. And a solar energy solution from Lester’s has no moving parts. More than 12,000 beautiful Australian birds are killed each year by the spinning blades of wind turbines. Be a friend to the birds! Be a friend to Mother Earth! Invest in a solar energy solution from Lester’s. Most investors recover their initial investments in less than 14 years. Don’t pay the electric company, pay yourself! A solar energy solution from Lester’s can reduce your electricity bill by as much as half. Call today and we’ll test your roof to see if it qualifies for a solar energy solution from Lester’s Alternative Energy Systems, the only area alternative energy provider with a Master’s Degree in electrical engineering. Call Lester’s today. The birds will thank you. Mother Earth will thank you. The only people who won’t thank you are those coal-burning polluters at the electric company. Call the Master! Call Lester’s Alternative Energy Systems.
The second ad is more informative.
The first ad would work better.
Which ad do you suppose Lester will be more likely to use?
You’re inside your company, looking out. The public is outside, looking in. This gives the public an entirely different perspective.
Simple statements work best. But simple statements always feel “incomplete” to an expert.
You are an expert in your business category.
Are you beginning to see why someone else should write your ads?