Let’s put this in perspective. Abraham Lincoln inspired generations in a speech that lasted two minutes. John F. Kennedy took 15 minutes to shoot for the moon. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated his dream of racial unity in 17 minutes. Steve Jobs gave one of the most famous college commencement speeches of our time at Stanford University in 15 minutes. If you can’t sell your idea or your dream in 10 to 15 minutes, keep editing until you can.
Ideas don’t sell themselves. Be selective about the words you use. If they don’t advance the story, remove them. Condense, simplify, and speak as briefly as possible. Have the courage to speak in grade-school language. Far from weakening your argument, these tips will elevate your ideas, making it more likely you’ll be heard.
“There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave: the one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”
Among the film’s cast were three people who would all go on to become famous – in one case, notorious. The first was born Diana Fluck in Swindon; she had changed her name because, as she later said, ‘what would happen if they put my name up in lights … and one of the bulbs burst?’ She had chosen the name Diana Dors, and very soon was being touted as Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.
But there’s a way to maximize the pleasure of that second confection. Temporarily giving up chocolate can restore our ability to enjoy it. After an initial chocolate tasting, students promised to abstain from chocolate for one week. Another group of students pledged to eat as much chocolate as they comfortably could, and they received a two-pound bag of chocolate to help them fulfill their pledge. The students who left with this reservoir of chocolatey goodness may seem like the lucky ones. But their sweet windfall came at a price. When they returned the following week to sample additional chocolate, they enjoyed it much less than they had the week before. People only enjoyed chocolate as much the second week as they had the first if they had given it up in between.”
The apples-and-oranges quality of experiences also makes it easier to enjoy them in the moment, unfettered by depressing comparisons. Researchers at Cornell gave students a Pilot G2 Super Fine pen as a prize and asked them to try it out. When it was surrounded by inferior prizes, including an unsharpened pencil and a bag of rubber bands, the students gave the pen rave reviews. Other students saw the same pen alongside a USB drive and a leatherbound notebook. The presence of more desirable goods significantly diminished the pen’s appeal. This simple study illustrates one of the major barriers to increasing human well-being. We are happy with things, until we find out there are better things available.
Luckily, this tendency may be limited to things. Even the simplest experiences, like eating a bag of crisps, are relatively immune to the detrimental effects of attractive alternatives. Offered the chance to eat a bag of crisps, students enjoyed the crisps’ crunchy goodness regardless of whether the surrounding alternatives included Cadbury’s chocolate or clam juice.
Surprisingly, anchors influence us even when they bear no relationship to the estimated value, and even when they’re patently absurd. Following the seminal experiments of Kahneman and Tversky in the 1970s, two German researchers named Thomas Mussweiler and Fritz Strack demonstrated this effect with remarkable creativity. In one of their experiments, they divided their subjects into two groups, asking one group whether Mahatma Gandhi was over or under 140 years old when he died, and the other whether he was over or under 9 years old when he died. Obviously, no one had trouble answering these questions. But when the respondents were then asked to estimate Gandhi’s age at death, these clearly ridiculous “anchors” made a difference: the group anchored on 140 thought, on average, that Gandhi had died at age 67, whereas the group anchored on 9 believed he had died at age 50. (Actually, Gandhi died at age 78.)
NINETY-TWO PERCENT OF GRADUATE STUDENTS LIED
Charles Naquin (2010) from DePaul University and his colleagues have conducted research on honesty in people when using email versus pen and paper.
In one study, forty-eight graduate business students were each given $89 (imaginary money) to divide with their partner; they had to decide whether to tell their partner how much money was in the kitty, as well as how much of the money to share with their partner. One group communicated by email and the other group by a handwritten note. The group that wrote emails lied about the amount of money (92 percent) more than the group that was writing by hand (63 percent). The e-mail group was also less fair about sharing the money, and felt justified in not being honest or fair.
MY STYLE of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.
So all humour, however broad and however universally understood, is implicit rather than explicit: an explicit joke is either not explicit or not a joke.
All good comedians, all good storytellers, all good makers of advertisements, entice their receivers into willing and constructive collaboration It’s a skilful, delicate and difficult thing to do – particularly in advertising where the pressures of committees and cost tend to favour the ‘explicit, the ‘unambiguous’, the ‘message that just can’t fail to be understood.
But the measure of a good joke is much the same as the measure of a good advertisement (judging it now purely in terms of its communications effectiveness). Has it asked enough, but not too much, of its selected audience? Has it allowed that audience to see something for itself? (Whether, in the case of the advertisement, what the audience comes to see is the most persuasive and relevant thing is clearly another question.) So the principles of humour and the principles of commercial persuasion are very close.
A PICTURE SPEAKS A THOUSAND WORDS
We are more likely to remember concepts if they are presented to us as pictures rather than words.
For example, one study of discharged emergency room patients provided half of the participants with text-only instructions to properly care for their wounds, whilst the other half were given both text and cartoon depictions of each step. Three days later, 46% of patients given illustrated instructions demonstrated perfect recall of the prescribed techniques, compared to just 6% in the text-only condition.
By adding pictures and visual context into your goals, meetings, or even briefs, you can help others digest and retain
Excerpt from: The Unseen Mind by Ogilvy UK
Graham and I thought it was rather a good sketch. It was therefore terribly embarrassing when I found I’d lost it. I knew Graham was going to be cross, so when I’d given up looking for it, I sat down and rewrote the whole thing from memory. It actually turned out to be easier than I’d expected.
Then I found the original sketch and, out of curiosity, checked to see how well I’d recalled it when rewriting. Weirdly, I discovered that the remembered version was actually an improvement on the one that Graham and I had written. This puzzled the hell out of me.
Again I was forced to the conclusion that my mind must have continued to think about the sketch after Graham and I had finished it. And that my mind had been improving what we’d written, without my making any conscious attempt to do so. So when I remembered it, it was already better.
Chewing this over, I realised it was like the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: when you can’t remember a name, and you chase after it in your mind
Excerpt from: Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide by John Cleese
Goldman has never written a commercial in his life yet you’ll learn more from his storytelling on how to write for the screen than you will from some advertising expert. And you’ll learn in a memorable and entertaining way – what could be better? There is one piece of advice he offers, in particular, about writing a scene that I love. || It’s a piece of advice that could be well employed by most writers: ‘Come in late, leave early’. || And Goldman’s not talking about the hours you keep. His point is that most writers leave nothing for the audience to do – the writer over explains. || When you write a scene, and it could be a screenplay or it could be a television commercial, whatever you do, you must leave room for the audience to participate. You have to get them engaged in the process – that way you’ll get them wanting more. || With screenwriting you move from scene to scene, twisting, turning and surprising, so predictability is the death of a screenplay, as it is for those of us who write television commercials.
If I can work out what’s coming why bother watching? Surprise is a fundamental factor in making something memorable.
Another renowned venture capitalist, Kleiner Perkins’s Randy Komisar takes this idea one step further. He dissuades members of the investment committee from expressing firm opinions by stating right away that they are for or against an investment idea. Instead, Komisar asks participants for a “balance sheet” of points for and against the investment: “Tell me what is good about this opportunity; tell me what is bad about it. Do not tell me your judgment yet. I don’t want to know.” Conventional wisdom dictates that everyone should have an opinion and make it clear. Instead, Komisar asks his colleagues to flip-flop!
Mark Lepper, David Greene, and Richard Nisbett (1973) conducted research on this question. They divided children into three groups:
- Group 1 was the Expected group. The researchers showed the children the Good Drawing Certificate and asked if they wanted to draw in order to get the certificate.
- Group 2 was the Unexpected group. The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention anything about a certificate. After the children spent time drawing, they received an unexpected drawing certificate.
- Group 3 was the Control group. The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention a certificate and didn’t give them one.
The real part of the experiment came two weeks later. During playtime the drawing tools were put out in the room. The children weren’t asked anything about drawing; the tools were just put in the room and available. So what happened? Children in the Unexpected and Control groups spent the most time drawing. The children in Expected group, the ones to had received an expected reward, spent the least time drawing. Contingent rewards (rewards based on specific behavior that is spelled out ahead of time) resulted in less of the desired behavior if the reward was not repeated. Later the researchers went on to do studies like this, with adults as well as children, and found similar results.
In one study, some of our colleagues from the Second city retreat—Brad Bitterly, Maurice Schweitzer, and Alison Wood Brooks—recruited participants to write and present testimonials for Visit Switzerland, a fictional travel company. What the group didn’t know is that the first two “participants” who read their testimonials were research assistants. Half of their prewritten testimonials were serious, the other half were funny (eg., serious testimonial “The mountains are great for skiing and hiking. It’s amazing!” vs. humorous testimonial “The mountains are great for skiing and hiking, and the flag is a big plus!”). …*
When participants were asked to rate the presenters on a handful of qualities, those presenting the humorous testimonial were perceived as 5 percent more competent, 11 percent more confident, and 37 percent higher in status.
In other words, a six-word throwaway pun at the end of a testimonial meaningfully swung opinions.
Tuck your chin into your chest, and then lift your chin upward as far as possible. 6-10 repetitions.
Lower your left ear toward your left shoulder and then your right ear toward your right shoulder. 6-10 repetitions.
The models whose success we admire are, by definition, those who have succeeded. But out of all the people who were “crazy enough to think they can change the world,” the vast majority did not manage to do it. For this very reason, we’ve never heard of them. We forget this when we focus only on the winners. We look only at the survivors, not at all those who took the same risks, adopted the same behaviors, and failed. This logical error is survivorship bias. We shouldn’t draw any conclusions from a sample that is composed only of survivors. Yet we do, because they are the only ones we see.
Our quest for models may inspire us, but it can also lead us astray. We would benefit from restraining our aspirations and learning from people who are similar to us, from decision makers whose success is less flashy, instead of a few idols
Such misleading stories, however, may still be influential and durable. In Human, All Too Human, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argues that “partial knowledge is more often victorious than full knowledge: it conceives things as simpler than they are and therefore makes its opinion easier to grasp and more persuasive.”
Finally, there are the words with inbuilt flawed assumptions. Step forward all those plans aiming to encourage ‘active engagement’, make ads more ‘persuasive’, ‘force reappraisal’, ‘strengthen the brand-consumer relationship’, ‘drive brand loyalty’, and so on. These words all sound harmless enough, but the assumptions and principles built into them are flawed. That means they knock marketing effectiveness off course. By and large, people don’t want to ‘actively engage’ or have ‘strong relationships’ with brands, advertising or even ‘consumer generated content’. And they don’t need to for marketing to be successful. Communication can work without ‘persuasion’ or ‘reappraisal. In fact, it needn’t actually ‘communicate’ much at all. And as we’ve said before, brand loyally is loudly an irrelevance.
The ‘winter detector’ problem is common in big data analysis. A literal example, via computer scientist Sameer Singh, is the pattern-recognising algorithm that was shown many photos of wolves in the wild, and many photos of pet husky dogs. The algorithm seemed to be really good at distinguishing the two rather similar canines; it turned out that it was simply labelling any picture with snow as containing a wolf. An example with more serious implications was described by Janelle Shane in her book You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: an algorithm that was shown pictures of healthy skin and of skin cancer. The algorithm figured out the pattern: if there was a ruler in the photograph, it was cancer. If we don’t know why the algorithm is doing what it’s doing, we’re trusting our lives to a ruler detector.
The advertising industry – whose only important asset is ideas – has learned nothing from this. We keep heading in the wrong direction. We keep bulking up everything in our arsenal except our creative resources. Then we take the people who are supposed to be our idea people and give them till 3 o’clock to do a banner.
Sure, we need people who are tech-savvy and analytical. But more than anything, we need some brains-in-a-bottle who have no responsibility other than to sit in a corner and feed us crazy ideas. We keep looking to “transform” our industry but ignore the one transformation that would kill.
The Big Ben Problem suggests that introducing a limited time window may encourage people to seize opportunities for treats. Imagine you’ve just gotten a gift certificate for a piece of delicious cake and a beverage at a high-end French pastry shop. Would you rather see the gift certificate stamped with an expiration date two months from today, or just three weeks from now? Faced with this choice, most people were happier with the two-month option, and 68 percent reported that they would use it before this expiration date. But when they received a gift certificate for a tasty pastry at a local shop, only 6 percent of people redeemed it when they were given a two month expiration date, compared to 31 percent of people who were given the shorter three-week window. People given two months to redeem the certificate kept thinking they could do it later, creating another instance of the Big Ben Problem
This detachment also makes it harder to remember how much we’ve spent. When researchers asked thirty people to estimate their credit card expenses before opening their monthly bill, every single individual underestimated the size of their bill—by an average of almost 30 percent.
I can think of nothing an audience won’t understand. The only problem is to interest them; once they are interested they understand anything in the world.
When pushed, people push back. So rather than telling people what to do, or trying to persuade, catalysts allow for agency and encourage people to convince themselves.
People are attached to the status quo. To ease endowment, catalysts surface the costs of inaction and help people realize that doing nothing isn’t as costless as it seems.
Too far from their backyard, people tend to disregard. Perspectives that are too far away fall in the region of rejection and get discounted, so catalysts shrink distance, asking for less and switching the field.
Seeds of doubt slow the winds of change. To get people to un-pause, catalysts alleviate uncertainty. Easier to try means more likely to buy.
Some things need more proof. Catalysts find corroborating evidence, using multiple sources to help overcome the translation problem.
Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger
2. Since facts are more believable than claims, it’s better to express claims as facts.
In advertising, claim is often a euphemism for lie. Many of these euphemised lies are specially constructed to wiggle past lawyers and network censors. You can’t say your peanut butter has more peanuts, not without a notarised peanut count, but you can say someone will be a better mother if she serves it. At your arraignment all you have to do is plead Puffery. All charges are dropped. Puffery forgives everything. To lawyers and censors, it’s okay to lie as long as you lie on a grand enough scale. To everyone else, a lie is still a lie, and it’s almost always transparent. That’s why, instead of just asserting that BMW was a good investment, a BMW ad used the car’s high resale value to prove the point. And it did so, not by comparing the car to other cars but to other investments people in that target audience might make: “Last year a car outperformed 318 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange.”
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
1. Myopia: a tendency to focus on overly short future time horizons when appraising immediate costs and the potential benefits of protective investments;
2. Amnesia: a tendency to forget too quickly the lessons of past disasters;
3. Optimism: a tendency to underestimate the likelihood that losses will occur from future hazards;
4. Inertia: a tendency to maintain the status quo or adopt a default option when there is uncertainty about the potential benefits of investing in alternative protective measures:
5. Simplification: a tendency to selectively attend to on subset of the relevant factors to consider when making choices involving risk; and
6. Herding: a tendency to base choices on the observed actions of others.
Several kinds of verbiage are perennial targets for the delete key. Light verbs such as make, do, have, bring, put, and take often do nothing but create a slot for a zombie noun, as in make an appearance and put on a performance. Why not just use the verb that spawned the zombie in the first place, like appear or perform? A sentence beginning with It is or There is is often a candidate for liposuction: There is competition between groups for resources works just fine as Groups compete for resources. Other globs of verbal fat include the metaconcepts we suctioned out in chapter 2, including matter, view, subject, process, basis, factor, level, and model.
It helps if your copy has a natural, conversational style. To achieve this, as Jim Durfee has suggested, imagine you’re sitting opposite your prospect and then, in the guise of the brand you’re representing, write as you’d speak.
This means using language they’ll understand instantly. Which words are they? Well, of the 80 most-used words in the English language, 78 have an Anglo-Saxon root. These are the short, simple words we use every day.
There’s one short, simple word you should use a lot. Read your copy and check that “you” appears three times more than “I” or “we”. This helps you write about the subject from the reader’s perspective.
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
In one study, experimenters distributed coffee reward cards, with 10 stamps earning a free cup of coffee.
Condition 1: a 10-stamp card with no stamps filled.
Condition 2: a 12-stamp card with two stamps already filled in.
Participants in the second condition purchased more coffee and at a higher rate than participants in the first condition. Furthermore, participants accelerated their coffee consumption when they got closer to their prize.
Ensure the first step of any journey is simple to accomplish and continue to recognise progress along the way. Avoid making people feel they are starting afresh.
Excerpt from: The Unseen Mind by Ogilvy UK