Advertising salespeople are highly paid because rejection hurts. They told me to rub Zig Ziglar on it, but the sting and the ache stayed with me. I was 20 years old.
The smiley seminar speaker said, “Look in the mirror each morning and repeat these affirmations.”
Sorry, I’ve already got a religion and it makes me very uncomfortable with self-worship. I know there’s a God and it isn’t me.
My manager tried to teach me how to overcome objections but that only made me feel worse. People were rejecting me because they assumed I was a professional liar and now I was becoming one.
Everywhere I went I heard, “I tried advertising and it didn’t work.”
“Yeah, I know,” whispered the little voice inside me, “I see it not work every day.”
You would have fired me by now, right? I would have fired me, too. But Dennis Worden saw a spark in me that he believed he could fan into a flame. Lucky for both of us, he was right.
My career found wings the day I encountered an advertiser who had a message worth hearing. I delivered his message to my little audience and his business exploded. No question about it, my tiny audience was making him rich. Now I had a success story to tell my prospects. But a success story is a doubled-edged sword. Filled with names and dates and details and numbers, success stories cut through the doubt and make prospects say yes. But the second edge – the one that cuts the seller – is the implied promise, “The same thing will happen to you.”
But if that advertiser’s message is weak, you’ll soon be hearing, “I bought what you said and it didn’t work.” I had been groping blindly in a pitch-dark room when I flicked the light switch on the wall. Suddenly everything was clear: Message and copy are two different things.
“The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you've gotten the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.” – Chuang-tzu, 350 BC
If Chuang-tzu had been in advertising, he would have said, “Copy exists because of message. Once you’ve gotten the message, you can forget the copy.”
That first successful client owned an auto body shop. He had an invisible location but a powerful message that had never been told. I was merely the guy who uncovered his shiny message and held it up in the light. That was 30 years ago, but I can still tell you the essence of Danny’s message:
1. No one ever plans to have a traffic accident.
2. You don’t really have to get 3 estimates from 3 different body shops.
3. You don’t even have to pay your $250 or $500 deductible.
4. Your insurance company will happily pay whatever their adjustor says is the right amount.
5. When you’ve been involved in a traffic accident, call me.
6. I’ll send out a wrecker to pick up you and your car.
7. I’ll give you a free loaner car to drive while I’m repairing your car.
8. I’ll notify your insurance company and meet with the adjustor.
9. I’ll fix your car for whatever amount the insurance adjustor agrees to pay.
10. You don’t even have to pay your deductible.
11. And since we’ve already got the paint in the gun, we’ll fix those little door dings and scratches on the other side of the car that were there before the accident. No extra charge.
12. You’ll get back a car that’s better than it was before the accident.
You don’t have to be a good copywriter to create a great ad from that message. You just have to make sure the advertiser understands:
1. They need to stay on the air long enough for people to hear them and remember their message. That’s when they’ll begin to see results.
2. Then they have to wait for the listener to need them.
3. The longer they stay on the air, the deeper the message goes into memory and the better it works.
I’ve never seen an advertiser fail because they were reaching the wrong people but I’ve seen thousands fail because they had a weak message. We create failure when we assume creative copy will compensate for the fact that an advertiser has nothing to say.
Are there exceptions to what I’ve told you? Of course.
1. The advertiser with a weak message, often repeated, will prevail over a competitor with an equally weak message less often heard. When weak vs. weak, frequency is a tiebreaker.
2. The advertiser with a weak message wrapped in cleverness and humor will prevail over a competitor with an equally weak message wrapped in a brown paper bag.
3. The advertiser with a weak message and a big ad budget will prevail over a competitor with a strong message that never gets heard.
I made my fortune searching out little businesses with strong messages that had never been heard. Everyone thought I was a great copywriter, but they were wrong. I was a great message-finder.
When I finally wrapped my head around the fact that success wasn’t determined by the “rightness” of my audience, the loyalty of my audience, the size of my audience or the cleverness of my copy, I began to sell everyone I met. I knew all I had to do was dig until I found a message worth sharing. And if the advertiser didn’t have a message worth telling, I had to convince them to create one or prepare them for a life of mediocrity.
What I said to them made sense. My prospects were sold on me long before I was sold on them.
I knew I could grow the business if the business owner would only let me. When prospects didn’t want to meet with me, I no longer felt rejection. I felt pity for them. And if they were so unfortunate as to hurt my feelings I would track down their smallest competitor and make that competitor their worst nightmare.
People say I have a big ego. But in truth I’m shy and easily wounded. I learned how to make advertising work because I was unable to face my clients when it didn’t.
And now you know.
Roy H. Williams
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PS – Last week I mentioned that this week’s Memo would likely rub a lot of people the wrong way. That’s because core values, identity and self-image are ticklish, touchy subjects. The person whose life was changed by positive thinking will feel I took a cheap shot at Zig Ziglar. If a person does daily affirmations in the mirror, they’ll be outraged by the fact that I compared it to self-worship. Those who are expert at “overcoming objections” will say I’ve accused them of being professional liars. I intended none of these things.
The Cognoscenti will recall that we define ourselves not so much by what we include, but by what we exclude. What we stand for says little about us. But when we name the thing we stand against, we are revealed in sharp contrast against that background.