I recently read “16 Quotes of Marketing Wisdom From Don Draper,” a surprising number considering he’s fictional. Draper was loosely based on Bob Levenson, one of the greatest copywriters in history. I only found three quotes for Bob. That’s terrible considering he was very real (and very quotable), but not as quotable as Don Draper.
It just goes to show how important numbers are to us these days. Numbers obviously attract readers. They promise something important, so we inflate them, interpret them, even bury them. Numbers position us in the marketplace. They give us authority whether we deserve it or not.
The other day, I read an article entitled: “The #1 Way to Reach Your Target Market!” I wondered about the exclamation mark, but maybe the writer figured she was short-changing us by only having one number. That can be a problem when everyone else is putting out at least 10 ways — including me. I thought it would be eye-catching to say: “50 Ways to Run From a Monsoon.”
I was intrigued by “The #1 Way to Reach Your Target Market!” figuring anyone who can boil down market penetration to ‘one way’ deserves my attention. According to the article, the #1 way to reach your target is to know “your ideal client profile.” She even gave an example of a writing teacher who summarized: “My ideal client is a mother who feels unfulfilled and wants to realize her childhood dream of being a successful writer.”
First of all, it’s not hard to find unfulfilled mothers ready to write stories about cheating husbands and overly affectionate dogs. But we’re not all unfulfilled mothers. We’re just plain unfulfilled, and while it’s good to know your “ideal client profile,” some markets need a broader reach, such as what appeals to an audience with no writing ambitions whatsoever.
Another blog offered “10 Ways to Reach Your Audience Effectively.” Using the word “effectively” is much more definitive. We read on, only to find that it’s the same strategy for reaching unfulfilled pen-wielding mothers.
If we feel bamboozled by this, it’s because we are bamboozled. I bamboozled you with “50 Ways to Run From a Monsoon.” Anyone familiar with monsoons knows there’s only one way. You run.
The day someone decided we needed 10 ways — or 50 ways — to do anything, we started losing audience. Think of the circus. Some people think circuses died off because of television. They died off because of over-inflated promises that was often described in the 19th century as “hoodwinking.”
When we oversell, our audiences over expect. Eventually, they catch on and feel cheated. Once that happens, no amount of numeric persuasion will stop consumer indifference and loss of brand loyalty. The man who used to say, “I’ve been driving Chryslers for thirty years” is dead. His family isn’t nearly as loyal. They’ll buy based on who offers 0% down and a set of snow tires.
Back in 2011, Chrysler launched a Super Bowl commercial with the line: “Imported from Detroit.” Chrysler hoped to play on American patronage, a nod to homegrown grit and ingenuity. Unfortunately, people still found 10 reasons— or 50 reasons— not to like the 200 model. As powerful as the advertising was, the car wasn’t, and Detroit, with its empty city blocks, didn’t look terribly powerful, either.
Today, I’m actually seeing a drop in the 10 ways, 20 ways and, yes, especially 50 ways to do anything. I’ve even seen a drop in people swearing by this technique. Did you ever wonder about the bloggers getting 405,000 views and 12,000 comments? Proportionally, that’s not a great response rate.
I wrote a blog/post that received 50 viewers and 20 responses. Numerically, that doesn’t look great, but proportionally, I created a greater impact. As another blogger pointed out, “Isn’t it better to have one reader truly moved than 100,000 viewers who couldn’t be bothered to even ‘like’ you?”
Good point. Reaching a consumer isn’t nearly as important as moving one. Watching Super Bowl 50, I was surprised how uninspired I was by the advertising. I was interested in the hype and the creativity, but I wasn’t persuaded to buy anything.
Take the Dodge truck ad where a young man jumps off a cliff with his mother’s voiceover in the background, telling him to be careful. He continues acting like a moron, saying at the end, “Sorry, Mom.” Obviously, this commercial wasn’t tested on mothers. All Chrysler cared about was the research. It showed Johnny really likes being a badass. How many people like being a badass? Obviously not as many as Chrysler expected.
Numbers may play a big role on social media — and media in general — but believing that’s all you need is foolhardy. You also need common sense.
Nobody takes anything at face value anymore. We’re skeptics, everyone’s a skeptic. Using numbers for headline value (like mine) not only treats people like idiots, it makes you look like an idiot expecting them to be idiots.
Either the day comes when we stop being idiots, or we end up at the bottom of cliffs (see the Apple commercial called “Lemmings” that followed “1984”).
At that point, numbers won’t mean anything. We’ll be too tired, too disillusioned, too disenchanted to listen. As Bob Levenson once said: “Unless we change, this tidal wave of indifference will wallop into the mountain of advertising and manufacturing drivel. That day we die.”
From what I’ve seen lately, that day may be here already.
What about you? Do you think we’re walloping into a mountain of advertising and manufacturing drivel? Do numbers mean anything to you anymore? Let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. For more details, go to Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Publishing.