“Show; Don’t Tell” Works for Ads, Too

Here’s another lesson the best advertisement writers learned a long time ago. Show; don’t tell. Writers will recognize that lesson as being one of the foremost rules of storytelling.

A couple months ago, John Carlton posted on his blog an entry entitled “Free. Guaranteed!” When you’re giving away something, or when you’re making a guarantee, don’t just use the words “free” and “guaranteed.” Using these words does not by itself conjure a magic incantation that will make people buy. These words have been so overused, in fact, that customers are rightly skeptical whenever they see them in an ad headline.

Rather, demonstrate. Or in John Carlton’s parlance, prove it.

… “free” doesn’t mean it’s actually free of strings. It’s free when you buy this. Free when you’ve saved up enough coupons. Free as long as you meet these requirements.

Same with “guarantee.” I see this a LOT when I critique copy for rookies — the word gets tacked onto the end of the headline, followed by an exclamation mark. As if the pure power of the word is so staggering, they’re risking the wrath of God just writing it down like that.

But they seldom explain what the guarantee is. And so it is meaningless bragging… much like that uncle who gets drunk at family gatherings and starts yelling to make his point during an argument.

Yelling is not being bold and convincing. It’s just yelling.

He goes on describing how to make real in the prospect’s mind the promise that “guarantee” represents. Once you do that, then and only then will it become real. And only then will it become a selling point. Otherwise, you’re just being preachy.

People are actually quite tolerant, readers of fiction and non-fiction as well as advertising prospects. They don’t care so much what the conditions of “free” are, as long as they understand them, as long as they feel they’re not being swindled. True, some will pass on your offer if the conditions are not to their liking. Similarly, some readers will pass on your story if the genre or other details are not to their liking. But as long as you bring to life for them the thing you’re trying to describe, they’ll accept without question a lot of the logic you use to get there. That’s the power of “Show; don’t tell.”



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