Dan Kennedy is regarded as a hero by many of us in the freelance copywriting profession. And for good reason. My copy of his book, The Ultimate Sales Letter, is highlighted, bookmarker and contains many, many of my handwritten notes in the margins. It is one of the best books on copywriting I own. Someday maybe I can even have his autograph in it.
One piece of advice Dan gives to freelance copywriters has paid me back many times the cost of his book. Not only is it a highly effective way to increase your credibility in the eyes of your reader, it can also help you hold a reader’s attention and it can position your product or service as the owner of its own niche.
As a credibility tool, this bit of Dan’s wisdom has few equals. When you incorporate this technique in your ad copy, it immediately sets you apart from the crowd of “we’re great,” or “our widget is the best” marketers.
As a tool for grabbing a reader’s attention and holding it through your copy, this technique uses both curiosity and self interest. It heightens the reader’s sense that some very strong benefits are about to be revealed that can’t be missed.
As a positioning tool, it helps you create your own category. No longer must you fight with the big fish in the pond. You can now own your own pond and be the only fish for miles around.
What is this wonderful piece of advice? Dan devotes an entire chapter to the concept of “Create A Damaging Admission and Address Flaws Openly.”
Let’s face it, your widget may really be the best on the planet, but it still has its flaws or weaknesses. Not only that, your competitor’s widget is not all bad, with no positive points worth mentioning.
So what do you do? You meet these weaknesses head on. If your product is priced higher than your competitor’s, admit it right up front. But then marry that drawback with a corresponding positive. Why is your product more expensive? What extras come with that higher price tag? What reasons can you give prospective buyers to ignore the higher price and focus on additional benefits they won’t get with a lower priced competing product?
- Build honesty and credibility. On rare occasions, I have actually heard politicians praise their opponents (I did say this was rare) and then point out the issues upon which they disagree. When I hear this sort of political discourse, I have several reactions.
First, I find myself experiencing warm feelings toward this rare politician who takes the higher ground, even though I know his campaign workers may be, at that very moment, digging up dirt on that opposing politician).
Second, I find that I give the point of disagreement much more importance than I would otherwise. By admitting a few things he or she liked about the opponent, I am made to care more about those differences.
For marketers, when you do reveal your positives after admitting your flaws, you are building strong credibility. Your prospective customer is much more likely to believe your positive points after you admit your shortcomings.
- Suspense. Nothing holds a reader’s attention and interest like suspense. When you start your ad by admitting a few flaws or by praising some features of your competition, your reader begins thinking, “if these guys are willing to expose these negatives, there must be a positive coming that I don’t want to miss.
People know you are paying good money for your ad. And they know you are not doing it to promote your competition. So they start expecting to hear something fabulous about your own product. They know it’s coming, they know it will offer strong benefits and it will appeal to their self interest.
- Positioning. Sometimes establishing your uniqueness is a matter of refusing to compete on everyone else’s playing field. When Avis’ famous campaign admitted that they were number two, they were refusing to compete with Hertz for dominance in a race Hertz already owned. Instead they chose to play on the field of “trying harder,” which they explained meant giving more customer service and greater attention to the little things.
Suppose you are writing an ad for a sports car. Sports cars are notoriously impractical and only appeal to a small niche of people who (at least in the eyes of others) are showing off, compensating for something else or just never grew out of their fantasies to be James Bond. How might you promote such a car? Here’s an example:
The Thunderbolt XYZ does not have room to put a child’s seat in the back. In fact, it doesn’t have a back seat at all.
Also, if you are expecting to put six bags of groceries in the trunk, forget it. You can put two, or maybe three bags at the most, in the Thunderbolt’s trunk.
Carpooling a bunch of kids to soccer practice? Not a chance.
But if you want to race down an open country road with an autumn breeze blowing through your hair, if you want a car that hugs corners like super glue, or if you want to make your old fraternity brothers question their entire lives, the Thunderbolt is your car.
Such an ad certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but to its very narrow target audience, it might have a very strong appeal indeed. You might want to also check out my article, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: 10 Steps to Writing a Powerful USP if you want to read more about dominating a specific niche.
This technique is so powerful that Dan Kennedy advocates trying really hard to come up with negatives just so you can admit them in your ad. And when you can increase your credibility, hold readers in suspense and take ownership of a specific niche with one single tactic, I can see why.
Before I close however, I must mention one thing. Be sure to marry every negative with an even stronger positive. Your goal is not to bad mouth your own product or send customers to your competition’s door. It is to convince them that, despite a few drawbacks, your product is the one that will solve their problems and meet their needs.