Don’t tell me, show me

on 04 May, 2016

When I was a fresh young copywriter at my very first advertising agency, I was given two pieces of invaluable advice. One was ‘never get to the bar first’, the other was ‘don’t tell me if you can show me’.

Both have guided me throughout my career, but it’s the second that remains hugely relevant for anyone involved in sales and marketing. Because when you’re selling a product that does something special, the best thing you can do is get out of the way and let it speak for itself. It might be the oldest trick in the book. But the product demonstration remains the most compelling way to capture, convince and convert your audience.

Not all products have a demonstrable USP, of course. Merchants’ shelves are stacked to the rafters with ‘me too’ offerings, which is when marketers fall back on softer service benefits and brand values to make their case. When the marketing planets align and produce a 24-carat unique selling point, however, the rule is simple: dramatise, dramatise, dramatise.

If your wallpaper adhesive is the strongest you can buy, don’t tell me. Glue a 12 stone man to a board with it and suspend him from a helicopter above Los Angeles. If your trucks have the most stable dynamic steering system, don’t tell me. Get an action film star to perform the splits between two of them as they drive backwards.

These are all examples of real advertising campaigns. Granted, such blockbuster TV campaigns command an equivalent blockbuster price. But with the explosion of online video content, impactful product demonstrations are once again within reach of brands with smaller budgets. Most building product manufacturers now have a YouTube channel and access to video production facilities, however limited. With a little imagination, it’s still possible to stage an eye-popping product demonstration that has every chance of going viral on the world wide web and getting the kind of exposure yesterday’s ad men could only dream about.

The opportunity is there for today’s construction brands, but if they don’t take it, well… don’t say I didn’t tell you.

John Smart is head of copy at DGR Marcomms.

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