Learn to Turn Your Expertise Into Expert Profits

Use element of surprise to sell


“You have to make people feel your message, not just understand it,” marketing guru Terry O’Neill said five minutes into his presentation at the 37th annual Canadian Home Builders’ Association conference in Victoria.

That aptly summarize his message, which he proceeded to make the delegates feel with real examples from the marketing world, real as they could be in a PowerPoint presentation.

Judging from the gasps, followed by laughter, the delegates certainly felt something when they saw the slide of a bus shelter with stacks of money encased within the sheets of unbreakable glass.

“Do you think you could walk by that and get to work in the morning and not say to the first person you saw in your office, `You’ve gotta see what I just saw on the street. There’s probably $50,000 in a bus shelter.’”

O’Reilly admits that framing its message in such a way posed a risk for 3M Security Glass. But it also revealed the company’s confidence in the security of its product. 

That was the first of several “big ideas” that O’Reilly, a longtime advertising copywriter and host of CBC Radio’s The Age of Persuasion, presented to the audience of about 200 delegates at Carson Hall in the Victoria Conference Centre.

O’Reilly wasn’t talking about witty lines in ad copy, although he offered examples of those as well, such ABC Television’s, “If TV is so bad for you, why is there one in every hospital room?”

In an age where each day 8 million web pages, 250,000 YouTube videos, and 3 million PowerPoint presentations are added to the information glut, it takes much more than just a clever idea to capture customer attention, said O’Reilly.

“With all of that deafening ad noise out there that’s why we need ideas to break through. Not just tidy information and not just solid marketing. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about ideas that are simply impossible to ignore.”

If O’Reilly has a simple motto, it’s “Be surprising.” He offered several examples to illustrate:

- An advertising agency kept representatives of British Rail waiting for over an hour in a dingy waiting room. As the reps were about to leave in disgust, the ad people stormed in and said, “You’ve just experienced what British Rail customers experience every day.” The agency won the contract in what O’Reilly described as “one of the biggest pitch gambles I’ve ever heard in my life.”

- Over time, a poster spelled out the name of the advertiser, the pest-control company Orkin. The poster consisted of flypaper except for the parts that formed the letters.

- Crates of eggs bearing the Virgin airlines logo on a baggage carousel demonstrated how carefully the airline handles luggage.

- A giant comb dangled amid a tangle of wires extending from a utility pole created a visualization for a hair conditioner.

- A tower crane during off hours hoisted a giant Lego block in downtown Toronto.

- An anti-smoking ad on a bus positioned a man’s mouth over the exhaust pipe.

Such big ideas never originate from groups or committees, O’Reilly said. Big ideas always come from small groups and usually only from a single individual.

“Most advertising appeals to the head and not the emotions. You have to say something about a product or service in such a way that it appeals to the gut.”

The most compelling message isn’t to promote a wonderful product. It’s to understand a customer’s needs and how you can emotionalize them.

“Remember in your industry, your customers are not buying houses; they’re buying homes. Is there anything more meaningful in life than your home?”

Deep Shergill, of Prominent Homes Ltd. in Calgary, told O’Neill about a successful marketing plan his company had used that resulted in several The news articles in the city’s two daily newspan pers. The campaign called Oops!, demonstrated that all builders occasionally make mistakes but what sets a good builder apart from poor ones is the willingness and ability to fix the mistakes. So in one showroom, his workers made a mistake that could easily be made: a powder room with the wrong size door and a pedestal sink placed so that door couldn’t open fully. In another ad, though, his builders created an impossible mistake: an upside down kitchen and then fixed it.

O’Reilly’s presentation impressed many other delegates, including several who lined up afterward for copies of his book, The Age of Persuasion, which is also the name of his CBC Radio show (www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion)


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