Bland and colorless marketing is the result of trying to be all things to all people. And far too many ads are written NOT to offend, rather than persuade.
But, as I’ve said before, persuasion is the goal of marketing. And convincing your customer to take action often requires that you choose a segment of the market to leave behind.
The Law of Polarity dictates that a force that attracts one substance, will be the identical force that repels yet another.
Align the north pole of one magnet with the south pole of another, and the two objects are immediately drawn together. Now flip the magnets so the poles are matching, and the two objects repel one another.
Roy H. Williams, my partner in the Wizard of Ads firm, observes that advertising, like a magnet, is subject to the Law of Polarity. Specifically, your ad’s ability to attract customers cannot exceed its potential to repel.
How The Law of Polarity Propelled Avis’ Profits
Here’s an example: In 1962, Avis bucked conventional wisdom and placed its reputation on a tightrope with its legendary, “We Try Harder” campaign. A bold move that boomed Avis’ credibility and sparked spectacular growth.
Here’s how it all went down: After 13 consecutive years of operating in the red, Avis found itself nearly bankrupt. The company sucked wind trying to catch up to juggernaut Hertz. And, in a last-ditch effort, Avis hired ad agency, Doyle Dane and Bernbach (DDB).
As you might recall, the credibility linchpin for the entire strategy was revealing Avis’ position as the #2 car rental company in the industry. Without this bold and unprecedented admission, the “We Try Harder” slogan would have been nothing more than a limp, unsubstantiated claim.
But the company’s admission was not without controversy.
Avis executives flipped when they polled the public only to discover that fifty-percent would perceive the company as being second-rate.
But DDB’s Bill Bernbach was fearless. He knew that the remaining half represented more than enough customers to grow Avis’ business.
“It almost didn’t run. Everything was against it. It was a thorny ad. It wasn’t pretty. It printed unprintable truths. It exposed the naked company to the public. It made a lot of people uncomfortable,” said DDB copywriter, Paula Green. “It even irritated a lot of people at DDB. It researched miserably. Bill Bernbach had the courage to sell it.”
Yep, the strategy worked like gangbusters.
Observing the Law of Polarity, Bill Bernbach created one the greatest campaigns in advertising history. The epic “We Try Harder” campaign helped Avis pull a u-turn and the company was profitable within a year. And by 1966, the company rose from 10% market share to a whopping 35 percent.
Yes, choosing who to lose takes unwavering courage.
In fact, your own staff may grumble and tell you: “But ignoring a portion of our customers needs might backfire. Our complaints could skyrocket.”
Or… “We’re getting calls from some of our customers who find our ads offensive. Shouldn’t we write ads that our customers like?”
Ignore the fear.
You see, marketing formulated for the masses is guaranteed to deliver quiet and understated ad copy, and creating a likable ad isn’t your goal. Again, your goal is persuasion. So choose who to lose and let the cash register determine the success of your marketing.
In closing, I’ll leave you with the following parable to further illustrate the Law of Polarity:
You Can’t Please Everyone
From Aesop’s Fables: The Man, The Boy, and The Donkey
A man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”
So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”
So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”
Well the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passersby began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.
The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor Donkey of yours—you and your hulking son?”
The man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the Donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the Donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together, he was drowned.
“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them: “Please all, and you will please none.”