Spin it to Win it

Whether your product is as serious as an appeal for humanitarian aid, or as frivolous as a Superman-themed iPod cover, if you’re going to sell it, you need an angle. In the abstract, that’s five cents’ worth of wisdom you might think was the essence of advertising.

And yet in today’s world, where the distinction between an honest sales person and a sneaky “spin doctor” has been blurred by everything from real political scandals to cable-TV dramas, that cheap wisdom is often obscured. In recent years, the battle cries of the authenticity movement have discouraged even sensible people from acknowledging the basic truth behind any sale:

You have to spin it to win it.

Hence, even if you craft your appeal to audiences under the aegis of strict, authenticity-driven ideology, you’re still crafting an appeal. You’ve simply added a step to the process. First, you win someone over with your earnestness, and then you hit them with your sales pitch. And, as any fund raising hack knows, that approach appeals directly to a certain sector of your customer base.

“Won’t you please help ensure that [cause target] has the [cause-specific panacea] [gender-appropriate pronoun] needs to achieve [cause-specific happy ending]?”

…runs the tired formula of many a fund raising campaign. While many foundations do great work, if you’re going to give, it’s not because you’ve carefully weighed the data the campaign presented.

You’ll give because you’ve been sold—or rather, been given the tools to sell yourself.

Case in point is a clever video that puts the last 10 years of Technology advertising in stark perspective. Go ahead, watch it now. I’ll wait.

Goose bumps, right? For my part, I could barely stop myself from making my own printing press so I could cranck out these technological marvels.

Here’s an everyday object repositioned as a magnificent innovation. The mundane becomes the grand, and the future arrives by special delivery to your benighted hovel of a life.

Peek inside the envelope.
The first step in the process is to create a conceptual framework for your pitch, one level removed from words on a page. As in the “Book” video mentioned above, you need to envelop your product in a coherent and emotionally compelling story about its value.

In rudimentary form, you can see this at work in catalog copy, as in narrative snippets like this from Hemmacher Schlemmer:

Worn like a backpack, this is the lightweight vacuum that turns a
physically demanding chore into an activity that’s as effortless as walking.

…or this from Sharper Image:

The Emergency Handcrank Power Radio keeps you connected to the world
while you’re camping—or whenever severe weather strikes.

Similar examples are legion, but to achieve a storied Spin you must get beyond messages that cling tight to product features. You must demonstrate your value in a broader context and make the sum total of your products’ attributes into an object of desire.

This is Apple’s greatest achievement—to the dismay of anyone rooting for the further evolution of the human species. People are willing to pay more for a parity product because it feels sexier than the alternative.

Read the letter of the lager.
But lest you think only brands with deep pockets can take this tack, witness the positioning power of Brooklyn Lager, the product of an artisanal brewery:

The result is a wonderfully flavorful beer, smooth, refreshing and very versatile
with food. Dry-hopping is largely a British technique, which we’ve used in a
Viennese-style beer to create an American original.

…not your drunk uncle’s beer, to be sure. Let’s see how the brewery puts its product in context:

Brooklyn Lager is at home with pizza, burgers, Mexican food, roast chicken,
barbecue, fried fish, pork and Chinese dishes. For cheese, go with manchego,
Stilton, farmhouse cheddar and mild Gruyere.

Now, many a marketing guru would balk at using “so much copy” to sell a product online. Yet I defy anyone who doesn’t actively dislike beer not to undergo a  change in perception. That’s because the copy creates a singular narrative identifying the product’s specific value: as a beer for people for whom food and drink is an essential part of their culture.

 Try doing that with a semi-literate list of bullets or a stingy discount coupon. Without an honest, compelling spin, you’d do better to sell your wares on a street corner with a megaphone. At least then, after serving 90 days for disturbing the peace, you might have the start of a ripping yarn to wow your customers.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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