The Difference Between Clever Versus Deceptive Marketing
This is a funny sign outside a coffee shop and brunch venue called Cafe Grind in New York City.
The copy itself is standard: “Free WiFi, cold beer.”
If the words were given equal visual weight, this would be a normal sign. It’s the emphasized size of certain words that causes you to read the sign as “Free beer” — until you get closer.
The sign is refreshing, simple, and well-executed.
For marketers who are inspired to try something similar, it’s important to realize that there’s a difference between cleverness and bait-and-switch. The latter makes people feel stupid for trusting you, and you don’t want to betray a customer like that.
So why does this ad work? Why does it make people laugh? Why don’t people feel lied to?
Because free beer is almost universally too good to be true. So customers will chuckle sheepishly at themselves for getting their hopes up. They realize that few, if any, establishments would offer free beer with no strings attached — so they can’t possibly blame this cafe for not offering it. They can only laugh at themselves for momentarily believing such an outrageous promise.
The key is that the “baited” promise that you offer has to be outrageous enough that customers will immediately realize that it’s crazy and can’t blame you for not offering it.
The realization has to be immediate, otherwise customers will feel foolish. If you have the customers walk in and sit down or order a beer before a barista tells them the punchline of the joke, they will feel like they wasted their positive feelings on you. They will feel like losers for actually beileving you and be embarrassed that the barista is judging them. Then they will hate you and rightly so.
Another reason that this ad works, is that after being mildly disappointed by the lack of free beer, customers are then pleasantly surprised by the free Wifi. The brands says, of course we won’t give you X, but we will give you Y, which you value.
For cafe-goers, free WiFi isn’t taken for granted. It’s a benefit that people appreciate. This means that the joke ends on a positive note and helps the cafe stand out among the hundreds of similar cafes you walk by every day.
If you are unsure whether your messaging will be interpreted as clever or deceptive, err on the side of caution.
Is the baited promise that I’m offering so outrageous that customers will immediately realize their naivete upon seeing the true message?
Will they hold it against me for not offering the feature/benefit, or will they understand that it’s not reasonable to offer it?
Would a competitor possibly offer the baited promise, but in seriousness?
Does this type of clever marketing fit with my brand? Or will it be jarring because the customer isn’t used to a snarky approach from us?
People notice brands with a distinctive voice, and wit is just one attribute that a brand can have. Decide how far you want your marketing to push the limit in a way that helps you stand out while supporting your core brand identity.
Photo credit: Doug Suda
If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear.” I’ve always loved that quote. That’s “mamba mentality.” We don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure and conquer.”
— Kobe Bryant the day after he tore his Achille’s tendon in a game and effectively ended his season. I’m not a big basketball fan, but his quote and the energy in his writing was refreshing. This is how an all-star athlete thinks. The full text of his Facebook post venting his frustration received over 430k likes.
I’m a Feminist and I Like Flowers
A friend shared a blog post called The Pampering Trap on his Facebook wall. The article was written by a feminist blogger called Crate and Ribbons and suggests that women have been brainwashed by advertisers and society to need pampering. The argument is that pampering is destructive because it keeps women weak, dis-empowered, and submissive.
I disagree. Here is my response.
Saying no to chivalry is very de rigueur right now. To say otherwise feels like a women is going against everything women before her have fought for. But having such an inflexible notion of what equality and freedom means is just as restricting, just as judgment-heavy, as the constructs that feminism sought to abolish.
What feminists fought for was choice. The freedom to choose what we want to do with our bodies, what we feel is right for ourselves. The freedom to choose to be a mother or not, to have a career or not, and everything in between. The freedom to make our own decisions without feeling pressured to fit into a pre-determined notion of what being a happy, confident woman means.
Right now, there is a pre-constructed standard thrust upon women who like chivalry. There is disdain for women who appreciate being treated well and who enjoy being feminine. I’m a strong woman who is financially-secure, well-educated, confident, and with sound judgment. Those are great traits. Traditional feminists would applaud me for that.
But then things get complicated when I say that I am all these strong qualities, and yet I like things that are traditionally feminine. I like glitter. I like pink. I like brunch. I like having my significant other dote upon me. It makes me feel special. Why does my inclination for those things automatically mean that I’m no longer strong, independent, of sound judgment? Why can’t I be both strong and like being “pampered”?
Crates and Ribbons states, “Indeed, there is nothing wrong with the act of pampering or being pampered per se.” Okay, I agree with that.
Then she continues: “But when it is tied up inextricably in the arena of gender roles within a romantic relationship, then we have a problem.” This is where we disagree. “Pampering” is not necessarily tied to gender roles in romantic relationships - you can be both a strong woman and enjoy pampering.
The word “pampering” has a heavily negative connotation when used in a conversation about feminism. Citing the dictionary doesn’t help. The dictionary often does not capture important connotations that shape a conversation and the issues within it.
Let’s look up the word “assertive” in Merriam-Webster. Here’s what you get: ambitious, aggressive, enterprising, fierce, go-getting, high-pressure, in-your-face, militant, pushy.
There are obviously some meanings there that are more positive than others. If I say that someone is go-getting, fierce, and enterprising - those are great things. You’re going out and doing positive things in the word.
Now, if I say that someone is in-your-face, militant, and pushy - also synonyms that Merriam-Webster offered - there is negative value judgment in those words.
For a word like “persuade,” you also find that connotations run the gamut.
Bad: blandish, exhort, wheedle, seduce, beguile, tempt, brainwash
Good: influence, debate, discuss, dispute, reason with
This isn’t sugar-coating or petty semantics. Connotations are real. In the author’s “About This Blog” section, she states, “I believe that words can lead to change.”
I believe that, too - that the words we choose to describe ourselves and our ideas can have far greater weight than we consciously realize. That the words we choose can damn others as being ludicrous, or acknowledge that an idea is legitimate, even if we disagree with it.
It’s important to be fair with words because they hold power. Let’s be fair with the words we use, so that women who disagree can speak up without feeling guilt and pressure to conform to a singular definition of what feminism means.
When someone chooses to use a word like “pampering,” and then says that babies and small dogs need pampering, how can any woman say that she likes it too? However, the actions of “pampering” - appreciating chivalry, being treated well, indulging, feeling special - these things are completely legitimate for women to want.
By inextricably linking that women who enjoy feeling provided for are submissive, you strip women of the power to decide for themselves what they want. Then the argument becomes circular and there’s no way to win. If I like flowers, it’s not because I like them, but because society brainwashed me to like them. And since you’re not aware enough to realize that society brainwashed you, you poor thing, here you are liking flowers. Shame on you.
Being a strong woman means making my own decisions about what I want, on my terms. I’m confident in my strength and in my femininity. If you don’t want to be “pampered,” fine - but don’t judge me for making my own decision.
3 Lessons from Senator Marco Rubio’s Awkward Water Break
I heard Senator Rubio’s response to Obama’s State of the Union on the radio yesterday with a friend who’s an NPR fanatic. Apparently there’s a video clip of Rubio taking a sip of water during his speech that has ignited a flurry of social media activity.
But what exactly makes the common act of sipping water so awkward? I watched the video multiple times to analyze.
Here are a few things we can learn.
1. Know when to break eye contact.
One big factor in the awkwardness is Marco Rubio’s intense eye contact.
Rubio looks creepy looking right at you as he lifts the bottle to his mouth, drinks it, and puts it down — all with a lingering stare.
Watching someone open a jar of peanut butter would be weird if the person all of a sudden stopped talking but kept staring directly at you while twisting the Jiffy cap off.
So briefly breaking and re-engaging the eye contact would have fixed this problem.
The sequence of events should have gone like this:
Rubio: “And nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the ones laid out by the President tonight.”
Pause. Break eye contact to look at the water.
Get the water. Take a quick sip.
Re-engage eye contact with the audience.
Continue speaking: ”The choice isn’t just between big business and big government. What we need is an accountable….”
2. Stay calm about pauses — and make them seem intentional even if they’re not.
Rubio looks afraid that the audience will walk away before he’s done drinking water. If you’re a senator on national television, try to appear confident about your presence. Don’t look uncertain, overly-eager, and rushed.
Worst of all, the pause and water sip look unintentional. If a pause is intentional, it can be powerful and make you seem more in control — not less.
3. Bend the rules slightly if you have to.
Rubio was likely trying to stick to a time limit for his speech. But taking a moment to sip his water calmly would have been worth the 3 second delay.
Also, it looks like Rubio didn’t want to take walk over to reach the water — perhaps the camera crew told him not to move too much.
So he leaned way out of the camera’s frame to get the water, and made the camera man follow him. It would have been better to take a quick step to get the water bottle, then resume his position.
As a public figure, Rubio is probably an experienced speaker, so it’s a shame that he looked awkward.
He’s good-natured about it and even tweeted a picture of the Poland Springs water bottle — but I’m sure he’d rather be known for other factors in his speech.
Takeaway: Make sure that body language — such as eye contact, pausing, and reaching for something — doesn’t distract from your message or ruin the flow of an otherwise smooth delivery.
Photo credit: AP/NPR.org.