Direct Marketing Article
Truth in Advertising Can be Profitable
By Bob Bly
Legendary adman James Webb Young, who started selling fruit by mail around
the same time that Harry & David did, tells the story of an apple-growing
season where he was nearly ruined.
Violent hail storms bombarded his apple trees with ice pellets, causing
bruising and pock marks.
He feared massive complaints and returns if he shipped the bruised fruit to
his mail order apple buyers. But if he didn't ship the damaged apples, he
would have to refund all the orders, and his mail order business would be
The apples were damaged only cosmetically. The hail had pockmarked the skin,
but this did not affect the flavor or freshness.
Young went ahead and filled his orders with the pockmarked apples, and in
each box shipped, enclosed a preprinted card that read as follows (I am
"Note the pockmarks on some of these apples. This is proof that they are
grown at a high mountain altitude, where the same extreme cold that causes
sudden hailstorms also firms the flesh and increases the natural sugars,
making the apples even sweeter."
According to Young, not a single order was returned. In fact, when orders
came in for next year, many order forms had handwritten notes that said,
"Pockmarked apples if available; otherwise, the regular kind."
Young's story proves what experienced marketers know: Often, by being
truthful about your weaknesses and flaws, you can gain substantial
credibility with your buyer, increasing loyalty, sales, and customer
Years ago, an industrial pump manufacturer, Blackmer, used the "show your
warts" strategy with great success.
As a chemical engineer, I can tell you that not all pumps perform equally in
all applications. Instead of hiding this fact, Blackmer made it a primary
Their trade ads showed a Yellow Pages ripped out of an industrial buying
guide, full of listings for pump manufacturers, including Blackmer; the
Blackmer name was circled in pen.
The headline of the ad read, "There are only certain times you should call
Blackmer for a pump. Know when?"
Body copy explained (again, I am paraphrasing), "In many applications,
Blackmer performs no better or worse than any pumps, and so we are not a
particularly advantageous choice."
But, the ad went on, for certain applications (viscous fluids, fluids
containing abrasives, and a few other situations) Blackmer was proven to
outperform all other pumps, and were the logical brand of choice. Blackmer
closed the ad by offering a free technical manual proving the claim.
My old friend, Jim Alexander, of Alexander Marketing in Grand Rapid,
Michigan, created this campaign and tells me it worked extremely well.
Another example: a financial publisher was initially concerned that putting
disclaimers and fine print required by regulatory bodies would depress
response to his e-mail marketing campaigns promoting his stock market and
options trading newsletters.
Instead of hiding the disclaimers in fine print, however, he put them in the
same size type as the rest of the e-mail promotion. He found, to his
surprise, that being up front about the warnings and cautions actually
increased response! The conclusion: Instead of hiding a weakness, be
forthright about it.
How to use this technique: Pick one weakness of your product or company.
Talk about it frankly in your marketing. Show why either (a) the weakness is
not really important or (b) how you have designed your product or service to
either overcome, solve, or compensate for the weakness.
For example (and this isn't real, but just makes the point), if your
competitor in the window-cleaning business has tall window cleaners who are
all ex-NBA players and can reach higher windows, you can say that your
window cleaners are of average height and can't reach as high up.
But, to make up for that, each brings a pneumatic lift to the job, which can
raise them dozens of feet higher than your competitor's best basketball
player can jump. That's an absurd example, but you get the idea.
About the Author:
Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years
of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct
marketing. He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network
Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal
Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas...and has won numerous industry awards. Bob
is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to
Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt &
Co.). Visit: www.BobBlyMarketingBooks.com