Here’s a key lesson for modern marketing from a century ago.
Burmese-born writer H.H. Munro (under the pen name Saki) wrote:
“In baiting a mousetrap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse.”
It’s become the most violated principle in the Marketing/Communications game. Which is likely costing companies a lot of money.
My guess is it’s because we’ve forgotten about the difference between stimulus and response. Or because we’ve become obsessed with messages, message testing and simple message playback. Or just lost faith in people’s innate intelligence.
David Ogilvy had it bang on many years ago when he said: ‘The consumer isn’t a moron; she’s your wife’. People are smart. They know the game of Marketing. They’d prefer to opt out. But if we respect their intellect and entice them to opt in, they’ll play along, in my experience.
So what is Munro/Saki trying to teach us? What should we take from his mousetrap message?
Well simply this:
Patronising people by spelling it all out as if they’re too stupid to work it out for themselves is fatal. Not only will they opt out. They’ll likely come to despise you.
Leave the loop open. Leave something to the imagination. (There’s an actress/vicar gag there, I’m sure). Invite them to participate in the communication. Let them feel a sense of co-authorship as they close the loop for themselves. Surely that’s the real meaning of engagement?
Case in point: A few years back, I had the great privilege of working on Tontine pillows. With people yards more talented than me. We set out to shake up the pillow category (and take an unfair share of category growth). We put the world’s first ‘use-by’ stamp on a pillow.
In the advertising we reminded people what lay just below the surface of their favourite pillow (an entire ecosystem feeding on their dead skin cells and saliva).
Importantly, we studiously avoided showing bugs in a pillow.
Here is a key extract from the Effie paper (quoting brilliant research done by David Tunnicliffe – one of our finest):
“People needed to conclude for themselves, not be told or shown the things directly that we wanted them to take out. This confirmed our deeply held view that we should not show bugs in pillows. Once consumers play the idea of bugs out in their own imagination – ‘theatre of the mind’ if you like – they own the problem themselves and they conclude for themselves that they should buy a Tontine pillow without being told to buy one. Had we shown bugs in a pillow, research suggests we would have given people wriggle room – ‘that’s your pillow, not mine’.”
Subtlety, thoughtfulness, seduction, a light touch – all ways to catch a mouse.
Or a customer.
Don’t close the loop. Invite them to involve themselves in the communication. Leave room for them. Let them write the final part.
Follow Mark Sareff’s series here.