Rosser Reeves was an advertising executive from the fifties who has 3 important contributions to the world of Marketing:
He coined the term “Unique Selling Proposition”, the idea that any product or service in the marketplace has to specify what differentiates it from its competitors.
He was the first to create ads for presidential campaigns. Including a 1952 ad for Dwight D. Eisenhower. The ad was called “ I like Ike”. You can check it out here
He is the protagonist of the one of most famous stories in advertising, one that exemplifies enduring power of clarity. And also highlights the principle of contrast. This is how the story goes:
One afternoon, Reeves & a colleague were having lunch in central park. On the way back to their Madison Avenue office, they encountered a man sitting in the park, begging for money. He had a cup for donations and beside it was a sign, handwritten on cardboard, that read:
I AM BLIND
Sadly for the man, the cup contained only a few coins. His attempts to move others to donate money were coming up short. Reeves thought he knew why. He told his colleague “ I bet I can dramatically increase the amount of money that guy is raising by simply adding four words to his sign.” Reeves skeptical friend took the bet.
Reeves then introduced himself to the beggar and told him what he could do for him. He requested the man to let him edit his sign. The man agreed and Reeves took a marker and added four words.
Almost immedietly a few people dropped coins into the man’s cup. Other people soon stopped, talked to the man, and plucked dollar bills from their wallets. Soon the cup was running over with cash, and the once sad looking blind man, feeling his bounty, beamed with happiness.
Which four words did Reeves add?
IT IS SPRINGTIME AND
Making the final sign:
IT IS SPRINGTIME AND I AM BLIND
Reeves won his bet. And we learnt a very important lesson in Marketing.
Clarity depends on contrast.
In this case, the begging man’s sign moved people in the park to empathize with him by starkly comparing their reality with his.
It works like this - we often understand something better when we see it in comparison with something else than when we see it in isolation. This is such an effective selling principle that it operates within, and often amplifies, every aspect of persuasion.
This is why the most important question you can ask is : Compared to what?
PS: This post is paraphrased from the brilliant book “To Sell is Human” by Daniel Pink. Whether you are in sales, marketing or in any other vocation I highly recommend reading this book.