Foust: Advertising is all about motivation

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When you peel back the layers of advertising philosophy and technique, it all comes down to one thing: Motivation. People buy things because they are motivated. And the most effective ads are those that appeal to the right motivation.

There are two basic motivators: (1) desire for gain and (2) fear of loss. Think about your own experience and it’s easy to see that your purchases can be traced to a desire to get (or maintain) something you want or to prevent the loss of something you don’t want to lose.

This goes for big and small buying decisions. Why do you move to a new house? (Real estate experts say the three biggest reasons are location, location and location.) Why do you buy new tires when your old ones wear out? (Fear of an accident.) Why do you go to the movies? (Desire for entertainment.) Why do you wait for something to go on sale before buying? (Desire to save money.) Why do you buy a convertible? Why do you join a gym? Why do you buy an insurance policy?

Smart advertisers find – and stick with – the right motivators to sell their products and services. Take tires, for example. Although every brand of tire is built for safety, Michelin took that universal benefit to a new level – with imagery of smiling babies riding in the protective embrace of their tires. That strategy positioned Michelin as the “safe tire” – a benefit that is tied directly to a major motivator for parents.

You can do the same thing for your advertisers. Simply identify a dominant motivator and package it in the form of a benefit. Then make that benefit crystal clear in the headline and graphic images.

Here are some formulas to write better benefit headlines. Look for the motivational elements.

1. “How to ________ (fill in the blank).” In many cases, whatever you put after the words “how to” will automatically promise a benefit. For example, “How to simplify your vacation plans”… “How to learn a foreign language”… “How to lose five pounds in five days.”

Some words are powerful links to basic motivators. “Protect” and “secure” are strongly connected to fear of loss (“How to protect your home from intruders”). And “save” and “increase” are associated with desire for gain (“How to increase your gas mileage”).

An interesting feature of a “how to” headline is that the words “how to” can be dropped to create a shorter version of the same statement. “How to secure your retirement” can become “Secure your retirement.”

2. “Save ___ on _______.” This headline requires a specific dollar figure or percentage. (“Save 40 percent on new carpet.”)

3. “Quick and easy way to _______.” This is a promise of hassle-free ways to do things. The words “quick and easy” can be used together or alone. (“A quick and easy way to do yard work”… “A quick way to refinish furniture… “An easy way to find the right camera.”)

4. “Free” offers like … “Buy one sandwich, get one free” or “First month’s rent free.”

(c) Copyright 2016 by John Foust. All rights reserved.