Maybe you saw it, maybe not, but on a TV show years ago, a man was giving away genuine £5 notes on Waterloo Bridge.
Nobody would take them.
They all thought there must be a catch.
That true story leads me to talk about what may be the simplest, most powerful persuasive technique there is.
It’s over 150 years old yet it still works like a charm.
It’s called “reason why” copy. Let me explain what I mean and why this is so effective.
An ulterior motive
For decades now, I have been offering the world the benefit of my alleged wit and wisdom through books, newsletters, speeches, seminars and online programmes.
Many of these efforts have earned me little immediate financial reward – if any. Some of them cost me dear. Why do I do it?
A lot of those on the receiving end will have asked themselves the same question: “Drayton seems an extraordinarily helpful soul. I wonder why?”
You are not stupid. You can see that I plug on with my proselytising because I have an ulterior motive. I hope that you – or someone you know – will have a problem one day and think of me and my colleagues.
I don’t expect you to leap up after three messages and say, “Get me those Drayton Bird people” because you don’t need help every day. But when you do, perhaps you’ll think of us.
Most customers are guarded
However, the average customer is nothing like you. You’re familiar with marketing techniques. You know what I’m up to. They don’t – or at any rate, not many of them do.
So when writing to Mr and Mrs Average, ninety-nine times out of a hundred I would be wrong not to give a “reason why”.
It is one of the most powerful persuasive levers you can have working for you. Yet how often do you see marketers explain why they are making a wonderful offer?
Do they realize that, while few customers are geniuses, most are guarded?
And the more seductive the offer, the more suspicious they tend to be – like all those people who refused the £5 notes.
A reason why is a reason to buy
The best way to allay your doubting customers’ suspicions is a secret weapon called the truth, which is the basis of “reason why” copy.
The “reason why” idea was developed in the middle of the 19th century by a man called John E Powers.
His great discovery was that, if you give people a proper explanation for what you are saying, they are more likely to be swayed by your arguments.
Powers was in fact so honest that one of his employers – John Wanamaker, founder of the great Chicago department store – eventually fired him, exasperated by copy such as: “We have a lot of rotten raincoats that we want to get rid of”. Or “[Our neckties] are not as good as they look, but they are good enough – 25 cents”.
But not before his truth-telling had shifted a lot of raincoats and ties.
You may ask yourself: does this advertising archaeology have any relevance today? The answer is an emphatic “Yes”.
Even today, few advertisers appreciate the importance of giving a reason why.
Suppose you are planning a sale. You do much better if you give a reason for it.
“Closing Down Sale” is a far more convincing announcement than bare “Sale”, because people think that if you are closing down, you really do have to sell off your stock cheaply.
Not that they are being taken for fools. They’ve been given a reason why. Which nicely translates as “a reason to buy”.