Dramatizing features for the Walter Mitty in all of us.

Walter Mitty

“…it is James Thurber’s Wal­ter Mitty who, in the space of a sin­gle after­noon, is the commander of a navy hydroplane, a life-saving sur­geon, an expert marks­man, and an intrepid army cap­tain. Wal­ter Mitty isn’t crazy. He just has trou­ble con­vinc­ing the out­side world of who he is inside.

‘The Secret Life of Wal­ter Mitty’ is a favorite Amer­i­can story because it speaks to the Mitty in each of us. Who among us has never played cow­boy, astro­naut, princess, or nurse? Like Don [Quixote] and Wal­ter, each of us has a secret life, and it is silly to pre­tend that our outward choices are not influ­enced by the peo­ple we are inside.

In we are to insist on intel­lec­tual hon­esty, we must urge Don and Wal­ter to aban­don their child­ish dreams. But if we would sell our prod­ucts and make two cus­tomers happy, we will speak not to a tired old man and a hen­pecked hus­band, but will elo­quently address the needs of a chival­rous knight and an intre­pid army captain.

It’s called ‘Advertising.’”

Roy H. Williams, The Wiz­ard of Ads

In my last Prac­ti­cal Tac­ti­cal Tues­day post, I mentioned that fea­tures might be dra­ma­tized to show some­thing other than imme­di­ate, objec­tive ben­e­fit, that fea­tures might be dra­ma­tized, instead, so as to tie the prod­uct into the val­ues and self image of the prospec­tive cus­tomer. When you choose this other path, you end up adver­tis­ing to the felt needs of  your prospects’ inner Wal­ter Mitty, rather than to their actual, real-life needs.

SUVs vs. Minivans

Exam­ples of this abound, but here’s one we’re all famil­iar with: the millions of moth­ers dri­ving around in SUVs instead of mini­vans.  They chose the more expen­sive SUV despite the fact that SUVs cost more, guz­zle more gas, are more likely to roll-over, and just gen­er­ally aren’t as well suited to the actual com­mut­ing demands of most moms. By all objec­tive stan­dards, the minivan (or, maybe even the sta­tion wagon) is the bet­ter choice.

But does the aver­age mom see her­self as a minivan-driving Soc­cer Mom?

Um, no, actually.

So why would she want to drive a vehi­cle that’s stig­ma­tized by such an unflat­ter­ing stereotype?  Well, quite a few of these moms wouldn’t.  So they opted, and con­tinue to opt, for a vehi­cle that bet­ter fits their inner image while retain­ing most of the seat­ing and cargo capacity they really need. Hence the cross-over SUV craze.

But I’m far from pick­ing on mom’s or SUV dri­vers — I’m say­ing we ALL have at least a few areas of our lives where we pick the objec­tively suboptimal choice in order to chose the prod­uct or ser­vice that bet­ter fits our inner val­ues and identifications.

2 Ways of Mak­ing Decisions

Copy­writ­ers need to keep in mind that we have two ways of mak­ing decisions: one is the self-interest, pros and cons model, and the other is the identity model:

  • The Self-Interest Model asks: “What’s In It For Me?”
  • The Iden­tity Model asks: “What Kind of Per­son Am I and What Would That Kind of Per­son Do In This Situation?”

Best of all, your copy doesn’t have to exclu­sively choose one over the other.  In fact, a blend of the two is usu­ally your best option, when you’re for­tu­nate enough to have options.  But if you’re really han­ker­ing to see an almost pure use of iden­tity in ad copy, go read a J. Peter­man prod­uct descrip­tion or two, and you’ll see this style of copy at work.

This article was written by my brilliant partner, Jeff Sexton.

Morty Silber, CEO

Mad Strategies Inc.
a Wizard of Ads Partner