How to advertise when people are anxious, distracted, and afraid. It’s not about features and benefits. It’s about relationships.

Hi, I’m Roy Williams. Advertising in a time of crisis. Let me frame this for you. Right now, we’re eight days into what I call peak panic of the 2020 coronavirus crisis. Nobody knows the future. I don’t know how we will look back on this. But I do know this. It’s not likely this will be the last time of crisis in America.

So as a function of framing, most business owners that I’m in contact with nationally and internationally are all thinking the same thoughts, having the same fears. And they have the same irrational hopes. They’re asking “What can we do? What can we do to give people confidence? That it’s okay to come into the store…” And they’re panicked about making payroll. And they’re deeply distressed about their ability to hang on until the economy begins to bring some money into the company. And every one of these people wants to keep people on the payroll and keep them paid. But there is a financial limit to how long they can do that with no income.

The Two Types of Businesses

So another quick point of framing. There are really two kinds of businesses. The first sells a product or a service on a very short time horizon. Think of this as having a very short product purchase cycle. Now entertainment and food have a very short product purchase cycle. These are things we would like to consume every day. We’re always looking for some distraction to make us feel better. And we’re always looking for food, which is another kind of distraction to make us feel better. And so you don’t have to ramp up your ad campaign to get people interested in food and entertainment or anything else that has a really short product purchase cycle.

But when you look at the more important purchases, the bigger ticket purchases, these are things we don’t purchase every day. As a matter of fact, some of the largest purchases of diamonds, engagement rings, anniversary diamonds and certainly cars and air conditioning systems and how often do you have to call a plumber. These are things that the purchase cycle is much slower. Now, what I’m going be talking about today is not things with a short product product purchase cycle. Those things are unbelievably easy to advertise. Direct response ads work great. You advertise today. You get results today. It happens right now.

That’s not what we’re talking about today. We’re not talking about any of that. We’re talking about products and services. Not exactly brick and mortar, but you might think of it as brick and mortar products and services. Traditional businesses that have a long product purchase cycle and the key to succeeding in those businesses is to be the company the customer thinks of first and feels the best about.

Why We Tell Each Other Stories

Jonathan Haidt is a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He was named one of the top global thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine and one of the top world thinkers by Prospect magazine. His three TED talks have been viewed more than three million times. Now, Scientific American, it doesn’t get much more authoritative than that. They published an essay on Jonathan Haidt on May 2nd, 2013, quoting him in his book called The Righteous Mind. Jonathan said:

The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor. Everyone loves a good story. Every culture bathes its children in stories.

The purpose of these stories is to engage and educate the emotions. Stories teach us character types, plots and the social rule dilemmas prevalent in our culture in a time of crisis. Those social rule dilemmas.

Now we’ve all heard of the zero moment of truth. It’s a thing that Google has popularized that kind of describes the moment when a customer is consciously in the market for a particular product or service. This is that moment when the undecided customer who hasn’t already made their choice in their heart is the most likely to search for information. So online information definitely matters, but a great story can still win the day.

Your bond with a customer will be built on emotion, not information. If you win the heart, the mind will follow because the mind will always create logic to justify what the heart has already decided. Now all those stories exist primarily to transfer emotion. They’re excellent at communicating information as well. We use logic inside stories better than we do outside them.

Now Leda Cosmides and John Tooby are cognitive neuroscientists that have shown that the Watson Selection Test can be solved by fewer than 10 percent when presented as a logic puzzle. This is the limit of data you see. You give people the data, give them the information, give them the features and the benefits of your product or your service. Fewer than 10 percent will really retain that information. But 70 percent will solve that Watson Selection Test when it is presented as a story involving detection of social rule cheating.

Just before we began shooting this video, we’re eight days in to the coronavirus panic. And our cameraman, eight feet away right there, said you know, I heard something really distressing. He said, I heard it right now in this moment that Starbucks is going to do a big stock buyback. And I said, oh, that’s so disappointing, because what everybody’s trying to do right now, the rules of our society are it’s time to pull together and not enrich yourself and not take advantage of pain, fear, panic and available bailout money or whatever. I have no idea what Starbucks motives are. But I do know this. It won’t play well with the public. It will be perceived as social rule cheating. And so that’s what you have to be careful of. You have to be careful of being perceived as predatory or insensitive?

The Three Kinds of Ads

Bottom line, stories are seven times more effective than logic. There are three kinds of ads. The first type of ad is what we’re going to call Category Specific. When a person is I own a furniture store. What’s the best way to advertise furniture? Well, they’re asking for an ad for a category that will work for anyone in that category. Now, you and I both know you’ve known this your whole life. Any time it says one size fits all, it doesn’t fit anybody very well. What you’re looking for is something tailored specifically for you. So category specific, something that works for everyone in the category is never, ever, ever a good idea. I reject anything that supposedly will work for “Well if it worked for him? He’s in the same business as me. It should work for me too.” No. Don’t ever think that way.

Number two. There are ads that are Product Specific. Now an ad that is Product Specific is portable. You see anybody who sells the product — the ad will work as well for the second company, as it does for the first company. But it’s not your business that that’s building a bond with the customer. We’re simply selling them a product that sounds very interesting. And we’re making the product more popular. Not altogether the store.

And then the third category, and this is what we’re going to be talking about in the rest of this video is what I’m going to call Client Specific Ads. Ads that no one but you could ever run. Ads that are not portable. Ads that are so specific that they literally cannot even be modified and used by someone else.

Product Specific Ads

I’m going to give you some good examples of those, but first, let’s look at one Product Specific ad. Product Specific can be great ads, and I’m not afraid to write and recommend product specific ads. So let me just knock this one out of the park with one example.

In that tiny little corner of South America that reaches east toward Africa is Paraiba, Brazil. Heitor Dimas Barbosa knew there was treasure hidden in Paraiba and he was determined to find it. But not even Barbosa was prepared for the wonder he found in 1989. A Paraiba Tourmaline is ten thousand times more rare than a diamond, and they are DAZZLING.

Neon turquoise.

Neon green.

and neon blue.

Most people will live their whole lives and never see one. But those who have seen its neon glow will never forget it. Everyone who sees it will ask “What IS that?”.

Shreve and Company exists to bring you the rare,

the exotic,

and the beautiful.

And nothing is more rare.

nothing is more exotic,

and nothing is more beautiful.

than the dazzling neon glow of a Paraiba Tourmaline

from that tiny little corner of South America.

that reaches east toward Africa,

in Brazil.

Shreve and Company.

Shreve and Company.

Shreve is a jewelry store at 150 Post Street just off Union Square in San Francisco, and they have another store perfectly situated in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. Now, those tags are often on the ends of these ads, but not this one. You see Shreve and Company advertises 52 weeks a year. And the average person in greater San Francisco over the age of 18 will hear a Shreve ad more than three times a week, 52 weeks a year, about 156 – 160 times a year. Fifty percent of San Francisco will hear an ad for this company. So I don’t have to put the address in every ad. And in this one, I chose to put no address. That is a product specific ad.

Now, remember, we had Category Specific that are always a bad idea. Product Specific, which can be a good ad, but it’ll work for anybody who sells that product. It is a portable ad. And then there is a Client Specific ad. Now the next three ads are going to give you the kinds of ads you should be running right now in a time of crisis. These are the ads to run.

The Right Move Right Now

Should you pull back on your advertising? Hell, no. Here’s why. In a high emotional state, that is when you can win big or lose big. And if you do the wrong thing, you’re going to lose big. If you’re predatory, if you’re insensitive, if you act like you’re trying to convince people to do things for your benefit that they’re really uncomfortable doing. Yeah. Don’t go there. Don’t do that. But, man, you can if you can create real customer bonds. Bonding with your customer. Let’s not talk about branding. Branding has devolved in the minds of most people to simply a style guide. It is a color palette and a logo and a layout style. And it’s like “Shut up, branding”. That’s not what we’re talking about.

We’re told that something a thousand times more powerful: customer bonding. When you become the company they think of first and the one they feel best about whenever they need what it is you sell, or whenever anyone in the realm of association needs what you sell, you become the go to company, the go to provider. Let’s talk about the kinds of ads that you can run at a time of crisis that causes you to be all of that.

I’ve worked with Ramsey’s Diamond Jewelers in New Orleans for 27 years. Robert Ramsey and I were both very young men when they got started and we were both very poor. Him less poor than me. He and his sister run this jewelry store together and Ramsey’s has been on the radio with the same kind of schedule as Shreve and Company in San Francisco. But Ramsey’s been doing it for 27 years in New Orleans. Right now, these are the ads that Robert and his sister Lori will be running in New Orleans.

ROBERT: I was in the second grade when Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans.

LORI: Robert is the oldest of the boys on the youngest of the girls.

ROBERT: When our family needed to move to higher ground, my Dad moved us into his jewelry design studio.

LORI: It was on the third floor of the Brunner Building across from the Roosevelt Hotel.

ROBERT: I thought living in that studio was the greatest thing EVER!

LORI: One of dad’s tools was a roller that turned gold ingots into thin sheets of gold and thin gold wire.

ROBERT: I would put pennies in it and roll them until they were a foot long.

LORI: [stage whispering to the audience] And he’s still a penny pincher.

ROBERT: But a few years later, I was making copper earrings for my three sisters by cutting the head of Abraham Lincoln out of copper pennies.

LORI: I’ve still got mine! Thank you for those! Y.

ROBERT: You’re welcome, Lori.

LORI: I should put those on display in the store.

ROBERT: [confirming that it’s okay with him] I would be proud.

LORI: Dad passed away 25 years ago, but we still meet people who proudly show us the wonderful things he made for them.

ROBERT: [softly and a little sad] I miss Dad.

LORI: [sympathetic and softly comforting] I do, too, Robert.

ROBERT: But I think he would be proud of where his company is today.

LORI: I know he would.

ROY: Rrrrramsey’s Diamond Jewelers.

Now that little Tony the Tiger growl at the end, Ramsey’s Diamond Jewelers, I’ve been doing that at the tail end of those ads for 27 years, And man, I get a free meal anywhere I want in New Orleans, if I just introduce myself as that guy. When I walk in and say, “Hey, have you ever heard of Rrrrramsey’s Diamond Jewelers?” And every goes “Waaaaah! You’re that guy!” That’s customer bonding. That’s simply having a personality, having an identity. Now, I think you’ll understand what I’m talking about when I say client specific ads. Who in the world can run that ad except Robert and Lori Ramsey?

Let’s look at another one that will be running at the same time during this time of crisis. Did you notice we’re not asking anyone to buy anything.

LORI: My favorite memory of Dad’s jewelry design studio was riding up and down in the elevator of the Brunner Building.

ROBERT: Dad’s studio was on the third floor and Laurie was just a little kid.

LORI: I LOVED to watch him work. He was amazing.

ROBERT: What was your first job in the jewelry store, Lori?

LORI: My first job was “clean the bathroom, sweep the floor and replace watch batteries for customers.”.

ROBERT: I remember the day when Dad started thinking of you as more than that. A LOT more.

LORI: [curious, intrigued] What do you remember?

ROBERT: You were barely out of high school when a man came in and asked you to help him pick out an anniversary gift for his wife.

LORI: [excited] I remember that. I ask him to tell me about her and he talked all about her for about ten minutes.

ROBERT: And then you took him straight to a piece of jewelry that you thought she would like.

LORI: [interrupting gleefully] and he bought it AND SHE LOVED IT!

ROBERT: That was the day Dad knew for sure that you had a special talent for knowing exactly what people would like.

LORI: [Genuinely curious. Genuinely asking.] How do you think dad would feel about our NOLA collection?

ROBERT: Dad would be extremely proud, but I don’t think you’d be surprised at all. He always said you had a gift.

LORI: [talking only to her brother] He never said it to me.

ROBERT: He said it to me all the time!

LORI: Thanks for that, Robert.

ROY: Rrrrramsey’s Diamond Jewelers.

Wait a minute. These two have been presented as Lucy Van Pelt and Charlie Brown for over 20 years. So Charlie Brown is the owner of the store, Lucy is his nemesis. And see, Lori being the little sister is always a little taking cheap shots at Robert and it’s very entertaining. And then this ad, in a time of crisis, they’re coming together. I didn’t make these stories up. It took several hours to pull these stories out of them and then I simply edited what they told me so it would fit inside the confines of the media that we are choosing to deliver that message.

One last example.

LORI: Ramsey’s Diamond Jewelers is one of the first stores to reopen after Hurricane Katrina.

ROBERT: I remember one man who came in exactly 21 days after Katrina. I still think about him sometimes.

LORI: Why? What made him special?

ROBERT: He was real quiet. He didn’t hardly say anything.

LORI: That describes a lot of people, Robert.

ROBERT: He bought a bracelet.

LORI: Also a lot of people.

ROBERT: Then I asked him his address for the warranty.

LORI: [getting really curious now] Okaaaaay, then what?

ROBERT: He gave me his address in Chalmette.

LORI: [surprised] Chalmette got wiped out!

ROBERT: He said he no longer had a house, and he no longer had a job, but it was his anniversary, and he hadn’t seen his wife smile for 3 weeks.

LORI: Now I see why you remember him.

ROBERT: When people talk about true love, I think of THAT guy.

LORI: [quietly amazed] He just wanted to see his wife smile.

ROBERT: [confirming] He just wanted to see his wife smile.

LORI: I hope she gave him a smile he never forgets.

ROBERT: I hope so, too.

LORI: [talking only to her brother] Being a jeweler is about helping people celebrate relationships.

ROBERT: [Calm. Quiet. Talking only to Lori] I like being a jeweler.

LORI: I do, too, Robert.

ROY: Rrrrramsey’s Diamond Jewelers.

So now you feel like you know these people. You’ve never even heard their voice. But you know 3 stories that they remember and that they’re talking about during a time of crisis. Here’s the 15 second versions of those. They’re not identical to the stories in the 60 second versions, but you know what? These 15 second versions are just little quick reminders of those 3 ideas. Nobody will be offended by these ads. Media consumption will be high. And ads will be very low because most people will be canceling or postponing their investments, which is a mistake in a time of crisis.

Happy memories. Reflective thoughts. Being human. And asking for nothing in return. That is how you advertise in time of crisis if you want to be the company that people think of first and feel the best about.

Thanks for the time you’ve shared with me. I wish you well.

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