Is this a good ad?

Does it make you want to buy a can of John’s Tomato Juice?

A good ad would.

A good ad would catch the attention of someone who wanted tomato juice and offer compelling reasons to choose John’s brand.

But this ad?

People expect tomato juice to be pure and fresh. The “whole tomatoes” part isn’t an expectation, but it’s not surprising, either. Nope. Not a single reason to choose John’s Tomato Juice.

Without a demonstrable difference, people tend to buy the more familiar over the less familiar. Even after they’ve seen advertising for the lesser-known brand? Unfortunately, yes.

John’s ad may well encourage a shopper to pick up a can of tomato juice. Odds are, though, it will be a can of Del Monte’s, or Hunt’s, or Campbell’s.


John’s, like all of the rest of us, needs a compelling difference to become the brand of choice. If shoppers believe John’s Tomato Juice is just like all of the other brands, the only reason a shopper would choose a lesser-known brand like John’s would be price.


But suppose I point out that tomato quality makes a difference in the taste of the juice. John’s Tomato Juice uses only heirloom tomato varieties, chosen for exceptional flavor. John’s tomatoes are individually selected and hand-picked at the peak of ripeness. They are processed within hours to capture their freshness.

I’ve just made you aware of a significant difference offered by John’s Tomato Juice, and provided enough specific detail to make my claim of improved taste believable.

Ideally, awareness (and in this case, curiosity) might prompt you to sample John’s. If you like the taste, John’s could become your preferred juice. And if large numbers of customers sample and prefer John’s, that will lead to increased demand, increased market share, and through economies of scale, greater profits.

Awareness → Preference → Market Share → Profitability

This process always starts with awareness, which happens in one of two ways: through large amounts of advertising, or more spontaneously because the product (service) is noticeably different.

Cognitive Overload.

Thinking is hard. Remembering, not so much. And once a preference is established in the mind of a consumer, that decision won’t be revisited.

Unless, of course, that consumer is presented with a compelling new reason to reconsider.

Have you ever talked to a homeowner who has decided she needs a new home? Listen carefully to her descriptions. She may only vaguely be able to describe what she wants in her new home, but she will explain the shortcomings of her current house in great detail. Her dissatisfaction will nearly always be a predictor of her purchase behavior.

You could build an ad around her specific irritations. Other disgruntled homeowners would immediately identify and pay attention.

Unfortunately, too many companies don’t bother to research their customers. When it comes time to make something happen their inclination is to cut price. Long term, this is seldom a valid strategy.

Why? Because there can only be one lowest-price producer in each market, and chances are it’s not you. That lowest-price strategy is nearly impossible to sustain, and there’s no particular advantage in becoming second-lowest.


Advertising becomes more effective when there’s a difference upon which to build the ads. But difference for its own sake is only weird, and weirdness doesn’t sell.

To persuade a customer to buy, the difference must be meaningful to her.

As noted in How Do You Educate A Customer?, most businesses don’t have enough time or money to convince non-users to enter the market.

Most can, however, convert customers who’ve already been persuaded by the market leader to enter the category.

Stealing someone else’s customers is the most efficient use of your advertising dollars.

Therefore, the only advertising strategy that makes sense for most businesses is to influence your competitor’s customer to switch brands. For the highest return on your advertising investment, do this close to the time of purchase.

Effective advertising solves a problem.

What’s the one clear and overriding reason that will get your business noticed, provide new information, and persuade some other company’s formerly satisfied customers to try your brand?

Here’s a hint: most opportunities will not be the direct opposite of the market leader’s strategy, but rather in exploiting an opportunity that is either too small or too far removed from the market leader’s primary focus.

McDonald’s sells fast, fresh, and fun. Subway is best-known as the provider of non-fried low-fat sandwiches.

Walmart is positioned as the lowest priced retailer. Target’s more sophisticated image is that of the “hip discounter.”

Goodyear focuses on quality: “The best tires in the world have Goodyear written all over them.” Michelin’s appeal is safety: “Because so much is riding on your tires.”

Michelin didn’t create the desire to keep family members safe. They did, however, recognize and exploit a genuine need already felt by a significant number of customers. A need that Goodyear’s quality/value position can’t fulfill.

Will Michelin ever overtake Goodyear in gross sales? Unlikely. However, among people whose primary concern is the safety of their families, Michelin is much more likely than Goodyear to be their first choice.

Being the first choice in your own unique category is the basis of developing a solid U.S.P. This makes it tremendously difficult for any competitor to counter your advertising.

The market leader can’t do what you’re doing without abandoning his own highly-profitable position in the market. And when the other smaller competitors try to copy what you’re doing (and they will), their ads will only remind people of you.

In his book, The Ad Contrarian, (great read, by the way), Bob Hoffman says:

We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand. We get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

Care for a glass of tomato juice? It’s John’s. You’ll taste the difference those heirloom tomatoes make.

The more you convince to try the product, the greater the catch when you’re fishing for customers.

Full Three Part Series:

  1. How Does One Educate a Customer? Part 1 of 3

  2. How to Steal Your Competitor’s Customers. Part 2 of 3

  3. Zen and the Art of Persuasion. Part 3 of 3