“People come for the Plot, but stay for character”

I’m not sure where I first heard this piece of writers’ advice, or I’d give attribution, but it immediately struck me as profound.

The only reason series and sequels exist is because audiences fall in love with the characters and want to spend more time with them.

Think James Bond. The Avengers. Harry Potter. Sherlock Holmes.

James Bond is a well known characterThe high-concept plot-idea may put butts in seats initially, but it’s the characters people fall in love with and pay good money to engage with, time after time.

That not only goes for movies, but TV shows, novels, etc.

And it’s the same thing with ads, especially ads for owner-operated businesses.

Yes, your ads surely DO need an opening that’ll surprise and hook the audience.

But what’ll make the audience actually interested in hearing your next ad is their affinity for the characters presented.

Whether you, the owner, are the principle character or you create a character for your campaigns, it’s the characters that’ll do the hard-core persuasive work in the end.

Created Characters in Ads

In terms of created characters, think of

  • The Maytag Repairman,
  • Tony the Tiger,
  • The Jolly Green Giant
  • The Marlboro Man
  • Tucan Sam
  • Flo
  • Mayhem
  • Cap’n Crunch
  • Ronald McDonald
  • The Most Interesting Man In the World

The list of famous created characters in ads is long and distinguished.

Owner As Character / Spokesperson

But when it comes to business owners, the two examples that stand out in my mind are Gert Boyle, aka One Tough Mother, and Frank Perdue.


Some viewers see these Perdue ads and attribute their power to the substantive copy points involved such as:

  • Breeding their own special type of chickens,
  • Using a custom-made chicken feed,
  • Insisting on chilled vs. frozen delivery of the chickens
  • Offering with a satisfaction guarantee, and so on.

And these are strong proof points.

But they’re not the real power behind the persuasion.

Just look at the campaign’s tagline: “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken”

The persuasion was the character of Frank Perdue — the “tough man” —who comes off as a no-nonsense, hard-nosed leader obsessed with producing a better chicken for his customer.

You finish watching the ads believing the copy points because you believe in Frank — not the other way around.

“Spokesperson” Ain’t Good Enough — You Gotta Be a “Character!”

So here’s the tricky part:

It’s one thing for the owner to act as spokesperson. It’s another for the owner to speak candidly and directly to the customer.

And it’s another thing still for the owner to express himself in a way that’s slightly caricatured — in a way that will make him feel like a “character” to the audience.

I like to tell owners that I’ll take 10% of you and magnify that 10 times.

Your radio or TV persona will be the “real” you, expressing your real values. But it’ll be a slight caricature of you, rather than a photo-realistic representation.

Tying Character-Based Ads to Higher Margins

Great, but how does this lead to higher profit margins?

Facts presented as facts — as standard “reason why” advertising — cause people to buy from a Consumer Reports mindset.

And in that mindset, customers will pay more for more features, but only to a limited extend. They want bang for the buck.

As psychologists know, logic and rationality inhibits emotion, and therefore emotional connection.

In contrast, customers who bond with the owner over shared values — customers who buy into the idea that owner who’s running things really cares — will pay a significant premium for that level of connection and assurance.

That character-driven approach doesn’t mean you won’t present facts and copy-points. Frank Perdue certainly did.

It means that you’ll present those facts as manifestations of character rather than as reasons-why in and of themselves.

You’re not persuading with logic — features and benefits —you are persuading with character so as to bring the listener into a relationship with you.

You will be bringing in customers by choice who already understand that you are a premium provider.

And that makes higher margins easy to accomplish.

So what kind of ads are you running?