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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  If They Don’t Buy It, They Won’t Buy It

If They Don’t Buy It, They Won’t Buy It

Posted on February 2, 2012 and read 2,919 times

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bayfield If They Don’t Buy It, They Won’t Buy ItMike Bayfield
Senior Copywriter
balloon dog

When I was a kid, growing up in the UK, wrestling was big. So were the wrestlers; larger than life grapplers like Big Daddy, Kendo Nagasaki and Giant Haystacks – a seven-foot, six hundred pound man-mountain of blubber, beard and badness.

It was more pantomime than sport. When Big Daddy floored Giant Haystacks, little old ladies watching at the ringside would jump up and beat him with their handbags, umbrellas, tyre wrenches… They were so absorbed by the spectacle that they completely suspended their disbelief. They bought it. How do we get our audience to do likewise?

‘Willing suspension of disbelief,’ as Coleridge coined it, is what you do when you read a book, watch a movie, go to the theatre. Or to the wrestling. You say to yourself, “Okay, I know this isn’t real, but let’s go with it for a while, see where it takes me. I want to be entertained.” But with entertainment the key word is ‘willing.’ The audience have tacitly agreed to suspend their disbelief in advance – in a kind of contract – by buying the book, the ticket or hitting the button. With advertising they haven’t.

Advertising is inherently intrusive. People don’t ask you to interrupt their day. So, when we do, we have to try that much harder to suspend their disbelief. Make them forget, for a moment, that they’re watching an ad. We have to reward their attention, but unlike with a movie or a book, we need to do it fast.

We’ve got seconds. Or less. That means there has to be something immediate that enables the viewer to suspend their disbelief, without even thinking about it. There must be a meaningful message about their world, delivered in a convincing, original and maybe entertaining way, which transports them into the one we’re creating. We need to short circuit the ‘Yeah, right!’ reaction. Because if they don’t buy the ad, why should they buy the product?

Take a beautifully simple print campaign for Lego a couple of years ago. Each ad just showed a couple of Lego bricks stuck together to form rudimentary, shape, against a plain coloured background. But it cast a shadow. The shadow represented what a child saw – a ship, plane, dinosaur…. No headline. No strapline. No doubt.

lego ship 150x150 If They Don’t Buy It, They Won’t Buy ItNow, on the face of it, we know they’re just simple bits of plastic, stuck together. A kid didn’t really do it. An art director did. And they definitely don’t make a shadow like that. But the point is made so beautifully, we buy it. It captures the magic of childhood where anything is possible and momentarily takes us back there. We really do forget it’s an ad. Our disbelief is completely suspended and we’re left feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. By two small pieces of plastic.

There are hundreds more ads you could probably think of that do the same. Well, maybe dozens. Look at some of them again and ask yourself why they work. For every one of these though, there are a thousand that don’t. That you simply don’t buy. They make it impossible for you to suspend your disbelief, even for a second. They lack that central human truth. The unthought known.

Suspending disbelief in advertising is always a tough call, but some brands just seem to do it time and time again. Volkswagen for example – ever since Bill Bernbach told us a Beetle would make your house look bigger.

Adweek voted The Force, by Deutsch for Volkswagen, 2011 Commercial of the Year. Why? Because it connected so beautifully with just about everybody who saw it. Even many hardened cynics. It wasn’t ground-breaking, radical or revolutionary, just warm and human and perfectly executed. And we rolled with it. Our disbelief put comfortably on hold.

However, it’s not quite as simple anymore as a single killer spot in the Super Bowl. With the explosion of digital/social media there are so many more touch points – which this year’s ‘killer’ spot from Audi is aiming to utilise.

On the one hand digital media gives us more opportunity to engage people, helping them tell the story too by being part of it. But there are also more potential pitfalls, more chances to unsuspend the disbelief. Like the kid going back into the house in a slasher movie.

Last summer, Tribal DDB created a brilliantly original campaign in Ireland; the Budweiser Ice Cold Index.

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A series of ads, website, social media presence and an app allowed users to claim money off a pint of Heineken in pubs across Ireland. The hotter the weather the cheaper a pint became. When the mercury hit the heady heights of 20C it was free. Hard to believe? Then you probably haven’t been to Ireland in the summer. It’s not so different from the winter.

Of course it’s completely counter-intuitive. Which is why it’s brilliant. Any economist would tell you they should have put the price up. But hey, look at the economy.

With the ever-changing digital landscape we can involve and engage people so much more, to be part of the story, to create real benefits for themselves. Like free beer. That will always work for me. But the benefits don’t necessarily have to be as tangible. The medium really is the message.

For our audience, digital is the link between the artificial environment we’ve created and their real lives. It actually becomes part of their real lives, adding value before they’ve even set foot in the store. Like those little old ladies at the side of the wrestling ring, it helps them cross the suspension of disbelief bridge.

All products (with the possible exception of sprouts) help fulfil an elemental human need. Otherwise nobody would buy them. We simply have to convey how brands can meet those needs, in an original and believable way. And now there are lots more shiny new tools to help us do it.

  • Jordan Atlas

    Great piece, Mike! Love what you are saying. 

  • Mike Bayfield

    Thanks Jordan. Really appreciate your positive feedback and am proud to be in such esteemed company on IHAI.

  • AdDude13

    Really well done! Sharing (stealing)…

  • Mike Bayfield

    Thanks ‘Dude.’




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