Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2007 June 16 -- Selling the Sizzle

Some 25 years ago I think it was, I read a book on salesmanship by a master salesman, Hank Trisler. He really had only two insights; the whole book was essentially just an exposition and explanation of these two points, which I will call Trisler's Laws:
T1. People buy on emotion, then justify with facts, and
T2. People buy for their reasons, not ours.
I'm not big on emotion, but T2 profoundly resonated with something my father taught me as a child. All my life, but especially after reading No Bull Selling, I have made it a point to pay attention to what other people have to say. They don't often pay me the reverse courtesy, but that's usually their problem, not mine.

Over the last year or so I have started to appreciate the truth in T1. Marketers have known this for a long time, maybe 25 years? National ad campaigns sell the feeling, not the facts: "Have it your way" they say, and "It just feels good." Those ads don't touch me, but they obviously work on a lot of people, or the big bucks wouldn't be there.

Now the amateurs are taking up the technique. Maybe they aren't amateurs, but the product they're selling is not so obviously commercial. Take the 9/11 conspiracy theory. It doesn't take anybody very long to do the math and see that they have no case, but they don't sell it on the math and the logic, they push videos. Motion pictures are the ultimate emotion machine, relentlessly forcing you to experience all these sensations at the director's pace, not slow enough to see the damning details nor think about what's really going on. That's how magicians work: "watch this moving hand over here, while I slip something over on you over there." Text lets you think, but video is all about experience and feelings. You can search the internet for text, but the only way to search for videos is using text. Go to any of the 9/11 conspiracy sites, and all you see are videos. We can know that words lie and that liars figure, but videos can be staged, photoshopped, and animated, yet we just feel like they're Truth Incarnate.

I think it was a YouTube video that convinced the normally reserved Missouri citizens to vote government-funded human cloning into their state constitution last year. Google paid $1.6 BILLION for YouTube. They figure they got their money's worth. They are not stupid. The videos are stupid. The people who watch the videos are stupid. But not Google. Videos are emotional selling machines.

Where is the emotional sizzle in the 9/11 videos? Just look at the accompanying text. It's hard to find, but there is some. It's all about political hatred. They hate the Bush administration so bad they (literally) can't see straight. They drank the koolaid. It doesn't matter how illogical or self-contradictory the claims, it doesn't even matter that some of their conspiracy "facts" were happening before Bush was elected, whatever facts there are only justify a decision already made for emotional reasons.

I have feelings too. I have no particular love for President Bush (I voted against him), but feelings do not have the final say in my life. That place is reserved for logic and the Word of God. I (ahem) feel sorry for the people who let their emotions control them, it really is hard for them to think clearly and see straight. In the long run that is self-destructive.