tanzanite ring


Bob Bly’s email about false logic in advertising and sales copy made me think. Copywriters–the best of our breed, anyway, and he’s among them–aren’t all adjectives, adverbs, and corny jingles. We apply technique to shade a brand, product or service in the most enticing and relatable light. It’s not always easy, though, and that’s where false logic comes in.

False logic makes a fact or attribute more appealing than it would otherwise be–a way to bling out the ordinary, easily forgotten, or even less desirable aspects of something for a picture that glows with benefits from all angles.

One of my favorite examples of this is a common advertisement for tanzanite: that it’s “a thousand times rarer than diamonds.” This is a fact as far as the experts know (although it was probably a copywriter who originated that particular twist on the numbers).

High quality, naturally mined tanzanite is a bluish-purple gem that can be found only in a particular place in Tanzania. It has gorgeous clarity and sparkle when cut well. The fact that it can be offered for much lower prices than natural diamonds of the same size and cut is usually glossed over.

When one reads the statement about tanzanite above, the gem’s rarity is meant to imply its value. The resulting urgent desire for something few people have is exactly the hoped-for reaction. But the fact is, rarity does not equal value when it comes to gemstones. It’s only one of several contributing factors, the biggest of which–saleswise, anyway–is supply and demand.

The demand for tanzanite is not as high as that of diamonds, which are also prized for the hardness that gives them such permanence physically and mentally. So when you buy a tanzanite, you’re buying a stone rarer than diamonds, but not more valuable.

But read the statement again. The false logic employed here is compelling, and the knee-jerk “gotta learn more” reaction is one every business could benefit from. But then Bly adds a qualification that worries me.

“It’s possible to argue that some false logic borders on deception, but the marketer has to make that call for himself.”

My thoughts aren’t on whether I’m willing to sell my soul and lie, because this technique is drawn from the truth.

My thoughts don’t stop at how far I’m willing to stretch the truth, either. As Bly said, that’s totally up to me.

I’m wondering when–if ever–this technique is necessary–and then my brain leaps to the question: What is a salable product?

Let me step back a moment so you can follow along.

If you apply false logic to sell your offer, it implies there’s a weakness in your product, a lack of gotta-have-it in your market, or a hole in your sales pitch you couldn’t otherwise fill. In the case of tanzanites, it was a lack of demand. If none of these things are true, why use this technique? Wouldn’t it be a kind of gilding of the lily? If one or more of these things is true, should you be selling your product as is?

Bly is aware of these doubts, and he closes with the defense:

“A copywriter, like a lawyer, is an advocate for the client (or his employer). Just as the lawyer uses all the arguments at his disposal to win the case, so does the copywriter use all the facts at his disposal to win the consumer over to the product.”

But in this paragraph, Bly is actually using false logic to defend itself.

Certainly we should use all the tools at our disposal to sell, but it shouldn’t be necessary to use them all in every single project. There has to be a better argument out there somewhere.

Tell me whether I’ve missed something important–I’d be relieved to put this one to rest.

Photo credit: mick / Lumix, courtesy Flickr, CC 2.0.

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