Having made my living for a half century or so off the revenue from advertising sales, I have a great interest in, not to mention a great appreciation of, good advertising.
No, I did not say I sold advertising. I often said that I was not the world’s worst salesman, but if I got a little better, I might get there eventually. (You may have to give that one a minute to soak in.)
But if I am not a great practitioner of salesmanship, I have a pretty good understanding of the art, thanks to my good friend Jim Burby. If Jim is not the nation’s top salesman of office furniture of all time, he’s never going to admit it.
Many years ago, I asked Jim to teach a class on salesmanship to our ad staff. I sat in to see if some of it would rub off on me, and it did.
After all these years, I remember one of his top rules was: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” You are not selling protein and nutrition; you are selling a satisfying lifestyle.
Both good and bad examples of this concept can be found in all media, especially television.
Have you ever seen a commercial telling you how reliable a car was, because it has four tires (plus a spare) and a fuel gauge to keep you from running out of gas, and because of this, it will get you to your job five days a week for the rest of your life?
I think not.
Reliable transportation is the steak. Reliability doesn’t sizzle.
Car commercials assure you that if you drive a two-seat convertible, girls will line up for the privilege of going on a moonlight ride with you. OK, sometimes it’s a wife, but the moonlight ride is a given.
If you drive a mini-van, you will be a hero to your kids, because you can load up the entire soccer team on Saturday morning. Other dads should be so cool.
And if you have a pickup truck, even if . . . no, especially if . . . it’s all covered with mud, it will take you so far into the boondocks that your buddy’s
cellphone won’t even get a signal. Take that, all you girlie-men.
Two thousand pounds of steel is the steak; the adulation that is properly yours when you buy the right vehicle is the sizzle.
Unlike many of my columns, when I start off talking about spaceships to Mars and end up talking about a candy bar of the same name, this column actually is about selling steak.
A few weeks ago, a supermarket chain announced that it is pulling out of this market. Although presumably its food is as tasty and nutritious as that sold by its competitors, it just wasn’t able to get market share.
How could this be?
Here’s a hint: the star of its commercials is an employee in the meat department who regularly engages in shouting matches with his boss, who never appears on camera.
The employee is a grouch who obviously considers himself far smarter than his boss, and he whines when he doesn’t get his way, which is most of the time.
One of that chain’s major competitors in this market is Publix.
You know Publix, right?
It’s the place “Where Shopping Is a Pleasure.”
All actors in Publix commercials have big smiles, and look like they just came in from teaching a Sunday school class or coaching that mini-van full of young soccer players.
So where shall we shop for groceries this week, the place where an employee is screaming at his boss or the place where shopping is a pleasure?
Both have steak; one has sizzle.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He enjoys a good sirloin, or even a rib eye on special occasions. Sizzling is good, but keep it medium rare, OK?)