The 'Oh, Come On!' Test

Steve Cuno
September 17, 2008 — 1,480 views  
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We recently ran across this gem on a bank's Web site: "To us, [our city] is not a 'market'... While some banks are looking to make a profit, we want to make a difference, one person at a time." Perhaps, somewhere, someone was moved by this copy. All we were compelled to do, though, was ask how anyone could write such palpably self-serving drivel. Of course, we also already knew the answer: palpably self-serving drivel is beguiling. It charms and distracts while it infests copy. The bankers who approved that copy probably believed it. They had no clue that customers stumbling upon the line would either ignore it or, worse, roll their eyes and say, "Oh, come on." That reaction is no small matter. It signals that you've wasted your budget on words that accomplish nothing, insulted your target market's intelligence and stripped credibility from your message. When that happens, you're no longer marketing. You're publishing noise that is easily tuned out. To protect against the beguilement of self-serving drivel, we highly recommend applying what one shop calls the "Oh, Come On!" Test, a do-it-yourself diagnostic procedure designed to help keep your marketing free from cynicism-inspiring contaminants. It consists of three quick steps: 1. Slip into your market's shoes. 2. See if your copy strikes a chord - or makes you say, "Oh, come on." 3. Be honest with yourself about your reaction. That third step is the hardest. Many advertisers truly believe their product is the "world's best" and expect you to believe it, too. This makes us think of a scene from a movie we really like, in which the lead female character describes her male counterpart as the planet's rudest person. He responds by calling her accusation silly, mainly because she couldn't possibly know everyone on the planet. True, of course - and the national advertiser's claim that it makes "the world's most excellent pickle" is equally as silly. Some advertisers try to foist on us claims that, while technically true, are still far-fetched. If you're a national mortgage company sending out direct mail that is "introducing a new way to save," don't expect recipients to bother looking for a unique savings plan. At this point, most consumers know it's just another offer with a zero percent intro rate and that they "save" by transferring balances from interest-accruing cards to the "new" card. Their response: "Oh, come on." Then there are advertisers who forget to back up their claims. They'll say, "We put customers first," without bothering to shop their own stores, step up training or better screen employees. Generous application of the "Oh, Come On" Test early and often can help rid your marketing of such embarrassments - leaving room for substantive copy points in their place. Best of all, the test is a simple, effective reminder that, no matter how much a marketer may believe a claim, the bottom line is whether consumers buy it. Steve Cuno is the chairman of RESPONSE Prospecting & Loyalty Strategies and author of The Fallible Gut: A Marketer's Guide To Surviving Intuition. This article first appeared in Direct Magazine.

Steve Cuno

Response Prospecting and Loyalty Strategies, Inc.