I spoke with Jim Crimmins, the founder of the ad rating site Persuade the Lizard, about what makes an excellent PSA, which also offered some great lessons that all social good marketers can use when crafting a message for their audience. Read on for his three secret ingredients that make a persuasive ad, and what you can do to make your messages stronger.
Ad Council: Why did you decide to start “Persuade the Lizard?”
Jim Crimmins: I enjoy discussing advertising persuasiveness. For several years I was Chief Strategic Officer of DDB Chicago. I studied the science of how people choose and spent my career influencing what people choose. But discussions of advertising persuasiveness are hard to find. While the Cannes Lions, Clio Awards, Addy Awards, and other creative accolades ensure that advertising artistry is widely debated and recognized, artistry—while often critical to persuasion—is not sufficient in itself. Even the primary award for advertising persuasion, the American Marketing Association’s Effies, chooses winners solely on proof of effectiveness and does not discuss why or how particular ads work. I led the team handling Effie submissions for DDB Chicago and, in the process, won 44 of them. Winning Effies required a focus on proof of effectiveness. PersuadeTheLizard.com lets me focus instead on what makes the ads persuasive. Additionally, all award competitions place the spotlight on the best of advertising and miss those lessons to be learned from the less successful. Persuade the Lizard fills that void. Persuade the Lizard contains a growing archive of commercial ads, political ads, and PSAs. It rates each ad on persuasiveness and begins a discussion about what makes the ad work or fail to work.
AC: What are some common mistakes advertisers make when trying to create persuasive PSA advertising?
JC: The most common mistake in PSA advertising is overconfidence in the ability of factual information to persuade. In persuasion, information is often impotent. The subject of the PSA may be important. The evidence may be incontrovertible. But the audience’s current belief and behavior are not based on careful consideration of facts. When a choice is not based on facts, factual information will have little influence. The power of information to persuade must be released by translating facts and future consequences into immediate feelings.
AC: What are three key components that make up a persuasive PSA ad?
JC: Every PSA should recommend an action. The reward for the action should demonstrate three qualities—it should be emotional, immediate, and certain.
- Emotional: Going beyond protein in a kid’s snack to feeling like a good parent
- Immediate: Going beyond losing weight over the long term to feeling healthy now
- Certain: Going beyond reducing the possibility of lung cancer to feeling you are doing what you can to be there for your family
AC: Are there any tips you can give to nonprofit marketers looking to create persuasive PSA ads?
JC: Our normal inclination is to think about what we would like to say. But the trick in persuasion is thinking about how the audience would like to feel and showing the audience how they can feel that way by acting as you recommend. When we stop trying to change what people want and instead try to show people how to get something they want, our message becomes dramatically different. Our persuasive attempts become less strident, preachy, and moralistic and more focused on the desires of the target. Only then will the target will listen.
AC: Do you find certain forms of advertising (TV, radio, print, digital) are more persuasive than others?
JC: Which medium will be most persuasive depends on many factors:
- Who are we trying to persuade? Young people are tough to reach through print and traditional television and easier to reach through digital messages.
- What would we like the audience to do? If we want them to eat fruit rather than prepared snacks, we should advertise when people are hungry. People will pay more attention when their stomachs are empty. TV or radio can make it easier to time our delivery to empty stomachs.
- When do we want the audience to take action? If we want people to not use angry, obscene gestures in traffic, we should place the ads on the radio or billboards that reach them just before they are tempted.
AC: What are some examples of, in your opinion, the most persuasive PSA ads?
JC: The recent Ad Council digital ad for Love Has No Labels is wonderful. People love to participate in a message. They want to be left to complete a thought or to figure out a simple puzzle. Each couple or group, whose skeletons are projected on the screen, is a simple puzzle for the viewer. Can viewers anticipate the gender, race, age, ability or disability, of the bodies those skeletons inhabit? The video rewards viewers with puzzle after puzzle. (I rate its effectiveness here on Persuade the Lizard.)
The very funny TV ad by Evolve Together, encouraging people to lock up their guns, got everybody’s attention, including the media’s. If the ad had used images of the real problem–children playing with guns–few people would have shared it with others, the media would have ignored it, and viewers, who would rather not think about what could happen, wouldn’t pay much attention. But children playing with found dildos makes the point memorably—“If they find it, they will play with it.” (I discuss it further here.)
An antismoking print ad from India delivered its message with a powerful visual metaphor: a young child takes the place of a cigarette held in between the first two fingers of a smoker’s hand. The implication is clear—lighting a cigarette can send your child’s future up in smoke. The copy is spare but even that is unnecessary. The image alone is enough to change what it feels like to smoke. (I discuss its effectiveness here.)
Have questions for Jim? Ask them below in the comments, or tweet him @persuadelizard.