Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water
from a duck. They leave no impression whatever. To say, “Best in the
world,” “Lowest prices in existence,” etc., are at best simply claiming
the expected. But superlatives of that sort are usually damaging. They
suggest looseness of expression, a tendency to exaggerate, a
carelessness of truth. They lead readers to discount all the statements
that you make.
People recognize a certain license in selling talk as they do in poetry.
A man may say, “Supreme in quality” without seeming a liar, though one
may know that other brands are equally as good. One expects a salesman
to put his best foot forward, and excuses some exaggeration born of
enthusiasm. But just for that reason general statements count for
little. And a man inclined to superlatives must expect that his every
statement will be taken with some caution.
But a man who makes a specific claim is either telling the truth or a
lie. People do not expect an advertiser to lie. They know that he can’t
lie in the best mediums. The growing respect for advertising has largely
come through a growing regard for its truth.
So a definite statement is usually accepted. Actual figures are not
generally discounted. Specific facts, when stated, have their full
weight and effect.
This is very important to consider in written or personal salesmanship.
The weight of an argument may often be multiplied by making it specific.
Say that a tungsten lamp gives more light than a carbon and you leave
some doubt. Say that it gives three and one-third times the light and
people realize that you have made tests and comparisons.
A dealer may say, “Our prices have been reduced” without creating any
marked impression. But when he says, “Our prices have been reduced 25
per cent” he gets the full value of his announcement.
A mail order advertiser sold women’s clothing to people of the poorer
classes. For years he used the slogan, “Lowest prices in America.” His
rivals all copied that. Then he guaranteed to undersell any other
dealer. His rivals did likewise. Soon those claims became common to
every advertiser in his line, and they became commonplace.
Then, under able advice, he changed his statement to “Our net profit is
3 per cent.” That was a definite statement and it proved very
impressive. With their volume of business it was evident that their
prices must be minimum. No one could be expected to do business on less
than 3 per cent. The next year their business made a sensational
At one time in the automobile business there was a general impression
that profits were excessive. One well-advised advertiser came out with
the statement, “Our profit is 9 per cent.” Then he cited actual costs on
the hidden parts of a $1,500 car. They amounted to $735, without
including anything one could easily see. This advertiser made a great
success along those lines at that time.
Shaving soaps have long been advertised “Abundant lather,” “Does not dry
on the face,” “Acts quickly,” etc. One advertiser had as good a chance
as another to impress those claims.
Then a new maker came into the field. It was a tremendously difficult
field, for every customer had to be taken from someone else. He stated
specific facts. He said, “Multiplies itself in lather 250 times.”
“Softens the beard in one minute.” “Maintains its creamy fullness for
ten minutes on the face.” “The final result of testing and comparing 130
formulas.” Perhaps never in advertising has there been a quicker and
greater success in an equally difficult field.
Makers of safety razors have long advertised quick shaves. One maker
advertised a 78-second shave. That was definite. It indicated actual
tests. That man at once made a sensational advance in his sales.
In the old days all beers were advertised as “Pure.” The claim made no
impression. The bigger the type used, the bigger the folly. After
millions had been spent to impress a platitude, one brewer pictured a
plate glass room where beer was cooled in filtered air. He pictured a
filter of white wood pulp through which every drop was cleared. He told
how bottles were washed four times by machinery. How he went down 4,000
feet for pure water. How 1,018 experiments had been made to attain a
yeast to give beer that matchless flavor. And how all the yeast was
forever made from that adopted mother cell.
All the claims were such as any brewer might have made. They were mere
essentials in ordinary brewing. But he was the first to tell the people
about them, while others cried merely “pure beer.” He made the greatest
success that was ever made in beer advertising.
“Used the world over” is a very elastic claim. Then one advertiser said,
“Used by the peoples of 52 nations,” and many another has followed.
One statement may take as much room as another, yet a definite statement
be many times as effective. The difference is vast. If a claim is worth
making, make it in the most impressive way.
All these effects must be studied. Salesmanship-in-print is very
expensive. Every word you use may cost $10 to insert. A salesman’s loose
talk matters little. But when you are talking to millions at enormous
cost, the weight of your claims is important.
No generality has any weight whatever. It is like saying, “How do you
do?” when you have no intention of inquiring about one’s health. But
specific claims when made in print are taken at their value.