When It’s Smart to Feature Your Flaws

February 23, 2012 by  Filed under: Marketing 

There’s an old ad industry saying that goes: If you can’t fix it, feature it.

It’s a bit crass, but there’s truth to it. Here’s what I mean…

Let’s say you have a wonderful product. But it has a characteristic that your prospect may automatically perceive as a flaw. Most companies try to hide it, play it down, or worse – apologize for it. But that could be a mistake.

Because doing so only increases your prospect’s doubt, which hurts sales. Instead, call out the offending “flaw” and turn that into proof your product is superior.

Here’s an example…

From royal pain to sweet success

Harry and David (the premier fruit mail order company) built their business on their Royal Riviera pears. These babies were expensive and people usually pre-ordered them, eager for that one time each year when they dug their teeth into one of those luscious beauties.

One season, a freak hailstorm hit right before the harvest. The storm left every pear scarred with black marks.

Any other farmer would probably declare the entire crop ruined, apologize to their customers, refund everyone’s money, then struggle to stay in business.

But not Harry and David. These guys used smart marketing tactics to survive the Great Depression. They weren’t going to let a bunch of blemished pears ruin them now. Especially since the pears still tasted fine.

So they packed the blemished pears carefully into their fancy mailing boxes as usual. This time, each box contained a letter explaining why the pears looked marred, but were as delicious as ever. In fact, the black marks proved these prized pears grew in the pristine, high country where late season hailstorms sometimes occur. Their savvy copywriter spun such a good story, the black marks became proof of the pear’s pedigree.

As a result, the company hardly got a return, and they protected their good name and business. Featuring their flaw worked so well, the next year, people asked specifically for pears with black marks on them!

If you can’t fix it, feature it.

Here’s another example…

Overcoming the ugly duckling syndrome

Back in the 1960s, the VW Beetle was trying to gain popularity in the U.S. But at that time, Americans wanted gas-guzzling boats that could seat a small village.

One of the biggest sellers was the Chevy Impala. It weighed 2,000 pounds more than the little Beetle, which looked like it could fit easily inside the Chevy’s trunk.

Not only was the VW Beetle small, it looked plain weird to most Americans. Heck, it didn’t even have a radiator and the trunk was in its hood.

The ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach in Manhattan took on the VW account. They decided to feature the Beetle’s “flaws” by creating a series of ads called “Think small.” This series is now considered one of the most revolutionary and successful marketing campaigns of the 20th century.

Rather than try to justify the Beetle’s funny looks and unique engineering, the ad agency made fun of it. Then the supporting copy cleverly justified the car’s unusual design. By the time you finished reading the copy, you wouldn’t be embarrassed driving the odd looking car. You’d feel cool and smart.

Emphasizing the car’s size, most ads were full-page, black and white prints. The large page layout left lots of the ad space blank.

One ad featured a man pushing the Beetle. The headline: “And if you run out of gas, it’s easy to push.” Then described all of the Beetle’s money-saving features, such as how it gets 32 mpg and hardly needs an oil change. Other cars averaged 12 mpg in those days.

Another ad showed the car front with a simple headline: “Lemon.” Then explained how detailed their inspection and quality processes are so you don’t get a lemon.

Feature what makes you unique

Recently, I ran into another example while talking with a showerhead manufacturer known for injecting oxygen into the water. The design creates a suction-sounding noise that seems loud compared to a typical shower. When customers call in to complain, the customer service people briefly explain the technology and end saying the noise is proof the oxygen is being injected into the water at high levels for a therapeutic spray.

Now when people hear the noise, it doesn’t bother them-it reassures them!

Many times, we think we need to be like everyone else and compete on every point. But that just makes us look like them.

So think about your product or service and identify all the areas that can be misconstrued as a flaw. Such as your turn around time, your product variety, and so on.

If the reasons for your uniqueness truly support the quality of your product, then feature it. Use your “flaws” to increase sales and strengthen your brand.

Brenda Do is a freelance, direct response copywriter. For small businesses who want to increase sales, subscribe to her free, weekly copywriting tips here: http://www.BLCopywriting.com.

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