From the May 2003 issue of Entrepreneur


"Think different," the headline Apple Computer hoisted onto a million billboards a few years ago to get PC users to switch to Macintosh, happens to be a more compelling message to other advertisers. The message is: You'd better think differently if you want to separate what you sell from that of your competitors, especially if it's a parity product.

One company that's succeeded in this regard is Hunter Fans, which invented the ceiling fan back in 1886. Nowadays, besides still selling devices that blow the air, they're peddling items that clean it. With a sizeable market for air purifiers, Hunter figured it should be leveraging its century of goodwill as air-quality merchants to jump into the fray. But instead of falling into step with all the other purveyors of dander, pollen, dust and odor eaters, Hunter's brain trust cocked its collective head and decided to ask consumers, humorously, "Ever Tried To Vacuum A Cat?" This is an A+ example of breaking the mold. It's an ad concept that comes right out of left field to ultimately deliver a message similar to that of other purveyors, in a totally fresh way. Coupled with the visual of a miffed Muffy, it's a bona fide stopper and funny to boot. The white headline against a black backdrop, floating just above the head of the frosted feline, makes for a very interruptive ad, executed in just half a page.

I regularly beseech readers to think differently when it comes to advertising. It's not simple. One can't easily sit down, turn off hackneyed thinking and ponder in a totally new and fresh direction about one's product. This is especially true if it's a product you live with 24/7. So what to do? Or who to turn to? There's an old saying--"Out of the mouths of babes come gems"--that refers to the precociously witty comments kids often blurt out. That same sort of unplanned cleverness can come from anyone and can create mold-breaking advertising. You just have to be there to capture it. Put a bunch of people from your target market together, and get them to start jabbering about your product. A gem is bound to fall offhandedly from someone's lips. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that, under similar circumstances, someone at the Hunter Fan offices blurted out "Ever tried to vacuum a cat?"


Jerry Fisher (www.jerry-fisher.com) is a freelance advertising copywriter and the author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.