Dare To Compare

Create persuasive advertising by revealing how your product beats the competition's.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the December 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Tomorrow morning, after brushing your teeth, look in the mirror and ask yourself this question: What are the most compelling reasons a prospect should pick my product or service over my competitor's? Your answer is an important one, because that comparison may make for a persuasive sales message you should be using in your .

I'll give you an example of how such a comparison convinced me--a jaded advertising copywriter--to purchase a product I wasn't sure I wanted. The other day, a salesperson came over to pitch me and my wife on installing country-style shutters over our windows--but instead of wood, they'd be made of a substitute material. No way, I thought. Shutters made out of something other than wood? I've learned to live with pretend meat, phony cheese, fake fur and leatherette, but don't make me live with pseudo-wood shutters, too.

Not to worry, said the sales guy. Instead of buying expensive wood shutters that eventually warp, crack, peel and fade, you can have something that looks to all the world like real wood, but isn't. This new impostor, said the sales guy, is also moisture- and heat-resistant, won't split or chip, and insulates up to three times better than wood. Plus, they're about two-thirds the cost of wood shutters. And, finally, the clincher: By purchasing these ecological, wood-free shutters, I would, in my own small way, help preserve the great forests of the earth.

How could I deny my tree-hugging impulses? I said yes. And the copywriter in me appreciated the reinforcement of a strong and advertising postulate: Do a good job of comparing your product to the competition's, and you'll persuade many more people to buy.

That's my recommendation to Carl Evans of Leesburg, , who wrote recently. Evans and his wife, Carol, operate Decorative Concrete Inc. Their current small-space ad is on the right track but needs to take a different train.

Because one of the best comparisons the Evanses can make about their product is in contrasting their decorative concrete work with a wood deck, I developed a headline that reflects concrete's superiority in that regard. And I phrased it in a headline that might be called calculatingly corny: "Beats A Deck To Heck!" The headline is then followed by this explanatory subhead: "Decorative concrete offers lower maintenance, more enduring beauty, no splinters . . . and saves you money!"

Then the body copy starts out: "Allow us to show you our color portfolio of driveways, patios, courtyards and garages that we've made more beautiful . . . and that make your home more valuable." I begin this way because it's difficult in a black-and-white newspaper ad to give decorative concrete its visual due. So I want to immediately assure the prospect that he or she is going to get an appealing eyeful of the Evanses completed jobs from which to judge.

As for my "Hee-Haw" headline, uncultivated and unmanicured headlines are sometimes a good way to get attention and distinguish themselves from all the slicker approaches around them. These tweaks to their ad should give Carl and Carol Evans the head-turning new direction they want for their advertising.


This ad needs to raise its decibel level a bit and deliver a more concise message.

1. The headline has everything but the spunk it really needs. Concrete is not very photogenic, so the words need to carry the ad.


Here's an ad with an imposing point of view that can't help but get noticed.

1. The new headline isn't bashful about making a strong sales point.

2. This body copy describes the other ways concrete can be used to decorate outside the home.

Q: What are some of your favorite recent advertising campaigns, and how can they help me with my own ads?

A: When film critics are asked a similar question about their favorite movies, they often cite so-called "small" independent films nobody's ever heard of. Why? Because that's where a lot of good filmmaking happens.

Something similar can be said for advertising. The other day in my local paper, I saw a small ad for a plastic surgeon whose promotional approach got my attention. The visual in the ad was the ubiquitous before-and-after tummy shot with one side looking less than svelte and the other looking much slimmer, with a headline exclaiming "This is the same person!" My hat's off to the phrase-maker who thought of that one. Its mock incredulousness works to add extra drama to the visuals.

But more important, there's an idea here for other entrepreneurs who believe, as I do, in appropriating good approaches--as long as they're from a different product category--for their own purposes. For example, I would advise a house painter to do a flier or an ad showing before-and-after visuals of a home he or she had just freshly repainted, with a headline that reads "This is the same house!" Any other small business whose efforts result in aesthetic improvement can use the same idea.

Another local before-and-after ad I recently spotted from a lighting company shows a picture of an outdated fluorescent lighting panel installed in a kitchen alongside a replacement version that has a more contemporary lighted-dome area. The catchy headline announces "If you don't like it, then dome it!" The visual difference is quite dramatic, and the headline perfectly complements it. But how might you use this same idea in your own advertising? What if you were an upholsterer and created an ad showing an old chair next to one that you had revitalized? Borrowing from the dome ad, perhaps you'd create a headline that would read "Why buy new when you can re-do?"

Have you seen a great small ad in one of your local papers? Send it to me c/o Entrepreneur along with a few thoughts on why you like it. Maybe I can share it with other readers.

Q: Some time ago, you recommended the use of a form of testimonial called an "implied endorsement." Can you explain what that term means?

A: Unlike a formal testimonial, which is a direct quotation from the user of a product or service expressing happiness or satisfaction, an implied endorsement announces that someone or some group or organization happily uses your product. So although they haven't formally extolled it in their own words, their use of it constitutes approval and satisfaction or, in other words, gives your product or service an implied endorsement.

For example, if your doughnut shop is frequented by groups that might be considered doughnut "experts" (truckers, police, and so on), you could create ads that call your product "Truckers' favorite fuel!" or announce "Police officers give our doughnuts a thumbs up, and so will you!"

Another implied endorsement may be present if your product or service involves the use of a substance or part that is also used by a party well-known to the prospect. For example, "Guarded by the same protective coating used to shield space shuttles on re-entry into the atmosphere." Or "We use the same fertilizer that keeps the lawn looking so green."

One famous vacuum cleaner company uses a variation on this approach with great success by announcing that its product is preferred by more hotel housekeepers than any other kind. It's very likely that such an implied-endorsement possibility is hidden in your own product or service. Now's the time to dig it out!

Jerry Fisher is an advertising copywriter, consultant and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising ($39.95), available by calling (800) 247-6553. If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, send them to "Ad Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or e-mail him at Jerry228@aol.com


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