A Sure Thing

Too long has the persuasive guarantee played a supporting role in ads. Why not make it the star in your own efforts? It works wonders, we promise.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Ah, the ubiquitous guarantee. That golden promise of craftsmanship, workmanship, performance, durability, freshness, whiteness, unshrinkability and lowest price that's slapped on virtually every product and service marketed today. It's variously dubbed "unconditional," "iron-clad," "money-back," "lifetime," and a dozen other clichéd descriptions, yet the guarantee is rightly considered critical in persuading a prospect to become a buyer.

Despite its value, however, the guarantee has become a somewhat stale, musty element of advertising that generates little more excitement than aspirin instructions. You've seen the stilted wording a million times: "If not utterly delighted with the performance of your new Gerbil Gym, simply return it within 30 days of purchase for a full refund, no questions asked!" And the guarantee is still often found housed in a box with a 50-year-old filigree border.

What can you do to freshen this essential component of a sales pitch? How can the power of an ad's guarantee be guaranteed to get more attention? Venerable cataloger L.L. Bean of Freeport, Maine, has a solid answer, as shown in the ad here. Instead of making its guarantee a stereotypical piece of tacked-on boilerplate, the company broke out of that old box and transformed it into an unexpected, persuasive headline and sales argument. The heading reads: "To find out if our fleece really doesn't pill, give it a trial run. Say, five years or so." It's wording that gets a solid A+ in my book because it implies the company's lifetime guarantee of durability and satisfaction but offers a totally fresh approach in the way it's presented.

The body copy then takes over the pitch by starting out, "You can buy less expensive fleece, but it invariably looks nubby and worn out after a few trips through the washing machine. L.L. Bean's fleece stays absolutely beautiful. Guaranteed." The promise is a perfect way to neutralize consumers' resistance to the item's higher price.

I could be picky and suggest the body copy should have been more explicit about the generous length of the L.L. Bean guarantee. But then, the company is probably not keen on enticing customers into returning 5-year-old items just because they can.

The lesson you can learn here is to take a look at the language of your own company's guarantee, if indeed you state one. What can you do to morph an often-static add-on into a strong selling argument? If a company founded in 1912 can shake off the cobwebs of a hidden treasure, so can you.

Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.

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