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Take the Plunge

Contrary to popular belief, you use "bad news" to create a successful advertisement. Find out how it's done.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the November 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Can we talk toilet humor for a minute? Although it doesn't usually appear in advertising, if you're a marketer for American Standard (AS), one of the most recognizable names on bathroom porcelain, you have license for some form of it.

The company took that tack in developing the current advertising for its "incredible" flushing system. After all, a serious treatment on the subject might be a little dicey: a side-by-side "whoosh-off" with a rival brand? How about testimonials from happy users bounding out of the john? Or a picture of all the guys down at Reliable Plumbing giving us the thumbs-up sign? I don't think so.

AS's ad agency, Carmichael Lynch, in Minneapolis, went negative, so to speak. It picked the least desirable duty associated with toilet malfunction-plunging-and figured out a humorous way to say the activity would no longer be yours to relish.

The headline declares, "Really bad news for people who enjoy plunging their toilet." It's not only funny, unexpected and attention-getting, but also makes the point.

The rest of the copy describes the utility as "designed to handle whatever life throws your way. Fast. Quiet. Clean. Every time. No more plunging. No more jiggling the handle. All backed by a 10-year Worry-Free Decade Warranty." Kudos for the inoffensive treatment. (However, it's not just a 10-year warranty, but one that lasts a decade? Hmmm . . .)

So how might a growing business borrow this idea, or a variation, to tweak for its own purposes? An appliance repair division, bent on differentiating itself, might run a headline with the mock lament "Truly bad news for people who like waiting for repairpersons to show up 'sometime between 9 and 5.'" This would be followed by "Welcome to specific-time appointments." Or perhaps a new airport shuttle service might bemoan "Sad news for those who enjoy commuting to the airport and paying those hefty parking rates." The subhead might say "Jetway Airport Shuttle now zips you door-to-door for far less hassle and money." Or how about promoting your luxury car dealership's rare discount days with a simple ad that says: "We regret to inform those who prefer the exquisite pain of paying our normally exclusive pricing that for three days only we will reduce certain models to the merely affordable."

The message? Promotions using good "bad news" as an opener can be different enough to generate extra rubbernecking.

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

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