I Can Sell You Anything

Vintage Advertising

I was reading an excellent post yesterday while getting my James Brausch fix on his blog. I started out reading an excellent set of posts. The first one is entitled “That Doesn’t Make any Sense”. This was a follow up post from the previous day called “Thinking About Words Used“. I went on to read the original post which involved a word replacement game, where you would replace emotional trigger words in a sentence with another one. The general idea is to open your mind beyond the conditioning that we regularly receive from TV, family, peers, etc. and seeing things from other perspectives.

This post made me think back to a book I read as a teenager called “I Can Sell You Anything” by Paul Stevens. In one chapter of the book, he elaborates on the use of “weasel words” such as helps, virtually, up to, as much as, etc. For example, “Virtually spot free”. Most people would think of a clean surface with no spots. Let’s check out the definition of virtual from a dictionary.

virtual adj. Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name: the virtual extinction of the buffalo.

OK, so another way of saying “virtually” could be “almost” or “not really”. Almost spot freeNot really spot free. Hmmm, paints a different picture, eh? Of course, technically, weasel words are necessary in advertising to protect the maker of the product. There are no absolutes with a pain reliever for example. For Novartis to claim that you will be free of pain in 15 minutes after popping two Excedrin would be marketing suicide.

After reading that book way back then, I started word replacing all the weasel words that I would pick up on in the commercials I would see on TV, or in printed Ads. This really helped me to become more aware of exactly what the product was really about, & not what you are led to believe. I started seeing advertisements in a whole new light and I was suddenly much less vulnerable to being snowed.

An entirely new perspective was opened up to me that I never saw before. Kind of like the movie “Dead Poet’s Society” with Robin Williams, where he played a college professor who, in one scene, had his students stand on top of their desks so that they could see their every day surroundings from a different perspective. That was the same kind of “ding” moment for me way back then.

This same “ding” moment can come about in any aspect of communication if you play along as James Points out in his post. I apply this concept pretty much unconsciously all the time. I never really gave it much thought before reading James’s post. TV really is a dangerous medium for conditioning because we simply absorb what is being spoon fed into our brains. This is why TV is such an effective advertising medium, because you can insert “where’s the beef?” directly into the brains of the public and suddenly, millions of people know that Wendys is the place for big juicy hamburgers.

When you think about it, everything the average person really knows about world affairs, politics, government, etc is by what they are fed by the media. Whether true or not, people then regurgitate that info back to their peers as if it was absolute fact, just because they were told it was so by the media, without any “real” first hand proof to back it up.

Check out Jame’s post in the link above and play the word exchange game the next time you watch or read the news, an advertisement, or are copywriting your next sales letter. If you apply this to key facets of your internet business, you will tap into a new level of creativity that you never knew you had.

2 thoughts on “I Can Sell You Anything”

  1. Very well said! For years, I could see through the advertising and marketing gimmicks… but something happened along the way and I fell for them. I regret it now, but am conditioning myself to get out of that mode. The best way – AVOID TV!


  2. Mo, I couldn’t have summed it up better myself! TV’s such a powerful media that it can deceive the best of us.

    Avoiding the snake is a great way to not get bit. 😛

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