It Is Springtime And I Am Blind: The Power Of The Contrast Principle
You’ve probably heard a bunch of stories about legendary ad-man Rosser Reeves.
Most notably, how he was the inspiration for Mad Men’s Don Draper.
(You know, Don: Chief Copywriter/Creative Director at the stylish NYC agency in the show.
He’s kinda like a drunker, less handsome version of me. Ha!)
Anyway, Rosser Reeves was the dude behind some of the most effective ads of the 40’s & 50’s, including the “Melt in your mouth, not in your hands” M&Ms line beloved of many copywriting blog posts.
He’s also credited with inventing – or at least coining the term – USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
Recently, I heard a new Rosser story…
New to me, at least. And it’s so good I can’t belieeeeeeeve I hadn’t heard it before.
Maybe you know it. It goes like this:
One afternoon, your man Rosser – great name btw, not enough Rossers around these days – and a colleague (Josser?) are headed back to the office after lunch in Central Park.
(If this was anything like a Don Draper lunch, you can bet they’d be steaming and it’d be nearly dark by the end, but I digress…)
Rosser passes a blind man, begging for money. His donation cup had just a few small coins in it, and alongside it was a handwritten cardboard sign.
On the sign, three words served as the man’s pitch:
“I am blind.”
Rosser stops for a moment, and says to his lunch-buddy: “I think I can help this guy collect more donations. Just by adding four words to that sign.”
A copywriter in action!
Rosser’s friend gives him the go-ahead.
So Rosser explains how he knows a thing or two about moving people and that he might be able help the man get more donations…
He then asks the blind man if he would be willing to let his sign be changed.
The guy says “Sure”, and Rosser takes out his pen.
He adds four words to the “I am blind” sign, and steps back to watch what happens.
In minutes, passers-by are dropping money into the cup, and within 5 minutes, the man’s doubled his donations for the day.
As more and more people drop more and more cash – dollar bills by now, as well as small change – the blind man starts to look a little happier.
Rosser’s work is done, and he heads back to the office having demonstrated The Principle Of Contrast.
So, what four words had he written on the sign that caused so many people to take pity on the blind man, and make more donations?
“It is springtime and”
That’s all. The sign now read: “It is springtime and I am blind.”
The Contrast Principle and you…
This simple story demonstrates the power of The Contrast Principle.
And also, how easy it is to leverage that power with just a simple tweak to an existing message.
Rosser Reeves – advertising genius and celebrated ‘wordsmith’ – didn’t add anything fancy to the sign.
He didn’t need to.
To put it in 2015 terms, Rosser had optimized the man’s conversions, with a simple change to his headline.
He simply added contrast, which framed the man’s plight in a way that people responded to.
Where they previously passed by, unmoved by ‘just another blind man’ begging for change…
…now they saw a person in need of help who wasn’t able to see the beautiful New York spring day they all took for granted.
And they were moved to make a donation.
Sometimes the most effective changes in marketing are the simplest
The Contrast Principle is a great tool to use in sales copy, because it quickly adds weight to your offer.
People – you and I included – respond to contrast.
Contrast speeds up the connection to our brains, so we understand quickly and clearly whether something’s a good deal.
The power is in the re-framing, so the same offer is viewed differently.
Think about it:
You can compare options on your pricing page, and frame each package in a way that appeals to different people:
Some recognize that there are more features on offer in your Premium package, which suits their needs… while others recognize the money-saving opportunity in a cheaper, Basic package.
Or you could demonstrate how much faster your product gets results, or how frequently, simply by contrasting the customer’s experience without it.
If you’re a coach or consultant offering a customizable, personal service, then contrast that with a more limited competitor…
Maybe you don’t lock your clients into a contract, and they’ll only ever deal with you directly, no assistants or sales staff – so explain how this is different to what they’d get elsewhere (contrast) and why that’s good news for them (benefit).
A visual demonstration of The Contrast Principle…
Look at this cropped picture of the tallest man ever measured, Robert Wadlow of Alton, Illinois, in the 1930s:
Pretty big dude, huh?
Now look at the full picture of him, with his 5ft 11in father standing alongside:
Robert’s 8ft 11in height seems more impressive here, right? Because his average-size Pops heightens the contrast.
So, next time you need to persuade your readers of the irresistibility of your offer, remember to use The Principle Of Contrast:
Frame your offer in a way that makes it appear faster, cheaper, bigger or better than it would look in isolation.
Make contrast work in your favour, and watch how your prospect responds.