I was listening to the radio and an advertisement selling Silver Morgan Dollars came on and they did something in the ad that was really bad… they asked a question! The announcer said something like “Wouldn’t it be great to hold a piece of history in your hand?”

So besides being a very poor “benefit” of buying Silver Morgan Dollars (do you REALLY buy them because you want to hold a piece of history in your hand? Seriously, couldn’t you think of any better benefits?), they phrased their benefit in the form of a question.

This is bad copy-writing, and I’ll tell you why.

A quick introduction to the subconscious mind in advertising

People have generally become conditioned to view advertising messages with skepticism. Whether you realize you’re doing it or not, your subconscious mind completely absorbs what it reads or is being told. Because we’re skeptical of advertising by nature, our subconscious minds are looking for a reason to disagree with what it’s consuming.

For instance, “Wouldn’t you like to hold a piece of history in your hand?”  Uh, no, not really.

So when you ask a question that elicits a yes or no answer, you stand a very strong chance that the person will simply say “no”, and you’ve lost them for the rest of the ad.

Further, even if they were the type that thinks owning a Morgan Dollar for it’s historical significance is the most important reason, it’s still bad to ask that question. What happens in ones subconscious mind is that it stops to answer the question, and it lingers on that question a little bit… and you lost your influence on their subconscious for several more seconds, even through the rest of the ad.

Your goal in advertising is really to influence a buying decision. So why would you interrupt that influence? Instead, you should stack several influencing statements that are generally agreeable… but that’s for explaining in another blog post.

So are you saying I can never ask questions in my advertising?

Sort of.

I’m not saying it’s NEVER acceptable to ask a question in advertising, but quite frankly, I can’t think of an instance where it’s better to ask a question than make a statement.

Another example

Here’s another good example. I designed a post card for a pest control operation once, and the owner wanted the main text on the card say “Are you paying too much for your Pest Control?”  Uh, no.  Subconscious is now distracted, and doesn’t get influenced by anything else on the card that would lead to a buying decision.

So knowing that this was bad copy-writing, I proposed the main text should read “Find out how much you can save on your pest control service!”

Head vs. Emotions

Here’s some further explanation of how asking questions is a subconscious distraction. Questions put people “in their head”. Marketing is more effective when it stays emotional. Asking a question puts someone in a cognitive state (the mind) instead of an influential emotional one.

The lesson learned here is keep the consumers of your marketing message in their emotions, not in their head.

If you can ask a question, then you can change it to be a statement.

So if you’re tempted to ask a question in your advertising copy, try changing your question into a statement instead.

Are you paying too much on your car insurance? vs.
Find out how much you can save on your car insurance.

Is your house infested with termites? vs.
Have the peace of mind that no termites are infesting your house.

Do you need new windows in your house? vs.
Save money in every heating bill by installing double-paned windows.

So what do you think? Is asking questions in copy-writing a bad idea?

Oops, I just lost you, didn’t I?  🙂