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Copywriting Lessons from the Olympic Games

Heroic stories used to sell products: Go World!

For copywriters and marketers, watching the 2010 Winter Olympiad on television was a textbook lesson in storytelling and the role of heroes in product positioning.

For example, Visa’s 2010 Winter Olympiad TV ad campaign featured former speed skater Dan Jansen. He lost two races in 1988, but became an Olympic legend, holding viewers captive as he stumbled and fell only a few hours after learning that his sister had just died of leukemia.

Jansen returned to the Winter Olympics in 1992 and lost again. Finally he won a gold medal in 1994. Win or lose, throughout it all, Jansen looked heroic.

All of Visa’s 2010 Winter Olympiad TV ads featured athletes and their stories of heroic achievement. And all closed with the “Go World” Visa tagline.

Globally, Visa spends more than $1 billion annually in advertising, marketing and promotion. The giant financial company has figured out how to make a plastic credit card into a high performance, must-have product. It has achieved that by identifying Visa with high performance, hero archetypes.

The hero archetype is variously known as the warrior, the crusader, the rescuer, the superhero, the solder, the winning athlete, the dragon slayer, the competitor and the team player.

Some other hero brands from recent TV ads:

  • United States Marine Corps (“The few. The proud.”)
  • Nike (“Just do it!”) The sportswear and equipment supplier takes its name from the Greek goddess of victory.
  • Ford trucks (“Built Ford tough.”)

I don’t know precisely what “Go World” means, and I contend that neither does anybody else. “Go World” is sufficiently vague and ambiguous to enable each of us to fill in the blanks with pictures and emotions from our own experience. That’s an example of great storytelling.

Usually, the hero archetype is used to sell performance products like cameras, copiers, and cars. The copywriting formula that uses the hero archetype is relatively uncomplicated.

Simply write a short story that illustrates how winners (read heroes) achieved greatness, and associate your product with the same intensity of heroic performance. Go long on symbolism and short on specifics.

Storytelling enables the copywriter to paint inspiring word pictures, but fog the details.

Storytelling gives the reader — or the TV viewer — permission to suspend his disbelief. It enables the human brain to process information subliminally to resolve any conflicts between reason and emotion.

Dan Jansen’s Olympic and personal story has nothing to do with Visa credit cards. But everybody likes a winner, and every man wants to be a hero. So however illogical it may be, Visa is a high performance, heroic achiever with Jansen on its team.

Can you write a heroic story, weave it into your rapid conversion landing page, and persuade your prospective customer to make a preferential decision for your product or service?

Here’s an example that I especially like:

Team-Building Strategies: Building a Winning Team for Your Organization from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

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Peter A. Schaible is Mequoda’s Chief Copywriter. For more of his unique perspective on copywriting, you can subscribe to his complimentary series on Targeting Your Prospective Customer by Type: How to Position Your Brand to Trigger an Emotional Response, available at www.SunDanceNewMedia.com. No obligation. No upsell.

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Posted in Audience Development Strategy

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