Imagine this going on for an hour. And you can’t stop it.

Learn a language in just 30 minutes a day! Sound too good to be true? It is!

Out of curiosity, I just clicked on a Facebook ad promising to show me the Secret Language Professors Hate–because, as we all know, and the video literally claims, Language Professors just want to get your money. But not Pimsleur. They don’t want your money at all; they just want to use up the 35+ minutes of your time to argue with you.

And that’s what this incredibly dull video does. Before you even know what it’s trying to sell you, it spends the first five minutes arguing with you (putting your straw man objections in your mouth for you, since there is no interaction). After that, it spends more precious minutes in which the perky narrator shares with us her own story of how hard languages were for her to learn in high school. Fascinating. Go on! (She does..and on, and on.)

All the while, the visuals are nothing more than a repetitive series of patronizing animations of adorable French mimes in berets,  cute camels in fezzes representing Arabs, and angry girls with steam coming out of their ears, all drawn on an imaginary whiteboard, with the salient copy points written at a helluva speed by a static hand with a Sharpie. What an original and economical creative technique! I could watch that all day.

I don’t know about you, but the very idea of a whiteboard is enough to make me nod off and wreck the car.

As I said, this tedium goes on for at least 35 minutes. It may go longer since there is such a thing as “longform” of up to sixty minutes, but I shut it off, even though I was curious to see how long it could go…and if watching my fingernails grow might be more exciting. But I just wanted to gnaw my leg off to get away from it. There is no interaction. No way to pause the thing. No way to jump to buy the product (even if you were sold in the first 10 minutes). No controls at all. Just shut up and listen…oh, look, a cute kitty!

Shooting Themselves in the Foot

This is what’s wrong with most Direct Marketing. Apparently, it seems to believe its mandate is to bore its audience to death. It presumes, going in, that there’s going to be resistance to the sale, so it wastes endless time listing those imagined objections and smacking them down.  It has no confidence that there might be an inherently attractive benefit to the product. And it takes forever to get to that benefit, giving its audience way too much time to rethink their initial interest…that is, if they hang around that long.

In the case of Pimsleur, an old and well-established language learning technique and brand, this is a ridiculous marketing approach. The inherent benefit of learning to speak and understand a new language quickly (versus writing or reading it) is self-evident. You’d think it would require no argument. But the rules of Direct Response say otherwise. Those rules mandate that you always go in arguing with your customer. That’s the way you make a sale. In fact, though I was intrigued about the Pimsleur technique, after the first ten minutes of listening to the straw man arguments against it (incredibly), the video actually started to sell me off the idea. It brought up objections I hadn’t even thought of. It was that good.

The other problem with this model of selling is that, even if I’d been sold on the product to begin with, they make it so hard to cut short the pitch and just buy it.  There is no pause button, no fast forward, no controls whatever. It won’t take “yes” for an answer. The link to the Add-to-Cart doesn’t show up for nearly 20 minutes. Who knows how many potential buyers don’t have the patience to wait that long and just give up? They might just go to Pimsleur’s site directly via an organic search, but then the DR company would have lost its commission, not getting credit for the sale.

Whoever produced this for Pimsleur was actually probably chasing good customers away. But you can’t tell them that. They’ve been producing longform DR videos for generations and they know “what works.”

As a know-it-all who has been selling stuff to people via advertising for…well, a long time…I’m going to open my heart like the selfless person I am and give some free advice.

Free Advice to Direct Marketing

1. Don’t hide the 1-800 number or the Add-to-Cart. Run it the entire time. There’s no conceivable reason not to. It’s not like they don’t know it’s a sales pitch. If your customer is ready to give you his credit card info, don’t get in his way.

2. Don’t argue with your customers. Concentrate on the product benefits. When you start arguing and putting anticipated objections into people’s mouths, you just piss them off. And a pissed-off customer is no longer a customer.

3. Don’t knock the competition. Especially if the competition are earnest and underpaid language teachers. This is really bad karma. And it has the other unfortunate side-effect of reminding your audience that there is competition. So you might, inadvertently, be advertising for them. The Pimsleur video takes several minutes telling you how expensive competition Rosetta Stone is, but also how it involves visual interaction…hmm, I should look into that.

4. Don’t cheapen your product. People will think something’s wrong with it. If you start comparing what you could spend for it, and then offer a price that is unbelievably low, people get suspicious. Did it fall off a truck? Is it defective? The Pimsleur video tells you Rosetta Stone costs $700, a language course at a university or night school can cost thousands, and a year abroad in a total immersion experience can cost as much as $100,000 (if your year abroad is in Dubai). But now you can get Pimsleur not for $30, not for $20, but for the unbelievable price of just $10. Unbelievable is right. What’s wrong with it?

5. Don’t insult your customers’ intelligence. The gratuitous use of the word “Free”, for instance, is insulting (the title of this section included). The Pimsleur video describes itself as a “Free Presentation.” And I ask myself, does a sales pitch usually cost money? Also insulting are unfair comparisons, like saying you could spend hundreds of thousands and decades learning a new language, only to fail, when you could master it in just five hours (in 30 minute increments) for $10. That’s insulting.

6. Don’t be dull. People need to be entertained. Show them love for stopping to listen to your pitch by making them laugh (and cartoony French mimes don’t do it). They are not duct-taped to a chair with their eyelids pinned open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. They can get up and leave. Or click off. Or fast forward (if DVRing). So give them a reason to listen.

Apologies to Pimsleur

I’ve been picking on Pimsleur and their direct marketing vendor. They were just the most handy example, and, so as not to be a complete dick to them, I’ve linked to their site by way of apology (click on the screen-grab at the top–yes, I am a dick in that I’m going to make you scroll back up to the beginning). It may be, in spite of what their pitch may lead you to believe, worth looking into.

But the problems I saw in the Pimsleur video, I’ve seen rife in the whole DR industry. There is no reason, no constitutional amendment, no statutory injunction, no FTC ruling, and no mother’s warning preventing DR advertising from following all the Rules of Marketing. Just because it’s direct, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be creative, or show love, or be simple, or have a compelling message, or reflect positively on the client’s brand, or do all the other things that “mainstream” advertising should do. To the people looking at it, it’s all advertising. They don’t distinguish. So you shouldn’t either.

By the way, I can teach you conversational Marketingese in just ten minutes. What would you pay? $1 Million? $2 Million?



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