I’ve seen every episode of AMC’s “Mad Men.”
Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is the show’s caddish anti-hero, a 1960s ad executive. When he’s not engaged in a spectacular act of self-sabotage provoked by his messy personal life, no one can pitch a product better.
Don Draper’s greatest strength as an advertising pitchman is his deep understanding of the emotion behind
the products he’s pitching. Here’s a clip from the show’s first season. In it, Draper is pitching his ad concept for the new “slide wheel” to two executives from Kodak.
Imagine if Draper had done what so many people in business do—pitch the features instead of the benefits. A feature-heavy pitch would have sounded more like this:
“Kodak’s ‘Wheel’ can hold 80 slides, the most in the marketplace. It allows you to go backward and forward, project on any bare wall, and change the order of slides in mere moments. With Kodak’s ‘Wheel,’ you can go on vacation—and have your slides printed within 24 hours of dropping them off at a certified Kodak photo center.”
Businesses use that feature-focused approach all the time when selling their products. Advocacy organizations do it when promoting their campaigns. Local politicians do it when touting their legislative initiatives.
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But Don Draper didn’t even mention the features of the “slide wheel.” Instead, he told a story about a mentor named Teddy, which led him directly to the consumer benefit:
“This device…takes us to a place where we ache to go again…It’s called ‘The Carousel.’ It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
When speaking about your products, causes, and initiatives, forget about the features for a moment. Ask yourself what’s behind
those features. Don’t tell me why I should care that your toothbrush has more bristles than other toothbrushes or that your initiative seeks to reduce urban blight. Look for the benefits behind
those features instead. If you do, you might just find that you have a winning message.
A big hat tip to Danny Groner, whose article “5 Presentation Skills Learned From Mad Men” inspired this post. He tweets at @DannyGroner.
Brad Phillips is author of the new book The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where this story first appeared.