Spanking Whipple: How Toilet Paper Makes Us Feel Shitty About Sales
If you’re a person of a certain age, you probably remember the Whipple commercials: an epic—and universally annoying—ad campaign that rode the wave of television’s rise until the mid-80s (and again in the late 90s!), when Whipple retired to wherever grocers retire to.
This campaign, this grocer, is so much a part of our cultural landscape that an entire book centers around it. That book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This*, is my favorite advertising read, hands down (because yeah, I’m that kind of geek.) This book, which I’m currently re-reading, opens with a pretty simple premise: Whipple did shitty things (pardon the pun) for advertising—and, by extension, marketing and sales.
To quote the author, Luke Sullivan:
[Whipple] may have been an effective salesman. (Billions of rolls.) He may have been a strong brand image. (He knocked Scott Tissue out of the number one spot.) But it all comes down to this: if I had created Mr. Whipple, I don’t think I could tell my son with a straight face what I did at the office.
It might not be the fear-based advertising we’re familiar with today (think about political campaigns for a shining example of that one), but Whipple was bad advertising, from a consumer perspective, because people were so annoyed by him.
Annoying, pushy, slimy, shitty—bad advertising is bad advertising.
Bad advertising is rampant—in Whipple’s heyday and today.
And it drastically colors the way we feel about being sold to—and the way we feel about selling.
We don’t like being sold to.
The avalanche of information products, one on one services, digital workshops, and teleconferences that pours down on us on a regular basis offers, more often than not, a sea of slimy sales pages, clashing “buy now” buttons, pushy newsletters, and fear-based marketing. These are the things that we, as a collective group of internet businesses and web-based entrepreneurs, do because we think that’s how it works, even though it makes us feel icky and slimy. It’s what advertising legend Norman Berry, quoted in Hey Whipple, calls “intellectual garbage” (emphasis mine):
Of course, advertising must sell. By any definition it is lousy advertising if it doesn’t. But if sales are achieved with work which is in bad taste or is intellectual garbage, it shouldn’t be applauded no matter how much it sells. Offensive, dull, abrasive, stupid advertising is bad for the entire industry and bad for business as a whole. It is why the public perception of advertising is going down in this country.
Bad advertising makes us *feel* sold to
When we take in advertising that makes us feel icky and slimy, we feel, well, sold to. We lose trust in that person or company, lose faith in their brand. But often, for so many reasons, we buy anyway. And we learn, through our own actions, and through external reinforcements, that this sort of “intellectual garbage”, whether it’s a scolding grocer or a single-column, vertical, white-backgrounded pushy sales page, works, on one level or another. And so we replicate it in our own business—because what else is there to do?—even though we feel icky about it.
In other words, we feel shitty about selling because we feel shitty about being sold to.
So what can we do to step outside that story and break the cycle?
#1: Be the change
Start by breaking free from your own cycle, and be the change you wish to see. Stop relying on sales tactics that don’t feel good to you (or don’t feel pressured to start using them!). When you commit to not using slimy sales tactics, like fear-based marketing, you become a non-slimy salesperson.
Know that, while you can expect your Right People to be receptive to your marketing messages (by definition!), you cannot control how people react to the stories that influence their decisions, or what actions they will take. You can, however, provide the best information possible so that they can make the right decision for them.
#3 Know your Elephants
Recognize, acknowledge, and accept that not everyone carries the same story. Every action, every word, every message, carries different meanings for different people. At the end of the day, doing what feels good and right for you, sales-wise, will help you stand tall in your business.
What are your stories?
What stories do you struggle with around your advertising, marketing, and business development efforts? Notice how you react to the marketing of others – do the things that make you wince, or put up fences, influence your own efforts?
Image by J.M. Griffin via stock.xchng
*I have the third edition of Hey, Whipple; a newer edition, updated with more internetty, digital goodness, came out earlier this year.