In 1960, toymaker Harold von Braunhut created a product he felt certain would be his biggest hit to date--a dehydrated strain of brine shrimp that could be reanimated simply by adding water. He named his product Instant Life and waited for the dollars to roll in.
The product flopped spectacularly.
But Harold von Braunhut was a persistent man. He decided that the problem with his sales had little to do with what he was offering and far more to do with how he was offering it. So von Braunhut completely revamped his marketing approach.
He renamed his tiny life forms Sea-Monkeys and rolled out an advertisement depicting them as a smiling family of finned beings who would "swim, play, scoot, race, and do comical tricks and stunts" in front of their underwater castle home. He ran these ads in the back pages of comic books, amidst fantastic tales of superheroes and otherworldly adventures.
Anyone who bought these Sea-Monkeys should have realized almost immediately that the primitive organisms floating in their bowl bore little resemblance to the magical creatures von Braunhut had cooked up for the ad. Yet Sea-Monkeys made Harold von Braunhut a multimillionaire many times over, and continue to sell three million units a year even today.
A Psychological Tactic All Great Salespeople Use
The phenomenon behind von Braunhut's success is what neurologists and psychologists refer to as "cognitive priming." In other words, human beings are wired to see what we want to see. The best salespeople and marketers are those who embrace this.
In the case of von Braunhut, everything about his approach--from the whimsical drawings to the enclosed magnifying lenses--made buyers really, really want to believe in the vision he helped them build up in their heads. He intentionally selected messaging to filter for a target audience that had proven themselves willing to enter directly into a world of imagination. Then, all he had to do was provide the fuel for their fantasies.
The reality is that when people are making a decision about whether to buy something, they follow their feelings, perceptions, and desires above all else. What the heart wants to believe, the mind will accept. Those who accept and master this central truth will never want for customers.
To see past installments of Hype Men, go here.