Let’s Roast Tomatoes: Using Analogy for Stronger, More Persuasive Copy
Have you seen the ad featuring a unicorn, a dashing prince, and rainbow-glittered soft serve ice cream? More than 27 million people have, but if you have not, it’s worth the 2 minutes and 53 seconds it takes to watch it.
One month after the video was released, the company enjoyed a 250% increase in sales, plus a 500% increase in searches for the “Squatty Potty,” a toilet footstool that puts your body in a squatting position, which some believe can lead to a myriad of health benefits.
The Squatty Potty ad is clever, entertaining, and loaded with consumer benefits. But what’s most brilliant about it is how they use analogy—comparing the human elimination process to a unicorn expressing ice cream—to transform a plastic footstool into a product that tens of thousands of people needed to buy.
A lightening fast refresher: what’s an analogy?
An analogy gets a point across by describing it in terms of something else a reader or listener will readily understand. Metaphors and similes are mechanisms by which we express analogies. Similes compare using “as” or “like,” as in: “this IPA tastes like paint thinner.” Metaphors bring the comparison one step closer by omitting the “like” and putting one idea in the shoes of another: “some days I’m flying when I run; other days I’m slogging through Play-doh with concrete booties on.”
In conversation, analogy helps us explain things in a way others can really get it. In copywriting, compelling analogies make the people you want to buy your product feel they need to have your product.
How analogy roasts your copy tomatoes
I love tomatoes. They’re great raw. But roast a tomato, and something magical happens. The sweetness and tanginess become more powerful, and I cannot stop eating them. A great analogy can bring out that same flavor punch in your copy, making your reader enjoy the experience and, more importantly, remember what she just read or heard.
Here’s how you might use analogy to roast your copy tomatoes:
You can take a complex or technical concept and make it understandable
Analogies help us communicate abstract or complex topics that are difficult to get across on their own, such as a medical procedure, a cultural theory, or a biochemical process without alienating our audience. For example, listen to this simple, yet enlightening analogy describing how dementia affects the brain:
If you can get me to visualize that complex process in a way that makes sense, I’m much more likely to pay attention, first of all. If your goal is to change my behavior—whether that means interacting more effectively with a dementia patient or becoming your customer—a strong analogy will help persuade me to make that change.
You can make a topic more palatable
Few would make it through a 3 minute ad filled with clinical talk of the healthy elimination process. Most are fine watching a unicorn make ice cream cones. Analogy allows us to see the Squatty Potty solving “real” problems without having to think too hard about those problems.
You can make your copy fun to read
Just because you don’t have the world’s sexiest product doesn’t give you an excuse to have boring copy. Analogy can liven things up even if it’s not your style to go all-out glitter.
For example, instead of this: “This post will tell you how analogies can help strengthen your copy.”
Try this: “Let’s turn your copy from white noise into ‘I want that tattooed on my chest.’”
You will give your customers a reason to trust you
Don’t underestimate the power of sharing knowledge. If you’re willing to take the time to unpack the jargon and discuss your product, service, or process in terms your customer can appreciate and understand, you help them learn and feel empowered. And you’re far more likely to gain their trust.
You can get people to remember you
“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.” Does anyone over the age of 25 not know that line? A good analogy will latch onto the brain of the reader, because a good analogy already speaks your reader’s language.
Crafting a killer analogy for your communications.
Forming an analogy is like pairing wine with food. Both may be delicious on their own, but when paired perfectly, the combination enhances the entire dining experience. A powerful analogy won’t just help explain your point, it’ll make it memorable. Here’s how.
Find your customer’s giant mixing bowl full of dough
As a triathlete, I do lot of swimming. Efficient swimming is all about technique. The trick is to “catch” the water and use your forearm to “pull” your body through, basically trying to create a solid surface out of liquid. Are you with me? Not so much?
This explanation didn’t suffice for me either. Despite taking lessons from 4 different people (including a Navy SEAL and a former state freestyle champion), I continually failed to grasp this concept. In principle, I knew what these instructors were saying, but I just couldn’t translate it to my own swimming.
Everything finally clicked when one swim coach used the right analogy for me: it’s like reaching over down the side of a giant mixing bowl, grabbing the giant ball of bread dough, and scraping that dough out of the bowl. This analogy worked so well for me because I worked in bakeries for 14 years of my life, and I’ve reached into many a giant mixing bowl to scoop out 40# dough balls. I’m now faster and smoother in the water.
The moral of the story: pick an analogy that works for your target audience.
Paint a pretty picture
You want to create an image in your customer’s head that feels good to think about, so they think “ooh, I get it,” and not “ew, okay.” Think two steps ahead to who your target audience is, because one customer’s “ooh” is another’s “ew.”
For example: “Our body-hugging sports bra is lightweight, comfy and bounce-banishing; it’s like not having breasts at all!” would appeal to me as a competitive athlete, but may be a total turnoff to someone hoping to show her more feminine side. That woman would probably find this more appealing: “Our figure-flattering sports bra is lightweight, supportive and controls unwanted bounce; it’s like getting the look of your favorite push-up bra with the feel of no bra at all!”
Avoid bad church sign syndrome
Don’t cram your point into an analogy that doesn’t quite fit because you like the story—a situation I call “bad church sign syndrome.” We’ve all driven by church signs that hope to draw our attention, but instead come across as groaners. We know what they’re trying to say, but the awkward analogy distracts us from the point they’re trying to make.
If you find yourself having to uncomfortably alter your product description or add qualifiers to the analogy (i.e., imagine a cloud under your head, except it’s made of Jell-O, and it smells like vanilla…that’s what our pillow is like), then pick another analogy.
Putting it all together
Just like an Olympic gymnast makes all those flips and handsprings look easy, the best analogies make you think “of course I get it; that is such a natural comparison!” But just like getting to the Olympics, crafting a beautiful analogy takes time, skill and practice.
Just remember this: what is most important to your customer is most important, period. Your analogy should resonate your customer’s values and then show how your business speaks to those same values. Figure out what they’re craving for dinner, and then pour the wine that’ll make their meal one to remember.
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