With Josh Weltman, Co-producer of Mad Men and Author of Seducing Strangers: How to Get People to Buy What You’re Selling
Josh Weltman is the co-producer of the incredibly popular and hugely acclaimed Mad Men TV series and has written an insightful book, Seducing Strangers: How to Get People to Buy What You’re Selling. In this text, he gives us an inside look into how he created the ads we grew to love in Mad Men, and how we can apply his secrets to success in order to get people to buy what we’re selling. Literally.
There is no doubt that the technological revolution has changed marketing products forever. In the past, businesses would use words, pictures, stories, and music—advertising, in short—to induce someone somewhere to buy whatever it was they were selling. But that doesn’t necessarily cut it anymore. In today’s social media-centric information economy, everyone appears to be engaged in some form of advertising. Persuasion is no longer the job of just a creative director and a host of media buyers. Today, it is everyone’s job!
People in the current information economy spend all or most of their time and effort trying to get someone somewhere to do something—whether a boss, a boyfriend, a customer, or a committee. This creates a huge amount of noise, and cutting through this is absolutely key to getting your message heard and connecting with the people to whom you wish to sell.
The problem is that most people today don’t feel equipped to craft messages or take action with confidence or coherence. They just aren’t familiar with the principles of persuasion. Furthermore, rapid changes in technological ubiquity and new media have made the job a hell of a lot harder, even for seasoned marketers. People are familiar with the platforms used to sell, but they don’t know what it is about a message that makes them buy into it.
Surprise And Inform
In his interview with Steve, Josh explained that crafting a message that’s both surprising and informative is really the marketer’s craft. Telling the truth is important (as lying is counter-productive) but it is also vital to instill a sense of urgency in your customers. How often have you encountered an offer online, only to be told that it’s about to end? There is a reason for that!
Apple Of Your Eye
Josh cites Apple as a company that does an excellent job of implementing modern marketing techniques, teasing punters by selling the sizzle not the steak and creating a strong brand awareness by differentiating its products from the competition. Josh went on to discuss many of the most important marketing concepts, and how they can be implemented by people from every walk of life.
Seducing Strangers helps all of us conceive more effective, persuasive ideas, and communicate them in a world of changing technology and consumer expectations. It was great having Josh in the studio and benefiting from his massive experience in this field.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily of the radio show. Interviewee is not a representative of the radio show. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by the radio show.
Steve Pomeranz: With the start of Mad Men’s new season, Mad Men co-producer Josh Weltman has just published his first book, based on the insights of his 25 years in the advertising business. He’s worked as creative director, co-producer, writer, and artist and has created the ad campaigns for Taco Bell, Doritos, BMW, Microsoft, and Whole Foods, to name a few. Now, Josh has been part of Mad Men since the show’s first season. And he works closely with Matthew Weiner and the show’s writers and producers to help ensure that Mad Men accurately depicts the process of creating ads and servicing clients. He also creates most of the original ads seen on the show. His new book is Seducing Stranger: How to Get People to Buy What You’re Selling, and he joins me now. Welcome to the show, Josh.
Josh Weltman: Hey, thanks for having me.
Steve Pomeranz: So the world of advertising has changed a little in these years that you’ve been practicing. What is different and what has stayed the same?
Josh Weltman: Well, I think the media is the thing that’s changed the most. I mean, the digital revolution and online media is the thing that’s most different. And human nature, what makes people buy things, has probably changed the least. You sort of have those two things clashing together right now.
Steve Pomeranz: Do you think that most people who are really not trained in this area are spending more time on the technology, but they’re forgetting what compels people to buy?
Josh Weltman: I think that’s exactly right. I wrote the book because most people today don’t feel equipped to craft messages or take action with the same confidence and certainty as Mad Men’s Don Draper. And I think it’s two things that confound them. I think, first, that most people are a lot less familiar with the principles of persuasion than they are with the meme. And what I mean by that is, everybody listening knows how to send 140 characters to millions of people around the world. But they don’t really know what makes a message persuade them and what doesn’t.
And the second thing that confounds people is the recent and rapid changes in new digital media technology, doing the job hard for even experts who do understand the principles of persuasion. There’s just so many different platforms and media to choose from, clients and businesses and people are very confused about what’s the best media to do the job.
Steve Pomeranz: The fact too is that there is so much more noise that has to be parsed through or broken through in order to get your message out there. What does one really have to do in order to solve that problem?
Josh Weltman: Well, it’s tough because to break through and to get people to notice you, you have to be surprising. And to come up with a message that’s both surprising and informative is really the art of the advertising and communication business, even the entertainment business. You want people to tune in and not be able to take their eyes off the television show because they’re familiar enough to love the characters and can’t possibly imagine what they’re going to do next.
Steve Pomeranz: Right, the book is Seducing Strangers: How to get People to Buy What You’re Selling. My guest is Josh Weltman. He is the co-producer on the TV show Mad Men, which is just starting this week, actually. So we’ve asked him to join us to talk about his book and the art of advertising. Josh, you’ve mentioned in your book that so many people say to you that advertising is lying, but you take exception to that. Tell us about that.
Josh Weltman: Yeah, it doesn’t really help companies, or products, or brands, in the long-run, to lie. You have to base a successful advertising or persuasive campaign on some human truth, on something inside people that makes them want to buy the product or service. And if you don’t get that right, people listening are just going to call BS right away. So it does not do you, your company, or anybody’s reputation any good to lie. It’s also illegal. I think people get lying confused with sort of puffery, that sort of thing. What you want to do is, you want to set expectations at a level that products and services can meet or exceed. Because I think that’s what makes people happy. When reality meets or exceeds their expectations, you get a happy customer. So better than lying is to adjust the bar to kinda the right level.
Steve Pomeranz: What is the basic motivation for someone who’s trying to get the message out, not the motivation so much, but the message to a potential customer. What do they want that customer to feel?
Josh Weltman: Well, that’s a great question. I think it depends on what business result they’re trying to achieve with the message. I’ve always found that there have been about four of those different business results and four different kinds of ads that kind of inspire them. You either want people to inquire about the ad. You want to increase inquiries or clicks or phone calls or something like that, and that’s usually a new product.
Steve Pomeranz: Curiosity.
Josh Weltman: Or you want to bump sales or traffic immediately, and to do that you have to impart or evoke a sense of urgency. And you do that with the limited time offers, or deals, or things. Most common in what we really think of advertising is when companies are trying to distinguish themselves from other choices that consumers have.
They’re trying to answer that question for customers of what makes them different. And in those ads, you’re trying to make people familiar, familiarize people with the one unique feature that makes your product or service different from anybody else’s in the market. And in the fourth kind of ad, you’re trying to protect margins or increase margins by making people feel like they’re part of an exclusive club. Sort of in partnership with an advertiser or company of which they’re of like mind and shared values.
Steve Pomeranz: So as you’re speaking, some companies come to mind. Some of the more obvious ones, like Starbucks, comes to mind.
Josh Weltman: Sure.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s a club. Apple, of course, comes to mind. Can you take us through very briefly how, let’s say, an Apple is able to achieve these four aspects of good messaging?
Josh Weltman: Oh, my God. Apple’s the best at it. Whenever they come out with a new product, the first thing they do is buy lots of billboards that really make you curious about seeing that product. I just saw a teaser for the watch that is not in stores yet. You can’t buy it, but boy, I took heed of the date. I know exactly when it’s coming out and I can get my hands on it. Because it just looks like something you want to touch, and feel, and experience. So that’s the first thing you want to do is you want to show people enough of the product to make them curious. But not so much that you’ve answered every question because you want them to inquire further about it. And the next thing that you typically do is get them to try it. I remember when, jeez, a long time ago, probably before most of the listeners were born. But the 1984 spot that introduced the computer Macintosh was such a success in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, 1984.
But then, Apple did a brilliant thing, which is they followed that ad up with a limited time offer called test drive a Macintosh, where they made these Macs available for people to take home and try and get their hands on. And as if you were test driving a car, they really wanted people to experience it. So then the third sort of ad in the process is, again, make people familiar with the one most unique thing about it. And the fourth kind of ad makes people celebrate the difference between your customer rather than your product. Talk about what makes your customers unique. You get to that part of the relationship between the consumer and company where the advertising is really saying, enough about me and what I make. Let’s talk about you and why I’m so happy to have you as a customer. Apple with their Think Different campaign, I would say would fall under that category.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, I don’t see Apple offering us free anything these days. I guess they don’t have to, right? Back then they had to, but not these days. Everything-
Josh Weltman: Oh no, that was before they had retail stores that were packed with people who had their hands all over the things right now. They came up with a different way to get people in the store and get their hands on the product.
Steve Pomeranz: The book is Seducing Strangers: How to Get People to Buy What You’re Selling. The author is co-producer for the show Mad Men. He shares his 25 years of insights to the advertising business and also helps Mad Men get it right. Very briefly, what is your actual role at Mad Men?
Josh Weltman: I started out as the first advertising consultant on the first season. I was joined by a second advertising consultant named Bob Levinson the second season. And both Bob and I have been with the show through the completion of season seven. And what we do is we work with the writers and executive producer Matt Weiner to make sure or try and help make sure that the show accurately depicts the process of creating ads and servicing clients. And we come up with business stories that get the characters emotionally where Matt wants to take them.
Steve Pomeranz: I did read that the idea behind Jon Hamm’s character is that he’s so flawed in every other aspect of his life, at least we can trust that he’s going to get the advertising part right.
Josh Weltman: That’s been very important to Matt and the show. I think from the get-go, that Don is good at his job.
Steve Pomeranz: Right.
Josh Weltman: People want to root for him, they’ve seen him be brilliant. They like when he’s succeeding, and it breaks the audience’s heart.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Josh Weltman: And heart for him when he gets in his own way.
Steve Pomeranz: Going back 2500 years to Aristotle, you bring up a point in your book of something that he developed called the enthymeme, which is a two-part statement, which both confuses then explains. And if I may, let me just read this. Here’s a typical sentence. London has everything a man could possibly want to see or do, but, instead, it can be written and it was written by a great writer. When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Explain that to us in an advertising way.
Josh Weltman: Sure, what that’s talking about is the idea that you have to intrigue people and get them curious about hearing your message. And the idea of an enthymeme is, like you said, a two-part statement where if the first part confuses, the second part explains. And if the first part explains, the second part confuses. So you hang on every word to get the whole thing, like the set-up and the punchline of a joke. But one of the things that I noticed doing when I first started advertising is this same idea was being used in modern advertising with a little bit of a twist. What was going on was in print advertising, if the visual confused, then the headline would explain. And if the headline confused, then the visual would explain. And the idea is with those two pieces working together, people would sort of be flipping through a magazine and suddenly there’s this discord. There’s this confusion in front of them. And they had to sorta stick with the headline or concentrate to figure out what was going on. And as soon as they figured it out, they’re sucked in.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Josh Weltman: You’ve kind of got them. And it was breaking the ads apart into these two-part concepts with the visual and the words and the visual were working together to create one idea. Neither of which, neither the words or the visual could do it completely themselves, was really the creative breakthrough that was going on in the ‘60s when we opened the show of Mad Men. That sort of thinking was just beginning to happen.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, you mention in your book, or you show the ad for Volkswagen.
Josh Weltman: Right.
Steve Pomeranz: Now, again, this is way before many of our listeners would’ve been alive. But a big basically white space on a full page, with a small little Volkswagen in upper left-hand corner. Just take a few seconds to tell us about that.
Josh Weltman: Sure, and what’s funny about that ad is you have to sort of picture the ad in a magazine with tons of ads and tons of images. And you’re flipping through and suddenly you get this big white blank page with a little teeny car in it. And it was confusing to people. They didn’t know what to make of it. Was it a mistake or was it a misprint or something like that?
And then the headline, which was Think Small, explained what they were looking at. Which was, oh, it’s a small car, which was kind of a revolutionary big idea at the time. But it’s still that same principle of confuse people with a picture and explain with the headline that I was trying to illustrate in the book.
Steve Pomeranz: We don’t seem to see enough of that these days. We see lots of bright, flashing, quick moving images. Sometimes I think a little silence could help us all pay a little bit more attention.
Josh Weltman: Well, I think when people get nervous and timelines get shorter, and everybody’s watching the sales of every quarter, people feel that they don’t want to let their customers discover. They don’t want to take anything for granted. And they’re not as willing to sort of play with people and include them and they’re intelligence in the process of getting to know the advertising and being a part of the message.
Steve Pomeranz: Ironically, it’s like going back to the 1800s, where they had every single ad had every single piece of information you ever need to know about a wheelbarrow or a toolbox, right?
Josh Weltman: [LAUGH] Yeah, exactly.
Steve Pomeranz: Unfortunately, Josh, we are out of time, but let me say the book again, this is a fascinating book. Anybody’s who owns a business is interested in marketing and needs to understand the power of advertising and how to use it. The book is Seducing Strangers: How to Get People to Buy What You’re Selling. Thanks for joining us, Josh.
Josh Weltman: Thanks for having me.