How to advertise when the giant gorilla doesn't seem to be doing the trick.

Ian Lurie
Gorilla illustration

This is a guest post by Bruce Lee. Bruce is one of the best marketers and marketing writers I know, and I’m excited to have him writing for Conversation Marketing. Hopefully more from Bruce in the future.

Critters respond to contrast. They tend to ignore conformity. In Jurassic Park, the tyrannosaurus seemed to see prey animals (including lawyers) only when they moved against a static background. Bass fishermen know to jerk their lures through the water, the better to provoke a strike. Even near-microscopic flatworms move in response to changes in light level.

People are critters too. They too respond to contrast, differences, distinctions. This is the very basis of entertainment, for example. Successful entertainers tend to wear unconventional clothing, they tend to move about – often dancing – on a stage that focuses audience attention. They speak louder, or sing. They do so in recognition that doing something out of the ordinary, something with a high “contrast ratio” will draw attention (and sell tickets).

As advertisers and marketers, we need to exploit this characteristic, on behalf of our clients. As “fishers of buyers,” our job is to provoke a strike, in the form of a sale.

Few car buyers would cite as a major factor
in their decision making process the fact that
the dealer had a 40-foot inflatable gorilla in the lot

It isn’t easy. It usually doesn’t work to just turn up the volume (ala annoying infomercials) or to dress colorfully (most people find clowns to be kind of creepy) or outrageous (few car buyers would cite as a major factor in their decision making process the fact that the dealer had a 40-foot inflatable gorilla in the lot).

Still, people buy differences, not similarities. In commodities (such as groceries), that difference is mostly limited to issues of price or convenience. But even with products or services that seem rather mundane, it’s worth sussing out the difference and making that the key selling feature.

This came up recently with a client who sells pizza. When asked why people should patronize his business instead of the many others already well established in the marketplace, he cited that he used “fresh ingredients,” offered “delivery and pick-up,” and that his was a “gourmet” pizza.

Please stifle the urge to yawn.

However, digging deeper, it was revealed that he does a very substantial amount of business in pizzas with gluten-free crusts. It started as a courtesy (and savvy business move) to accommodate gluten-sensitive customers, but it turns out the crusts taste so good, that lots of gluten-insensitive customers became fans.

In this case, we were able to convince the client to focus their advertising message on the unique feature of offering gluten-free crusts. In so doing, they distinguished themselves against of background of “me too” convenience food vendors.

And the pizzas, like the lawyer in Jurassic Park, were gobbled up.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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