Selling Ice to Eskimos


It’s easy to make a sports car look good. Or a vacation on a white sand beach. But what about things that the average person hates to buy? Watch the commercial below and let’s reconvene in 90 seconds:

Click here for video.

Yes, that’s John C. Reily narrating (of Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, and Gangs of New York fame).

While there have been numerous firms and individuals that have created well-known and widely recognized keys to a successful advertising campaign, one three-part test stands above and beyond any other guarantee of success:

Step 1: have a positive message.

Step 2: make the audience laugh.

Step 3: Reference the State of Iowa (Des Moines is in Iowa, in case you didn’t know…)

Okay, so no marketing guru has identified those three aspects as the keys to a successful advertising campaign. But they go a long way, especially when you’re selling a service or product that nobody is expected to buy.

The commercial is for software/services that help individuals file their taxes. It is a commercial for taxes. The word “taxes” is used twice. The name “TurboTax” is mentioned once. The viewer has no idea that taxes are involved until the 1:10 mark of a 1:31 commercial.

The commercial disappoints snakes, makes being a zombie sound beautiful, references true love with an apparent voice over of a belch (0:25 mark), makes Des Moines look almost as fun as it really is, and identifies the true power of a “new shirt.”

It believably redefines “doing your taxes” as “telling your story,” the most amazing, exciting parts of your life story. Okay, so if you didn’t get married, have a baby, or go on a fun trip, your taxes won’t be as fun – but the emotional association is still there.

How do you sell ice to Eskimos? The old saying is based on the idea that you’re slick enough to trick them. And, I’ll admit, the premise of “selling ice to Eskimos” is that Eskimos don’t need ice. I fully admit this analogy doesn’t hold up perfectly because taxes have to be done. But most of the attempts at marketing tax services are about minimizing the pain, or maximizing the financial return.

This ad doesn’t do either. It seems like it is trying to change the way people feel about doing their taxes. We’re not “doing our taxes,” we’re telling a story.

Sure, you can ask me if I’m still this excited about this commercial after I actually prepare my taxes (using TurboTax, probably). But for now Wieden + Kennedy (the ad agency behind the ad) has me convinced doing my taxes won’t be that bad, especially if John C. Reilly is standing over my shoulder narrating it.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A. | Attorney Advertising

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