, March 01, 2024

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The Inadequacy of Hardsell: To Change Minds, Talk to the Heart


  •   5 min reads
The Inadequacy of Hardsell: To Change Minds, Talk to the Heart

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

By Vincent R. Pozon

Should there be any concern regarding the subject of this article, I request that it be regarded only as a lesson in communications, prompted as it was by the posts from PMFTC Inc and the World Health Organization.


Two opposing social media campaigns are currently underway, engaging in a debate regarding the qualified benefits and qualified risks of vaping. In one corner is PMFTC Inc., the entity behind Philip Morris, Marlboro and other cigarette brands. They are running an educational campaign urging smokers to consider alternatives to the lit cigarette. In the other corner stands the World Health Organization, emphatically highlighting the dangers of the delivery system – vaping – and nicotine itself. 

Now If you haven't noticed the campaigns, it is because they are fought with charts and science. Fought with hard sell.

When it comes to altering viewpoints, you need more than facts and figures

Both sides, with all due respect, rely heavily on the rational to further their point.

When a potential customer likes an ad, they nod, ever so slightly. Getting that all-important but imperceptible nod is difficult because the courtship has to be made in seconds: thirty if a TV commercial, five if it precedes a YouTube video, a second or two if we’re talking about billboards and posters. A second, before they scroll down or away.

The small nod is a reaction to hard sell. For instance, if we say that "RiteMED is a brand of inexpensive medicines", the customer nods because it is welcome information. When the  proposition is rational, it is accepted by the head, and it stays in the head. For a proposition to become powerful, it must transcend logic, it must be drenched with emotion. 

There must be ‘heartsell’

Only when a message resonates with the heart does it ignite. Hence, for RiteMED, a company born specifically to be of value to the masses, we crafted an emotional appeal, speaking to the struggling individual sifting through his thin wallet for money to purchase necessary medicines: "You have the right to cheaper medicine."

We incorporated a commandment: "Bawal ang Mahal."

We introduced tears. The late Susan Roces, revered as the Queen of Philippine Movies, tearfully expressed, 'Nalulungkot ako pag may nakikita akong bumibili ng mahal na gamot.'

Respect the power of propaganda

You know heartsell as propaganda. The word may drip with malice due to its historical usage. Whether observed in wartime posters, political campaigns, or persuasive advertising, it wields unparalleled influence in swaying minds and emotions, captivating the hearts of millions worldwide. Older individuals are acutely aware of how its potency has marred the term itself.

If you want to extinguish smoking or vaping, you cannot legislate it or bark it out of existence; if you want to sell vaping, "smoke-free products that eliminate combustion, the primary cause of smoking-related health problems" as a more approachable and understanding alternative to a habit difficult to abandon, hardsell won't suffice.

Philip Morris & Co., owners of the Marlboro brand, ran “Marlboro Country”, a campaign that featured tattooed men and difficult jobs, and later cowboys and horses. It is arguably the most successful advertising campaign in all history, one that would be airing today if tobacco advertising were still unhindered. Hardsell points were sparse, though in early iterations, they sang about the "filter, flavor, flip-top box".

Virginia Slims provides another case. "The slogan 'You’ve come a long way, baby' spoke directly about the progress women all over America were fighting for,” noted an article in Open Culture. Hardsell copy? None, except for the slimness of the cigarette, purportedly for sophisticated lady-like smoking.

Tobacco burning is a habit romanced extensively since the 1940s, in films and television (Check out this montage of clips). "You can lecture until you’re blue in the face about the horrible effects of cigarettes", say the people promoting a video on "Smoking Out the Truth: Teens and Tobacco". They then proceeded to do the same – lecture.

When you want more than just nods

This principle extends to any situation demanding more than agreement. For instance, if you want to promote the concept of human rights in a country where the concept, and the term itself, is undermined and contaminated by partisan politics; if you want the drug addict, the drug courier, and the criminal to be regarded as people deserving of care and protection from all the pillars of the justice system, and from the citizenry itself; if you want Filipinos to love original Pilipino music again, or even to sing the national anthem correctly, you need to talk to the heart. To reverse or rectify societal ills, utilize heartsell.

No matter where you stand in the vaping debate or in any argument seeking public support, remember: punches thrown with mere logic are weak and ineffective. Heartsell, not hardsell. As aptly penned by author Bernadette Jiwa,

“People don’t buy the facts; they buy the feeling.”


Vincent R. Pozon

After a year of college, Koyang entered advertising, and there he stayed for half a century, in various agencies, multinational and local. He is known for aberrant strategic successes (e.g., Clusivol’s ‘Bawal Magkasakit’, Promil’s ‘The Gifted Child’, RiteMED’s ‘May RiteMED ba nito?', VP Binay's 'Ganito Kami sa Makati', JV Ejercito's 'The Good One'). He is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists, causes and candidates. He is co-founder and counselor for advertising, public relations, and crisis management of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through vpozon@me.com.


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