Masterful pitch hit all the right buttons

Does advertising work? What was the last thing you bought because of an advertisement? When did a sales person last convince you to make a purchase you otherwise would not have made?

Does advertising work? What was the last thing you bought because of an advertisement? When did a sales person last convince you to make a purchase you otherwise would not have made?

Every so often, I find it instructive to examine advertising and sales communications approaches that must achieve results, or else nothing happens and everyone goes home. Direct response pitches for weight-loss programs. The little ads in the back pages of The New Yorker that sell berets and London flats and cases of little-known Loire wines.

We got a mailer offering us a night’s accommodation at a resort complex in Horseshoe Valley, near Barrie Ontario, for thirty bucks. The catch was you had to attend a 60-minute sales pitch for the resort’s ‘product,’ which, as you guessed, is real estate chopped up into what used to be called time sharing and is now called vacation ownership.

Now you and I have chucked a lot of offers like that. But last March friends lent us their house in Montgomery, Vt. for a weekend. Montgomery is 10 miles from Jay Peak, longest vertical drop ski resort in the east. Out of curiosity, we went for a look-see. Rented skis for the kids, who’d only ever been on water skis until Jay. Kids went nuts. Next day, we went back and rented skis for us as well. We went nuts. Ditto the next day.

Now, four thousand bucks worth of ski stuff later, we’re heading back to Jay Peak for a week this March. Free weekend indeed. So the idea of an almost-free overnight to ski at Horseshoe Valley sort of appealed. What the heck.

We arrived Friday at six, and were assigned two condo units in a kind of three-level townhouse. Rack rate of about $400 a night. Biggest damn TV sets I’d ever seen. The Jacuzzi tub in the bathrooms sat at least six. In the restaurant, later, I counted 10 guys wearing baseball caps.

Next morning, after breakfast, we got the kids started on the hills and trudged off stoically to the sales session that started at ten. You walk in to the preview centre, give your name, and within thirty seconds a sales agent has been assigned, no, glued to you, physically, for as much of the next four hours as you’re prepared to stay. (After four hours, the next wave of prospects arrives, and if you haven’t signed by then, they set you free.)

At 10:30 am, we were put into a room set up theatre-style for about 15 couples. The formal pitch was about to begin. The product we were to buy, this very same day or not at all, was entirely theoretical. As far as I could gather, it was a theoretical week of accommodation, one per year, in perpetuity, either at Horseshoe, or at one of hundreds and hundreds of condo properties around the world. Not a week as in the third week of March every year, just a week. A theoretical, floating week, nowhere and anywhere, but with a firm maintenance fee attached. They’d shovel your theoretical snow and mow your theoretical grass each year for a week for between five and six hundred bucks. What the week actually cost was not announced.

For the next 90 minutes, the pitchman pitched us the pitch for The Theoretical Vacation Week in Perpetuity. Here, as I recall them, were the main buttons he hit, and be assured, he left few buttons unhit.

1. Your parents and relatives will try to ridicule and humiliate you tonight when you tell them you bought A Week without thinking it over.

2. Your revenge will come next year when ha ha ha you take them to Maui to stay with you in a condo that costs one zillion bucks a night American but you’ll get for just over two hundred Canadian for the week when you trade back your Horseshoe week to some ski-crazed Zambians.

3. You will use your yearly Week (a) to take your loved one to Dream Destinations, instead of your Cuba and Dominican Republic crap (b) to give your daughter a Baja California wedding trip (c) to give to The Church to raffle off and send 10 orphans to Disney World with the proceeds.

4. When you die, you will leave Your Week to your kids to enjoy until they die and leave it to their kids. They will be grateful, like the Rothschilds.

As we finally shuffled from the room to be arm-wrestled for a signature by our sales person, I recalled the great Bill Bernbach’s advice: It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned about unchanging man, with his obsessing drive to service, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.

The pitch was thus. And masterfully wrought. And I doubt if even one couple did not, however briefly, consider laying out 20 grand at 16.9% interest for The Dream Destination Week. Because we’re good people.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also find the former to their liking. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.