A Spoonful Of Sugar Makes The Medicine Go Down

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My toddler has entered that special time of a young person’s life when her nose constantly drips with goo.

Which I’m told will last for the next three years or so. (Walking petri dishes, kids are.)

Unfortunately for our upholstery, she’s afraid of blowing her nose. (And that snot’s gotta go somewhere.)

So lately we brought out our trusty blue bulb syringe — the industrial grade version issued by the hospital.

But my daughter doesn’t like the bulb syringe either – it’s too “scary”.

So one night I try laying out the facts. I told her she was facing a choice – a crossroads if you will:

“You have three choices, sweety. You can:

“One –blow your nose;

“Two — use the bulb syringe;

“Or Three – be stuffy — and you’ll cough a lot.”

Yeah, that’s right. I used the “crossroads close” on my two-year old.

Didn’t work, though. All that logic didn’t make a dent. (Even though it was legit.)

Well, it’s not just two year olds, as we know. Logic and technical data can be hard to swallow whole.

It’s bulky input – makes the brain work, sorting it out, labeling it.

Stories, on the other hand, go down smooth.

(Our brains have “built-in slots” for stories, not so for technical data. Which is probably why there weren’t any college textbooks on the New York Times bestseller lists last time I checked.)

But when you combine the two together?

Deliciousness.

Bite-sized slices of data in a three-course story meal.

As Jonathan Gottschall, channeling the novelist Somerset Maugham, remarks in The Storytelling Animal (a book I can’t stop quoting),

“… fiction writers mix the powder (the medicine) of a message with the sugary jam of storytelling. People bolt down the sweet jam of storytelling and don’t even notice the undertaste of the powder …”

(Guess that’s why Mary Poppins demands we stuff our kids with sugar so they’ll do their chores.)

Silhouette of Mary Poppins with Umbrella

(Mary Poppins comes to save the day.)

Let’s look at an example from the literature of salesmanship in print.

Feast on this slice of copy from A-List copywriter Matt O’Connor, a fellow Copy Chieftan.

On a thread in Copy Chief, Matt was giving some useful advice on how to find the right story to use in technical copy, and he disclosed that he turned a biochemical process itself into the story.

Being the story-hunter I am, I reached out to Matt and asked for a sample; he graciously obliged.

For this sales letter, Matt was tasked with educating the reader with some pretty jargon heavy copy.

Lot of technical information that’s easy to ignore.

The seasoned marketer that he is, he took that heavy chunk of tech jargon and sliced it into digestible morsels … using a story format.

Matt needed to present hormones as interesting to the reader … or at the very least, clear and simple to follow.

Here’s how he nailed it:

“Ok… So How DO You Flip ON Your Skinny Switch?

Well, let me tell you about hormones, enzymes and ketones – what I call your “Flab Fighting Triad” – which contain the secret.

Swimming inside your body right now are hormones – little chemical messengers that stimulate certain processes in your body.

When it comes to weight loss, there’s a particularly useful hormone called glucagon.

And what glucagon does is stimulate a fat-burning enzyme called HSL.

HSL is actually what shrinks your fat cells… by breaking down the stored fat so it can be burned off as energy.

It effectively turns your fat burning switch ON.

But when you eat things like bread and pasta? Then glucagon CAN’T do its thing.

Why?

Because of ANOTHER hormone.

One that floods your body whenever you eat sugars and starches. It’s name? Insulin.

And insulin crashes your weight loss party by turning your fat-burning switch OFF.

So the simple key to banish that stubborn belly fat is to eat delicious, satisfying foods that keep your insulin levels in check.”

 

We grasp the information right away, don’t we? It moves fast, but our brains absorbs the basics without our eyes glazing over.

How does he do it?

First, he transforms the hormones into characters who have goals and motives.

Glucagon is the hero of our little story.

He is stalked by an enemy … insulin.

And now that we’ve got the hero and the villain of our story …

Next up? Structure.

Because the second thing Matt does is to set these characters loose into a familiar story structure. (Tell me if you’ve seen it before.)

Glucagon wants to burn fat, but he can’t.

Insulin stands in the way, thwarting our fat-burning hero, glucagon.

But thankfully, there’s a solution … eating certain kinds of foods (delicious ones at that) which can stop insulin in its fat-storing tracks.

Does the structure of this little episode ring a bell?

IDENTITY: Glucagon, our fat burning hero.

STRUGGLE: Big bad insulin prevents using fat as energy

DISCOVERY: Eating certain types of delicious meals to reign in insulin

RESULT: Fat burned as energy, not stored as love handles.

Yep, the 60 Second Sales Hook can be used in all kinds of places … including delivering dry, technical information.

****

P.S.

The tale of the stuffy nose continues:

So the night after my logic hit a brick wall with my daughter, I was prepared with a story:

To wit, the tale of “Snuffly Sucker Nose” (try saying that 3 times fast) … an animal with a nose in the shape of a bulb syringe.

Snuffly roams the countryside, healing troubled animals with the power of his amazing sucker.

“Oh, look! Poor bat, you can’t hear a thing. Let me suck out that ear wax for you. Sllllurp! All better!”

Add to this special effects (funny sucking noises) …

… and it worked (at least once). I managed to use the tool to suck out the snot.

And on that lovely image, let me close with ….

The MORAL

Use the sweet coating of story to deliver the (sometimes) bitter pill of raw data.

 

Do you have a beloved story that effortlessly conveyed dense information? Let me know in the comments below. And,

 

Stay Tuned For Next Week …

In which I wrestle a marketing secret from another Disney story.

 

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Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry is a direct response copywriter who specializes in telling stories. You can contact Scott and learn more about using the power of stories in marketing at marketingwithstory.com.
Showing 9 comments
  • Andrew Hryniewicz
    Reply

    Hi Scott,

    Great story & deconstruction… Thanks for the reference to the Storytelling Animal — I just put it in my Scribd library.
    Here’s a link to his TED talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vhd0XdedLpY (in case you haven’t seen it) or for those who don’t have time for the book.
    Cheers, Andrew

    • Scott McKinstry
      Reply

      Cool, Andrew — I haven’t seen him “in person” ever — I’ll have to give that a watch. His book is packed with great lessons.

    • Bruce Wesley Chenoweth
      Reply

      Thanks for sharing this Andrew. Enlightening!

  • Steven Vaughan
    Reply

    Hi Scott, thank you for one of the most illuminating posts ever!!

  • Bruce Wesley Chenoweth
    Reply

    Brilliant, as usual–and, again, a little bit gross.
    HINT: Children who don’t consume dairy, eggs and rice don’t get snotty …

    • Scott McKinstry
      Reply

      Thanks, Bruce — and for sharing the bit of nutritional advice (though where would I get my material?;)

  • Robin
    Reply

    Ahhh I remember those snotty noses…too bad I didn’t bring about Snuffly Sucker
    Nose

    • Scott McKinstry
      Reply

      Yeah, and the “pro” bulb syringe version we got from the hospital is the way to go. (During the pregnancy, I read to forgo buying the flimsy store-grade versions.)

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