Zen and the art of understatement

8 June 2012 | By Michael
Zen and the art of understatement

“You are never dedicated to something that you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”

– Robert Persinger, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

In a sense this idea is pretty counterintuitive. It suggests that the most ardent believers are riddled – or at least tinged – with uncertainty. We naturally assume that the reason people take part in a demo is to convince others their point of view is right. Maybe they are also marching to convince themselves they are right.

Persinger’s zinger also suggests that at some level, we who observe those fervently displaying their beliefs know they are doing it because they aren’t really a hundred percent. We’re not surprised – are we? – when an evangelical campaigner who argues zealously that gay people can be ‘cured’ of their ‘disease’ is himself revealed to be gay.

What is the lesson for marketers? When brands make repetitious statements in effect declaring “we are amazing, we are phenomenal, we are the absolute best, you will find no better in the whole wide world!” it can be effective. But it can also be intuited by consumers as the shriek of a religious fanatic. And in an age when consumers, bombarded with advertising as never before, are having to be ever more discriminating in order to tell genuine from would-be quality, making bold, sweeping and absolutist statements can seem desperate – and suspicious.

This is one of the reasons understatement in advertising can be so powerful. It assumes an underlying confidence that rivals cannot match. It does not shout stridently; it states calmly. Perhaps thinking and talking about your brand as the rising sun rather than the Messiah is the way forward. Less really can be more.

One Comment

  1. Amber
    Posted 14 September 2012 at 1.46 am | Permalink

    I believe in this. Many times you see people shouting their beliefs until they are blue in the face. Those kinds of people do not look confident, merely desperate or sometimes pathetic. I find that the ones who silently sit back and allow people to make the judgement for themselves are the confident ones. They are able to portray themselves as wise, in a sense which, in the retail/consumer business can be a valuable asset. A consumer would probably be more likely to follow someone who is calm, collected, sure, and wise rather then someone who is desperate and screaming about the absolute perfection their product is.

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