3 Devilish marketing lessons learned from Judgment Day

Judgment Day – May 21, 2011

How to keep your marketing campaigns from eternal damnation

Judgment Day May 21 2011 Billboard

If you are like me, you are probably interested in how a simple “the end is near” type campaign on billboards captured the heart and conversations of a nation. I decided to de-construct the campaign and try to figure out exactly what made it tick (and ultimately explode).

On May 21, 2011 at 6:00PM (in your time zone, no less), the world is coming to an end. How do I know that? Good question. Simply because of the dozen or so billboards scattered around town. You can’t miss ’em! (Unless you’re texting and driving, then you can miss them).

By the beginning of May everyone was talking about it. Didn’t matter your religious background or beliefs, everyone was asking, “So whadaya think about Judgment Day coming on May 21st?”

That wasn’t so much my question I was interested in. Nope, I was interested in “Why in the world is everyone talking about this? What about this message has so many people interested in this marketing campaign?” Even more interesting to me, “How can we learn from their amazingly successful campaign?”

So let’s do a little dissecting and see if we can pick out a couple of gold nuggets that helped this to be different than the typical guy downtown wearing the “End is Near” sign.

There are 3 distinct elements of the message that helped to push their campaign into an amazingly simple yet powerful “mind virus”: Headline, specificity, and authority (trust).

Headline – Grab their attention!

First, the headline grabs your attention: “Judgment Day”. Not the most exciting copy I’ve seen, but man does it resonate deep within the mind.

I remember driving down highway 163 in San Diego, when I first saw one of the billboards. I caught only a glimpse of it, and the only part I saw was “Judgment Day”. I didn’t notice anything else. It stuck in my head, and just had a quick “Hmmm… I wonder what that was about.” The title did its job, it got my ATTENTION.

Assuming you have some sort of marketing campaign, your first job is to get your audience’s attention. If you don’t get their attention in the first 47 milliseconds, you’ve lost them.

I mean, come on, when you hear “Judgment Day” your brain reacts with an internal auditory track from Beethoven’s 5th of “Duh Duh Duh Dummmm”. Of course we’re going to give another 3 seconds of our time to listen. That’s really the only role of the headline – to grab!

What headline are you using right now to attract attention on your website or pay-per-click campaign? Does it resonate with your audience as good as this one? If it’s boring, kill it.

The headline is the star of your landing page. Make it worth reading. Use bone-crushing action verbs: Shocking, dominating, surprising, titillating. Your only job as the headline is to entice them to read more. Need some inspiration to fight boring? Weekly World News – Archives. The world’s only reliable news. 😉

Specificity – Give specific measurable facts

After they’ve gotten our attention, they bring in the big gun,  a specific date: May 21, 2011. (What I believe is the pièce de résistance of this simple message.)

Holy crap! Literally Holy Crap. What brilliance. What genius. The cojones it takes to plaster 2,617 billboards with an exact date of the end of the world is just plain amazing. I mean this guy has got a pair. When I noticed the date on there, I just had to go online and find out what in the world that billboard was about. Who has the audacity to claim they know the exact date and time of the return of Jesus? I’ve gotta check that out when I get home. (Also I wanted to check my calendar to make sure nothing important was happening on that Saturday.)

The marketing rule here is SPECIFICITY and URGENCY. And let me tell you something it works. Really.

Not so successful Judgment Day marketing campaign

NOBODY reacts to the “End is Near”. There is no specificity. No internal spark of desire to listen. Near?!?!? Near to what? Why should I care if something is near. When I hike through the canyons of San Diego, there are always rattlesnakes “near”. So what! But if it happens to be 12 inches just behind my left foot… Then I’ll care. I’ll care a whole lot.

If you are selling a product or service and your marketing message is not specific, but has some milquetoast general statement of “goodness”, you’re going to lose. Big time. Generalities do nothing, and that is exactly the amount of money you’re going to make if you’re not being specific.

Want to survive your own marketing judgment day? Be specific about the benefits that your product or service provides. For example, if you have a widget that allows your customers to complete a task faster than the competition, then measure it, and let people know your specific results. “My widget is 32 seconds faster than the best of the competition”,  not “It’s a lot faster than them”.

“Our TC410 cigarettes have a specialized filter that lowers your risk of lung cancer by 117% over our leading competitor, and it tastes great too!” BAM! I’m buying the TC410 menthols. Well, unless your audience is trying to kill themselves faster, in which case this will lower sales. So make sure your specific message is actually seen as a benefit to your audience. 🙂

Authority – Create trust with your prospects

And finally, what I thought was a really nice touch to their marketing campaign, straight from the online bizop world, a bright starburst in the upper left corner of the billboard declaring, “The Bible guarantees it.” Authority. Trust.

Ka-ching! How would you like to be able to replace your boring “standard 60 day money back guarantee”, with a “100% money back guaranteed by God himself for all of eternity”. Sweet.

So imagine the average person is reading the Judgment Day billboard. The dialog goes something like this:

Billboard: “Judgment Day” (Duh Duh Duh Dummmmmmm)

AJ (Average Joe): “What? Hmmm…”

Billboard: “May 21, 2011”

AJ: “Really?!?!? Bull s*$%! What a moron. Who is the idiot who put that…”

Billboard: “The Bible guarantees it.”

AJ: “Oh Crap. You got my attention and my interest, and I now have a desire to do something. Where can I get more information?”

Billboard: “FamilyRadio.com”

AJ: “Heading home right now!”

Billboard: “Another satisfied customer. Ka-ching!”

So they are able to deflect the natural reaction of “bull s*$%!” by simply pointing to their authority starburst. We won’t go into the fact that that same authority specifically states that no one knows the day or the hour “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Hmmm, maybe they might get this wrong. I suspect that even if that was God’s chosen date, he probably said, “Scrap the plans fellas, some idiot plastered our super-secret-nobody-can-know-end-of-times date everywhere. We’ll get the new date out in the next quarterly memo.”

Sometimes just site the authority and BAM! People fall in line. “Oh crap, they said the Bible said it, so…”

So, how can you reach in and grab some of the same authority for your own landing page optimization tests? Here’s a couple different ways: show testimonials from past happy clients, point to a review by a magazine or a respected blogger, or a third party trusted entity that shows the benefits. These are solid ways of bringing a third party to toot your horn for you. And if all else fails, they know they can get their money back if they aren’t happy (assuming you have the standard money back guarantee).

So now that I’ve ‘splained, let’s sum up. Here’s what we’ve learned from this amazingly simple, yet powerful, campaign:

  1. Grab their ATTENTION (“Judgment Day”)
  2. Use specificity and urgency (“May 21, 2011 at 6:00PM”)
  3. Show authority (“The Bible guarantees it”)

Use these simple lessons to create new tests to optimize your landing pages and marketing campaigns. And you too will be glad that Judgment Day hasn’t come so you have another day to grow your company and sell your drop-dead-awesome products and services.

P.S. – Contact us today to increase your conversion rate . . . (Tomorrow may never come!)

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6 thoughts on “3 Devilish marketing lessons learned from Judgment Day

  1. Entertaining but totally true article 🙂

    General feedback: No twitter account for you guys? And the twitter share implementation doesn’t seem to be working.

    Keep up the great posts!

    1. Thanks! And I’ll get one of the guys to look into why the twitter link isn’t working.

  2. Great post, Jon!

    I didn’t buy the product they were offering, but I was very impressed with the marketing message & techniques.

  3. Great analysis and breakdown of the key points in marketing ads, with a keen sense of humor.

  4. Pandanarol says:

    Nice website! I enjoy several of the articles which were written. I will definately be visiting again!

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