The Best Advertising Teaches People Something

Advertisers have forgotten the golden rule of writing that high-school English teachers labored to hammer into all our heads: Show, Don’t Tell.

When we try to get people as excited as we are about our products, we can do some pretty outlandish things just to capture their attention. With more content vying for consumer attention every second, the most maverick thing to do is to go back to basics: use your ads to teach people something that makes their lives a little better than they were yesterday.

You can see this strategy at work in the four commercials that Apple just ran during the World Cup. In four 30-second commercials, they advertised the iPhone X by showing people how to do awesome things with it:

  1. How you can shoot with Slo-mo
  2. How you can shoot with backlight
  3. How you can shoot with Burst mode
  4. How you can shoot with Pano

The most that a high-profile endorsement or a multimillion-dollar Facebook campaign can do is get your brand’s name stuck in people’s heads. A well-placed tutorial video, on the other hand, can show people how to accomplish totally new things with your product — and that’s what’ll make them genuinely want to use it.

Pivot from “impressive” to “empowering”

When you spend years designing, testing, and using a product, you can get myopic when it comes to marketing. When you think you’re inspiring people to do great things with your product, you might actually be scaring them off from ever using it.

The growth in Apple’s iPhone campaigns over the years tells the story of a company that’s taken this lesson to heart. See if you remember this campaign:

Back in the iPhone 6 era, Apple tried to empower its customers by elevating their photos to the level of professional art, publishing those photos as giant billboards all over the world.

That campaign definitely empowered the ordinary folks who saw their pictures and names up in lights. But what about everyone walking by? If you saw all those pictures on your walk through an airport, would your first response be, “Wow, I really can take professional-looking pictures”?

I doubt it. I think it’s more likely that you’d feel intimidated. Maybe all those people with their names on the wall know something you don’t — maybe they took a photo class, or maybe they just know how to manipulate their phones’ photo settings better than you do.

When you try to impress people by telling them that others have done great things with your product, you run the risk of alienating them rather than uplifting them. Just because others did something great with a phone, doesn’t mean they can. After all, buying a fancy camera wouldn’t make them a professional photographer, either.

So, how do you get people to genuinely believe they can take photos just as great as the ones they see in ads wherever they go? Show them how easy it is to take those pictures.

That’s what makes these new tutorial ads so effective: they open up the black box and show people that there’s no reason why pictures of this quality are beyond their reach. Watch these ads and you’ll see exactly what goes into using this product effectively — and then, since you’ve been exposed to tutorials for the product from Day 1, you’ll be comfortable asking further questions, increasing your facility with the product, and ultimately getting even more out of it.

That’s the kind of customer that grows into a true evangelist.

Make tutorials for your simplest features

Advertising a tutorial video even on a small scale — let alone during a worldwide soccer tournament — can feel like you put your shoes on backward. That kind of technical assistance is supposed to live in your support center, not your front page. Right?

Apple cracked the code here: the trick is to advertise tutorials for features so simple that they don’t really need tutorials.

Look at the steps that they give in the commercial on how to shoot Burst mode:

  1. Find the right angle.
  2. Hold the shutter to active Burst mode.
  3. Select your favorite photo.

That’s not exactly an in-depth technical explanation. But that’s the point!

If you’ve built an intuitive user interface, you don’t really need elaborate explanations to show people how to use your product. And most of these different photo modes will briefly explain themselves right there on your screen.

These ads are tutorials, but they’re not meant to fill support tickets; they’re meant to show people who would never have the courage to try out these product features that amazing pictures are within their reach.

It will definitely feel weird to make a tutorial video about your product’s simplest features — it feels like your product team has done something wrong if you need an explainer video for the easiest tasks. But here’s the thing: not everyone is great at asking for help. If they see a professional-looking end product that someone made using your incredibly easy-to-use tool, they probably won’t assume that the tool’s easy to use — and they might never take the initiative to ask how the tool works.

If people don’t realize that your product is dead-simple to use, its simplicity doesn’t matter.

Make your next ad educational

Forget name recognition. If people are comfortable and confident succeeding with your product, they’ll want to tell everyone about it, and the rest will follow. On the other hand, if people know your name but are too intimidated to use it, you’ll be losing potential customers.

Try an experiment: take your product’s simplest feature and give your team an afternoon to make a 30-second video explaining it. Share it with some friends, and see what they think. Then, share it with people who’ve never used your product, and see what they think.

Then, share it on your company’s Facebook as a sponsored post — and see what the world thinks. Your tutorial just might give people the know-how to start succeeding with your product on the first try.


The Best Advertising Teaches People Something was originally published in Savage Thoughts on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.