Rude people have it easy. A small act of kindness on their part shocks us. Sometimes it shocks us into action. Yesterday, a normally rude person at the supermarket spotted me. She looked at me with a smile and said
“Pistachio’s are half price for today only.”
It shocked me in two ways. She was nice. And she remembered that I like pistachios.
The Punchline Effect
She used what I like to call the Punchline Effect. It compelled me to buy. How could I say ‘no’ after that?
It’s a powerful tool in marketing. You don’t see it used often.
Here’s how it works.
When a comedian tells you a joke, she leads you in one direction and then, at the last second, she goes in a different direction. It defies your expectation. We call that the punchline.
Here’s an example of this effect in storytelling.
My friend Bill wakes up each morning before everyone else. He makes breakfast for his wife and kids. At work, he’s the go-to guy when someone struggles with a problem. He always volunteers for the tough issues. People love him for that. After work, he spends a half hour volunteering as a mentor for troubled youth, unless his kids have soccer practice. On the weekends he coaches his kid’s soccer team. Yesterday, he got home early. There’s a knock on the door. It’s the father of his older kids friend. He says “your wife left her bag at Tim’s playdate today.” Bill smiles and says “thanks.” Before he closes the door he adds “Oh… and if you talk to my wife again, I’ll kill you.”
Everything I told you until the last sentence led you to believe one thing about Bill. Now, your opinion turns upside down with the last comment.
Shock Them Into Action
Creating the punchline effect in marketing requires some creativity. Think about your end goal. What do you want them to walk away believing? Once you have that, construct a story that leads them in an alternate direction. With those two pieces, you create the punchline effect.
Your story should lead your audience to believe. Avoid telling them what to believe. I never said Bill was a nice person in the beginning. I never said he turned out to be crazy. You concluded that from his actions.
The Five Step Process
Follow these steps to create your own punchline effect
- Determine the end state you want your reader to conclude.
- Convey it through story or actions.
- End it with a bang. The ending should surprise the reader. “I never would have guessed that.”
- Important: avoid being blunt or “telling” – the reader must conclude the end state you desire. In my story above, I didn’t say Bill is crazy. I let you conclude that.
- Re-read your piece and ask yourself: How would a reader fill in the blanks? This serves as a check to your earlier work. It’s easy to go astray here. Better yet, ask someone else to read your piece. Make sure they come to the conclusion you intend.