Loving What’s “New”—Frank Luntz & Words That Work


What intrigues you the most about a commercial? Is it the glitz of the world they provide? Or the glam of the actors presented? Or maybe those who are behind the scenes just know how to use WORDS THAT WORK.

Americans have a habit of loving what is “new.” New phones. New TVs. New clothes. New everything. The only way that something can be the best is if it’s the newest on the shelf. Frank Luntz in his book Words That Work says this about the I-need-new mindset:

Americans are easily bored. If something doesn’t shock or surprise us, we move on to something else. We are always in search of the next big thing, whether it be the next American Idol, a new television “reality” show, a new gee-whiz techno-gizmo, the latest Madonna makeover, or something else that we haven’t seen or heard before. Our tastes change as quickly as the seasons, and we expect the rest of society to keep up (pp. 14-15).

Besides for maybe the Madonna comment, he hit the nail on the head. Which the Madonna part just shows even more so that we want what’s new—Madonna is who your parents listened to; therefore, she is no longer new enough to be worthy of our ears and our attention.
But it isn’t just the newness that matters. It’s also the shock value. Luntz continues by saying:

As individuals, while we appreciate the predictability of friends and family, we also cherish those things that surprise and shock us—provided that the outcome is pleasant rather than painful. It’s the reason why many of us, in our free time, prefer to try different vacation destinations, different hotels, different restaurants, and different experiences rather than the tried and true. There is something deep in our character that embraces the pioneering spirit, going where no one has ever gone before, doing what no one has ever done before. If an opportunity is truly new and different, it will attract our attention, our interest, and our participation (p. 15).

So, now it’s more than just having the newest gadget. It’s being the best pioneer. It’s being an interesting human who does interesting things. It’s being “shocking” and “surprising.”

Well, tons of advertisements today take on that whole “shocking” and “surprising” deal. Think about the Sears “Ship My Pants” commercials. Whoa. Those were definitely shocking. I can’t tell you how many times I misheard those ones. But hey, I have to give it to them. They did what they meant to do—get my attention.

Or what about those Hardee’s and Carl Jr.’s commercials with model Charlotte McKinney? Those were shocking and surprising in a whole different type of way. Instead of engaging your ears, these commercials engaged your eyes. And not in a good way. But again, I have to give them props, because guess what I am currently talking about? Their company! What’s that other saying that the media uses all the time? Oh, right. “Any press is good press.”

So, in order to have a great business campaign and get people interested in your products, how does one make something “new” and “shocking,” you may ask? Well, the answer comes from none other than Luntz, once again:

Words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea…So from a business perspective, you should tell consumers something that gives them a brand-new take on an old idea…The combination of surprise and intrigue creates a compelling message. Although often executed with humor, what matters most is that the message brings sense of discovery, a sort of “Wow, I never thought about it that way” reaction (p. 15).

There’s that idea again: discovery—pioneering. Your product needs to make people feel like they’re getting new and different with your product that they couldn’t get anywhere else. Since our tastes and preferences for advertisements and products seems to change with the seasons, making new ways to think about something old is the way to go.

Think about the Mad Men episode where Don Draper is pitching a new advertisement series for Lucky Strike cigarettes. All he really needs to make the company become a headliner is to make a new slogan or a “new way of thinking” about their product. So, without having the change the product at all, he is able to do this and does it well. He comes up with the slogan, “It’s toasted.” This saying invokes a feeling of “cool-ness” when you buy them. The idea of the tobacco being toasted also invokes a feeling of home and an old-fashioned style of manufacturing tobacco and cigarettes. So, of course, people begin to flock to Lucky Strike for all of their cigarette needs, and even though the business men know that cigarettes are not good for you, they’re able to basically do a Jedi mind trick on the consumers through just two words in order to entice them into buying little tobacco sticks.

So, I guess the moral of the story is that it really all depends on how you market something as to how well or horribly it will be accepted. “It’s not what you say. It’s what people hear,” is the catch phrase for Frank Luntz on the front of his book, and I don’t think there is a truer statement out there (besides the whole like Jesus-died-and-rose-again-for-our-sins and related statements). You can have the best, newest, most technologically advanced phone ready for the market, but if you have an ad campaign that generates no sense of discovery nor evokes any emotion that would draw the consumer in, then your product will most likely collect dust on the shelf until it’s pulled.

But saying the right thing so that people hear the right thing applies in all areas of life. Knowing your audience, and I mean more than just their age, is a very important key in connecting with them. This means your friends, significant others, family members, etc. You don’t talk to them all the same way, of course. So, you have to know them to know what to say, and like Luntz said, “It’s not what you say. It’s what people hear.”