Using Logic (The Human Kind) To Write Better Marketing Content


When I was in high school, a teacher named Mr. Knight had the groundbreaking idea to teach philosophy to teenagers. He started the class in a very provocative way, by saying this: “Everything in the world is either a pig or not a pig.”  

That sentence was Mr. Knight’s introduction to logical reasoning, logical  arguments, and logical fallacies. These are very useful tools. Not because they will help you win arguments, because they won’t. In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between the preposterousness of a speaker’s argument and how offended they are that you point this out. 

But if you understand logical fallacies, they do help you do two things that are important in marketing:

  1. Craft pitches that are more effective, and more bulletproof. These will help you make more money. 
  2. Avoid falling for empty promises. This will keep you from wasting money — and time, which is even more expensive, because you can’t get it back and you can’t make any more of it. 

The vast quantities of content generated every day in the 21st century, the constant exposure we have to marketing messages, and the many thousands of unqualified people who are creating those messages all mean that if you know what to look for, you can spot logical fallacies (AKA “bovine waste”) every day. 

Circular Reasoning: Lazy Arguments Make For Weak Ads & Anemic Sales

Let’s take just one example you see all the time: Circular reasoning, or a circular argument. It goes like this: “It is valuable to know A, B, C, because then you will know A, B, C.”

This argument is commonly used in advertising when the advertiser can’t—or doesn’t bother to—come up with a clear and compelling benefit. 

Sleep trackers are a perfect example. They confuse the heck out of me. I’m not confused about why they exist. I’m confused about how they’re marketed. 

The alarm app I use on my phone has such a tracker, which works by recording sounds. It faithfully reports that each night I have several periods of waking, snoring, coughing, and restlessness. It takes into account these disturbances and rates my sleep efficiency at 77%, or just a C+. A C+ is not awful, but neither is it within striking distance of the Dean’s List. 

And yet, this mediocre grade does not worry me very much. That’s because the app allows me to tap on the display of any of my supposed waking/snoring/restless periods for a recording of the event, and when I do, I hear…the cat.

Rudy, the cat, sitting defiantly on a bed
Rudy the cat

The cat’s name is Rudy, short for Evinrude, because she purrs a lot. She sleeps between me and the nightstand, so the phone’s microphone picks up her sounds, not mine. The app interprets Rudy’s scratching, grooming, repositioning, and attacking lumps in the duvet as me waking up. Purring is interpreted as “snoring.” Rudy’s collar has a tiny bell on it to save the lives of neighborhood lizards, although occasionally she finds a deaf one. When Rudy scratches her neck in a way that spins her collar around and makes the bell ring, the app thinks that’s “coughing”. It sounds to me more like a “musical seizure,” but apparently my app has a limited comparison set to draw from.

In short, it’s the cat who’s getting the C+, not me. And I know she doesn’t care about her sleep grade at night, because she is a genius at it during the day. Put her in a sunny spot on the carpet, right where you’re most likely to trip over her on your way into the laundry room, and she earns the Summa Cum Laude of sleep. 

My smart watch also tracks sleep, and has, of late, been suggesting that I wear it to bed, so I did some research on sleep trackers. I learned that they all track similar kinds of data, and give you reports about how long it took you to reach deep sleep, and how long you stayed there; how often you woke up, whether you snored, and your overall sleep efficiency, whatever that means. All the reviews, ads, videos and blog posts about sleep trackers say that this is a very desirable feature of devices like smart watches. And they all offer the same reason for presenting you with this data, which is, “so you’ll know.”  

OK. And then what? What are you supposed to DO with that information? The ads and reviews don’t explain. (I do not count the YouTuber whose explanation was only, “That which can be measured can be improved”. Oh yeah? Tell that to the speed of light or the atomic weight of hydrogen.)

How are you supposed to improve your sleep performance? You can’t control it when you’re asleep. Wouldn’t knowing you’re a sub-par sleeper cause you anxiety, making it even harder to achieve peak sleeping performance? And if you did, somehow, manage to increase your grade, from, say, a C+ to an A, would your app give you something cool? I don’t want another digital trophy and some pixelated confetti, like I get from my language-learning app. If those incentives worked I’d be writing this in Italian. 

This kind of marketing is an example of “circular reasoning” — an argument that just keeps going round and round in circles without ever presenting anything new as a conclusion. “It is valuable to collect data about how well you sleep because then you will have valuable data about how well you sleep” is not a useful argument or the basis for effective advertising. Sure, you might get some people who aren’t paying attention, but you’ll be losing a lot more who aren’t convinced, and you’ll spend an awful lot of money reaching those non-buying audiences. 

As part of my research I found the most extreme example of circular reasoning in a video review of a smart watch that tracks many kinds of health statistics. “It’s important to know your health data,” the reviewer said, “because then you’ll know more about your health. For instance, this function tracks your oxygenation, this one tracks your heart rate, and this one tracks your blood pressure. So now you’ll have all that data.” And that means…what, exactly? One assumes there are benefits for many people to know these things. Why didn’t the reviewer take five minutes to research them and explain what they are? 

Simple Copywriting Solution For Better Ads: Crafting A More Powerful Argument

The smart move is to avoid the circular argument and offer a solution. It will take you a bit more thought, but the result will be more compelling, more bulletproof, and make more effective use of your media budget. It is literally a better argument. 

You might tell audiences what can improve their sleep, for example, like practicing better sleep hygiene, winding down screens before bed, or trying meditation.  Maybe you can set up the app so that a certain level of snoring, or interruptions in breathing, will suggest a visit to a doctor might be in order (assuming, of course, that you’re accurately tracking people, not pets). You might decide to simplify your app to restrict the data you collect to only include that which is useful, instead of piling on features, just because you can. 

An even better approach is to find out more about what your target audiences wants in a sleep tracker, and tailor both your product and your pitch to those needs. Now your customers have a reason to buy your product beyond “it collects data.”

Circular reasoning isn’t the only logical fallacy used in advertising. In future posts maybe I’ll write about some of the others. The Bandwagon Fallacy, perhaps, otherwise known as FOMO, which is dangerous from both ends. It misleads customers when you use it to sell things to them, and it makes marketers fall for wasteful and ineffective trends. But if you like it, I’ve got a virtual vault full of tarnished crypto and barely-used NFTs to sell you. 


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