If you want to turn off an audience, the quickest way to do it is through desperation. So why do I see so much desperation in advertisements these days? Here are some examples of emails that I received and promptly deleted. Emphasis is from the original.
“This could not get any worse, Matthew…[W]ith less than 12 hours until our FINAL deadline before the primary, [our candidate] is falling DANGEROUSLY short of his goal and what we need to win.”
“I hate to be so blunt: but if 62 [people] don’t chip in tonight, we will miss our August fundraising goal…and struggle to survive through November.”
“Right now, that means making sure we reach our critical goal before midnight – and we’re still $107,124 short. So please, before you go to bed tonight, Matthew, I want to personally ask: Can I count on you to donate?…”
It’s not just politics. I scheduled a service appointment at my car dealership, and I’m getting bombarded with phone calls, texts, and emails from the dealership asking if I can talk to a sales associate about buying a new car. Even when I told them this is for a routine service visit for a car I just bought, I’m still getting urgent messages.
Why is desperation such a turn off, and what should you do instead?
Issue 1: Your problem isn’t my problem
Now, I will be so blunt: Why is it my problem that you don’t have enough donations or you’re not meeting some artificial deadline? I have plenty of demands on my time and money and my own set of deadlines to meet. If you’re not meeting your quotas, it has no impact on me. I don’t want to feel responsible for something that is your problem. It’s not up to me to save your campaign or job. We have urgent problems of our own, and we’re sure you wouldn’t show the same concern about ours.
What to do instead: Convince me why it will benefit me to help you reach your goals. It’s the WIIFM factor. It’s why car dealerships offer great bargains at the end of the month when they must meet their quotas. It’s why writers sell you on themselves so you’ll want to pick up their books. If you show me why supporting you benefits me, I’ll be glad to make that donation. You won’t even have to beg.
Issue 2: Don’t come crying to me
We like to consider ourselves caring people. But when someone we don’t know comes crying to us, it raises suspicion instead of compassion. We feel we’re being manipulated, and the other person is using our empathy against us. Even if we care about that person or the cause, the maudlin display of emotion makes us uncomfortable. It’s as if they’re scolding us because we’re not as upset as they think we should be. As a result, we become resentful and tune out.
What to do instead: Even if your situation is desperate, maintain your dignity as much as you can. We are more willing to help someone who deals with a crisis with calm, forbearance, resourcefulness, and even a sense of humor. We know that this person has the internal strength to get through their problems with a little bit of support.
When we look at someone who begs, pleads, and acts needy, we see someone who seeks to become dependent on us. When we give to them, they will ask for more and whine when they don’t think we’ve given enough. Show that you’re willing to help yourself, and we’ll be willing to help you.
Issue 3: Don’t cry wolf
We have an abundance of things to worry about today. So when we’re told about one more thing we should be fearful or outraged about, we become skeptical — especially when we’re told something is going to “DESTROY!,” “CRUSH!,” or “ANNIHILATE!”
We also get suspicious when we’re told that we must meet an “urgent” deadline, but a new “urgent” deadline comes up a few weeks later. Or when a salesperson tells us, “This deal absolutely will not be repeated!” A few weeks later, we find the same item at an even lower price.
Such desperate and urgent warnings cause you to lose credibility even if you are sincere and intend to keep your word. We’ve been burned too many times falling for warnings that turned out to be false.
What to do instead: Save your warnings and precautions for important things and back them up with facts. If we don’t donate to this cause, what are the actual consequences? If an offer won’t be made again, is it because the item is being discontinued or you have to raise your prices? Remember that when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Save your urgent pleas for what is truly urgent.
Desperate times don’t always call for desperate measures
We occasionally face do-or-die matters of survival. So does everyone else. But when you come at us crying and screaming warnings, we tune out. As compassionate as we are, we hate being manipulated or guilted into doing something. We feel you are using us and seek to become dependent on us. At the same time, we feel you wouldn’t have the same concerns about our problems.
How do you convince us to see the same urgency you do? You need to sway us to your way of thinking. Show us what the issues are and how they affect us. Save your red flags for truly crucial issues. Then, show how we can benefit by working with you. Convince us that we can solve our problems by helping you solve yours.
Even in difficult times, do not lose your self-control and dignity. When you confront us with constant desperation, we tune out. If you express hope, we will listen and support you.