The other day I was driving to a meeting outside London.

My CD player is broken so I started to mess around with the car radio, trying to find something decent.

Radio 4 was too annoying – one of those plays where the actors have bad American accent.
Radio 1 – well, I’m far too old for that.
Radio 2 – Celine Dion was warbling so I turned it off.
Radio 6 (which I sometimes like) – was playing some awful thing by a spotty indie band.

So in frustration I went off-piste…

Suddenly I was listening to some tiny local radio golden oldie show.

It was okay… The Byrds, the Kinks, that sort of thing.

And then the adverts came on.

The first was for a local car dealership. Obviously I was driving, so I couldn’t write this down, but I recall it went something like this…

“Come along to Blah blah Cars, great quality cars at value you cannot beat! Come and test drive one of over 4,000 used cars! Or join us this weekend for our mega family day bonanza, with face-painting for the kids and a bouncy castle. You could enter a prize daw to win £1000! Just come to Blah Blah road, or call XXXXX for details.”

I say “blah blah cars” because I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was called after the rapid-fire voice-over.

And it made me laugh because it said a lot of things and also nothing at all.

Suddenly I shouted “THE POWER OF ONE!” at the radio.


Well this ad broke one of the main rules of persuasion…

It tried to cram a load of different information into the advert…

The price, the number of cars, the special weekend event, the prize draw, the location and the phone number.

You’ve probably heard ads like that on the radio – it’s almost quaint!

But if you do this with your online marketing, you’re going to become a cropper.

At least when a radio ad comes on, that 30 seconds of airtime is devoted entirely to the advert…

But online marketing these days is like having four or five radio ads playing at once, and hoping your potential customer gets your message.

Your customer is likely to see your message among a whole heap of other messages… for instance it could be just one of dozens of Facebook Posts on their screen, not to mention the ads and pop ups on the side.

Or it could be one of 20 unread emails in their inbox…

Or a banner on a page full of alluring article headlines, videos and clickable pictures.

If they’re on mobiles they might be also talking with friend, staring out a bus window, watching TV, or listening to the radio.

It’s like shouting through a noisy crowd.

So you need to hit home hard with a clear message that sticks immediately in your prospects’ heads.

Throwing a load of different benefits, hooks and promises at them is just going to add to the noise and sense of overload.

To help you avoid this, I’m going to share with you a classic persuasion technique you can use to cut through the noise online, and ensuring that your potential customer knows who you are and what they have to gain from paying attention to you.

Introducing the Power of One

The legendary advertising guru David Ogilvy once said that every great sales promotion must be based on a single, powerful thread or big idea.

This is what we call the Power of One. And it applies as much to online marketing as it ever did to direct mail advertising.

The rule is this: make sure there is ONE strong core idea that runs through your promotional copy. And by ‘promotional copy’ I mean anything where you are trying to get someone to respond:

  • Email sign up pages
  • Banner and pop up ads
  • Facebook sponsored posts
  • Email sales blast
  • Tweets that require action
  • Surveys, questionnaire
  • Sign ups for priority invitation lists
  • Request for feedback

That ONE idea needs to be something credible that the reader can grasp immediately. Something that offers a clear benefit, whether it is achieving a goal or overcoming a problem.

To give you some examples, in his 1941 book, How to Write a Good Advertisement Victor Schwab (the “greatest mail-order copywriter of all time”) reveals a list of successful headlines, 90% of which are based on single ideas.

They include:

  • “The Secret of Making People Like You”
  • “Is the Life of a Child Worth $1 to You?”
  • “To Men Who Want to Quit Work Someday”
  • “Are You Ever Tongue-Tied at a Party?”
  • “How a New Discovery Made a Plain Girl Beautiful”
  • “Who Else Wants a Screen Star Figure?”
  • “You Can Laugh at Money Worries – If You Follow This Simple Plan”
  • “When Doctors Feel Rotten This is What They Do””How I Improved My Memory in One Evening”
  • “Discover the Fortune That Lies Hidden In Your Salary”
  • “How I Made a Fortune with a ‘Fool Idea'”
  • “Have You a ‘Worry’ Stock?”

These are all instantly comprehensible ideas.

You can read those headlines and know what’s in store and why it might be of benefit to you. This is a far more powerful approach than hitting the reader with a cluster of promises so that they have to sift through for the one that appeals to them.

Going back to our car dealership…

They could have said something along the lines of…

“This weekend, we’re giving away £1,000 to one lucky visitor to our showroom. Come and check out our range of discounted second-hand Hondas and you could walk away a grand richer. All you have to do is visit our XXX showroom between 10am and 4pm this Saturday.”

Okay, so that’s not polished or snappy. I’m not a radio ad man, but it’s a clear single message. It’s all about that £1,000 prize. You build the advert around that…

Or you could take the price, say a discount or offer, and build the advert around that.

To put this into action, think about the next big promotional message you have lined up.

The power of one means you have think of the following…

What’s the ONE big idea?

An example could be that you’re offering an online crash course in Spanish. Your big idea could be “We can teach you conversational Spanish in 12 weeks without you leaving your house.”

What’s the ONE story that proves or illustrates this idea?

“We just taught Mary Smith to speak Spanish from home in 12 weeks, with no previous knowledge at all. Now she’s on holiday Spain, ordering food, booking trips and speaking to locals.”

What’s the ONE promise?

We can teach you conversational Spanish in 12 weeks or your money back!

What’s the ONE emotion the reader should feel?

“Wow, this seems easy. If they can do it, maybe I can do it!.”

What’s the ONE action they need to take?

“Click here to start your 12 week trial and get instant access to your first lesson.”

If you can answer the above for your next message, you essentially have a ready-made template for an advert or headline.

Of course, a long copy sales promotion can then go into the many different benefits and features of your product, but this single big idea should be returned to throughout that copy, almost like a chorus in a song.

This is known as a ‘golden thread’. It’s a term for that big single idea which runs through a whole piece of copy, so that the reader is in no doubt about what you’re offering.

Give it a go. Try it in your next piece of online copy.