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How To Sell Your Stuff By Telling People Not To Buy It

As an entrepreneur, you want people to read your marketing.  If they don’t, you cannot sell to them.

sell without selling
Example ad headline utilising Sell By Not Selling.

Here’s an example observed by John Caples (well-known copywriter) and mentioned in his book, Tested Advertising Methods:

When newspaper readers first saw this ad, they gasped with amazement.  Never before had they seen an ad that said: “Don’t buy.”  All previous ads had said “Buy…buy…buy.”  Thus the headline of the ad accomplished its purpose.  It stopped people and made them read.  The ad was so successful in selling desks that it was used over and over again. (pg. 52)

This was a negative disqualification that was able to provoke curiosity so well that the ad was read and resulted in sales after consumers read the entire copy.  Additionally, story appeal and news headlines also utilise marketing disqualification well, but we’re not going to discuss this technique at this time since it doesn’t directly utilise Neg Theory.

The imperfect compliment should complement

For this technique, you have to be very careful.  It can give a brand a poor name if done improperly.  At the moment, I know of two situations where this technique has been used quite effectively.  Essentially, your advert will pick apart the product’s imperfections and eventually by the end of the ad copy, these minor imperfections are overcome in some way.

For the first example, you’ve likely seen the confession-style ad copy.  This typically utilises an authority in a field or industry confessing something about a product, service or even him/herself.  Jeff Sexton wrote an article on what he calls “Reverse Camouflage“:

Want to stand out?  Sharply define the edges between you and your competitors.

The better you do this, the more strongly you’ll turn-off some customers.  But wouldn’t you rather powerfully persuade some of your market than be overlooked by all of it?

Just follow the example of this doctor:

I found this ad in my local newspaper and was immediately struck by the bold headline:

“You don’t want me to be your family doctor.” 

 selli without selling

Pretty ballsy headline for a doctor, huh?  Wouldn’t you feel compelled to read more about this doctor with the courage to so brazenly declare what he wasn’t?

Having gained the reader’s attention, the body copy further explains: “Neurosurgery is one of the few medical specialties for which I am well-suited.  I am not warm and fuzzy.  I could never be successful as a pediatrician or in a family practice – no one would come back a second time.  But I am very good at what I do.”

Dr. Goodman then substantiates his claimed expertise with a list of very impressive professional qualifications and accomplishments, rounded off with some examples of his extreme commitment to surgical excellence and his patients’ well-being.

While his professional qualifications are truly outstanding, most readers would never have read them without Dr. Goodman’s use of reverse camouflage in his headline.  Saying what he wasn’t allowed him to stand out amidst the clutter.

In the above example, the imperfect compliment is used solely to gather attention and readers.  There is also a technique used to up-sell products and services.

Consumers are aware that there is no such thing as a perfect product.  Some marketers have come to the conclusion that they can sell more than one product to the consumer to become more believable.  This is widely used in the beauty industry.

Look at skin care products, for example.  Most products in this industry are sold for specific purposes.  The same skin care product ingredients could be sold to decrease wrinkles around your eyes and around any other part of your face.  However, it is more believable to sell the same product in different labeling — such as a separate labeling for eyes, forehead wrinkles, neck wrinkles, etcetera.

Another example of this is the emergence of flogs with use of the “dynamic duo.”  These are fake blogs written in the form of a testimonial for two or more products. Essentially, the copywriter writes about the benefits of each product and how they complement each other and how using both is the only way to get the desired results.  This technique works well since you can (in theory, anyway) double your sales and also appear more “honest” with admitting that no product is perfect.

In summary, the sell by not selling strategy has at least two purposes in marketing:

  1. Since people are used to being told to buy countless times in any one day, you disqualify your ad copy by using a non-selling headline (i.e., “Don’t buy X”).  This allows people to read your copy much easier if they’re not looking to buy at the moment.  You cannot sell if consumers will not read your message.
  2. The imperfect compliment makes your copy more realistic and believable.  It may also have some effective attention grabbing benefits.

Give it a shot in your marketing 🙂


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