Michael Cassman

Get Ivan outta the room – write better ads

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This is one of the most comically absurd yet effective methods you’ll ever read for creating an ad that resonates with your audience.

It goes like this: 

  • imagine yourself in a bar with your ideal prospect, let’s call him Bob.
  • you overhear him complaining to the bartender about a problem in his life. A problem you solve.
  • You approach him and initiate a conversation about the problem. And by using the power of superior salesmanship, this chance meeting evolves into a consuming, hushed 1-on-1 conversation seething with feverish energy and excitement until Bob can’t wait to buy what you’re offering.

So far it’s a fantastic visual exercise, but there was always one major problem for me…

Like many advertisers, I didn’t give Bob enough venom. I initially imagined him as a brainless, spineless pushover. 

I’d imagine Bob hanging on every word, offering no resistance, no objections… Bob was very forgiving if I slipped up and was practically handing me cash before I even finished the pitch. 

That, boys and girls, is called delusion, cause selling never happens like that.

And as long as I kept that up, the exercise was very unrealistic and unhelpful.

So I spiced it up a little bit.

I introduced a third character into the scene.

Meet Ivan.

As you can see, Ivan is a big, muscley Russian dude with a bad attitude. Hates you. Hates freedom. Hates your product.

He’s the bodyguard that stands between you and your potential customer, Bob.

Ivan’s only job is to keep uninvited guests (like you) out of Bob’s life and make sure he doesn’t get taken advantage of.

You can help Bob, but there’s just one big problem… IVAN.

You have to get through Ivan before you even have a chance at a heart-to-heart chat with Bob. And Ivan would sooner snap your femur than let you approach Bob unannounced.

But here’s the trick.

…even though Ivan protects Bob, Bob controls Ivan, so if you can get a foot… even just a toe in the door and snag Bob’s attention…

…Ivan might, just might, have no choice but to let you say your piece.

But you only have ONE CHANCE.

So now let’s see how the exercise plays out:

  • Bob has a problem that you solve and he’s sitting at the bar complaining to the bartender…
  • You approach Bob… 
  • Ivan pounces out from behind the bar and grabs you by the throat, you have one gasp to shout whatever you need to get Bob’s attention and prove your worth before Ivan’s iron grip puts you to sleep.

You open your mouth and screeeeeeaaaam!

And whatever comes out… that’s your headline.

If your headline resonates, Bob will turn and shout

“Ivan you Communist brute! Put him down and let him speak!”

If your headline misses the mark, Bob won’t even turn away from the bar. “If he dies…he dies.” (Ivan – Rocky IV)

Assuming you hook Bob with a killer headline, Ivan will release you, but he’s not going anywhere…

…he’s still hovering like a lingering Red Scare, listening over your shoulder, objecting to every word you say to make sure you don’t pull a fast one on Bob.

“Bob, I can help you with X”

“No you can’t, you have no idea what he’s going through.”

“Actually, I do. I’ve helped many people like you Bob.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Yes it is, and here’s the proof.”

“Just because it works for others doesn’t mean it’ll work for Bob.”

It will work because my solution does X and helps you X, by giving you X.”

*(scheming in Russian)*

And the dance goes on. Every time you make a claim, Ivan spits out a nasty objection with a gruff Russian accent.

If you fail to respond to an objection, Bob will feed you to Ivan.

Your goal in this mental exercise is to counter every reasonable objection from Ivan until Bob gets fed up with it:


That’s your victory. 

If you can get Bob so interested in your pitch that he sends Ivan out of the room, you’re now in a position to engage in that hushed 1-on-1 conversation that makes the sales magic happen.

You hooked him, you countered his most violent objections and now you’ve gained his trust and entry into his world where the resistance is lighter and the objections…less… menacing.

At this point in the sales process, you’ve done a lot of grunt work but it all hangs in the balance as you approach the most delicate part of the sales process…

Closing the deal! 

And I’ll write about that another time.

So what do you think of Ivan? Is he a helpful addition to the exercise? What weird methods do you use to get in the “flow” of good ad writing? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

CREDIT: John Carlton for the initial “bar-room conversation” imagination exercise

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