THE BLOG
02/06/2013 01:20 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2013

4 Things a Beetle Can Teach You About Persuasion

By now, you've likely seen or heard about the Volkswagen Super Bowl ad that features a white middle-aged Minnesota man with a Jamaican accent. The premise of the ad is that his VW Beetle makes him so happy that he that walks around the office spreading happiness. The ad uses the tag line "Get in. Get Happy" and you can hear Jimmy Cliff, singing his version of TV series The Partridge Family theme song, "C'mon, Get Happy."

Of course, it's the Jamaican accent that provides the humor. Some people have claimed that the ad is culturally insensitive, however, based on YouTube and Twitter comments it seems that the majority of people find the commercial enjoyable. But no matter which side of the fence you are on, we all can learn quite a bit about how to be more persuasive from this 60-second advertisement.

1. Humor is Persuasive

First, humor can have a profound impact on persuasion. Humor makes the listener feel good, and that's helpful for two reasons. The good feelings get associated with you, your brand, or your product which makes you more likable and trustworthy. Also, those good feelings can lower resistance to influence by distracting an audience from creating counterarguments.

But be careful; what's funny to one person may not be funny to another. If the audience can relate to the humorous situation, it's likely to improve their mood and increase willingness to pay attention.

However, if humor is used inappropriately -- if it offends or is not understood by the audience--it can cause the opposite effect. So, when using humor in persuasive arguments it's important to understand that's it's a gamble and you may want to test first. Humor is like nitroglycerin, it's powerful, and if you don't handle it with care, it can unexpectedly blow up in your face!

2. Storytelling is Powerful

However, what is universal, powerful, and consistently persuasive is storytelling. Stories are fundamental to every culture and are what connect people. When it comes to persuasion, people remember stories; they forget statistics. Although many people believe that we are motivated by facts, numbers and good information, storytelling is the most effective communication and persuasion tool. Ever notice that all the major religious texts are filled with stories?

Research shows that when we hear a message in the form of a story we are better able to remember the ideas, share them with others, and act on them. In fact, people accept ideas more easily when presented in the form of a story, especially when the story is highly relevant to the audience.

This is where the VW ad excels -- in today's economy the story of poor results and low morale is highly relatable. And in just 60 seconds, the VW ad packs all the elements needed for a compelling story: it's emotional, easy to retell, has a hero that tell the story, includes an obstacle to overcome, and finally includes a moment of awareness and transformation. And since it's an advertisement, it's also important that the product plays a pivotal role in the story. The VW ad achieves all of this with creativity and humor!

3. Figurative Language is Memorable

So what else makes the ad effective? The ad uses figurative language to inspire and motivate action. Figures of speech are powerful persuasive tools especially when you need to inspire a skeptical audience to embrace a new idea or act on your call to action. And figurative language is usually quite memorable.

Specifically, the ad uses anaphora for the final tag line, "Get in. Get happy." Anaphora is when two or more sentences or phrases start with the same word or words. The repeated words or phrases are used to stir up an emotional response. In this case the repeated word, "get" joins the phrases together with the goal of leaving the impression that getting a VW makes you happy.

It's simple. It's clever. It's powerful.

4. Music is Motivational

Finally, it's probably not surprising that music can be persuasive. Just think about how music can affect your mood. And research shows that people are more inclined to want a product that has been advertised with music they find appealing.

Interestingly, loudness, tempo, and genre all affect our behavior. For example, studies have shown that when slower music is played in supermarkets and restaurant sales increase.

Music is most effective when it matches the product or when it is specifically created for the product. But people are more likely to remember the message when a popular song is used -- particularly when the music is played without the words.

In the VW ad, the familiar TV theme show music is playing in the background without words and at the moment the hero convinces his co-workers to go for a drive, the music is slightly louder and we finally hear the words being sung by Jimmy Cliff. We also see a visual contrast from the drab office colors to the bright red Beetle. So the both the musical and color contrast work together to emotional uplift the listener.

Together the humor, storytelling, figurative language and music work together to create an exceptional ad. Beetles, well, ads for Beetles, really can teach us how to be more persuasive!