Dear CMO:

In the spirit of the blurry Starbucks photo the other day, behold the latest agri-business breakthrough product: the Easy Open Coconut(tm). This is no mere coconut, the commodity available on South Pacific desert islands from Hollywood to Bali Hai — oh, no — this one promises the elimination of the hassle, danger, and sheer inconvenience that comes with taking your life and counterbar into your hands.

See? Isn’t this better than a regular coconut? What if, in Seth Godin’s recent post (sorry, I’m really not taking you to task, but your recent posts just seem to mirror in an exact 180 degree fashion what’s on my mind for the last few days), the coconut man had chosen to be brutally honest?

“Cannonball Hard Coconut: strike repeatedly with a carpenter’s hammer to open. Watch out for hands, fingers, feet, architectural objects, and small children, as all may be injured, damaged, or completely destroyed, all for a few ounces of coconut. Then, once you’ve bludgeoned the rock-hard exterior open, chisel away at it with a very sharp knife, avoiding putting the cutting implement completely through your non-cutting hand.”

Not as good a seller, is it?

This is a great example of what Robert Cialdini would term the Contrast Phenomenon. Ask yourself, “compared to what, exactly?” Easy opening compared to what?

When we all first met Kevin Federline, most of us may have looked at him a bit askance. For whatever reason. America’s sweetheart is marrying him? Hmm. Not sure I’m sending a present. Now, K-Fed is the Ward Cleaver of the 21st Century. Compared to what? Oh, right. Oops, she did it again. And K-Fed is now the World’s #1 Daddy. By comparison, of course.

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Key Takeaways:

> “Compared to what?” Pitchman extraordinare Billy Mays didn’t make a fortune selling Oxy-Clean compared to what Serve-Pro could do; the comparison is the grainy black and white image of housefrau scrubbing away comically at that biohazard of a bathroom that she’s somehow let go straight to hell. By comparison, his product is a miracle. (But wait! There’s more!)

> When faced with a “compared to what” scenario, from a negotiating adversary to a used car salesman, remember that you’ve got many, many more options than the two Joe Isuzu is offering you. Even if you’re not sure what those options are at this red hot second.

> Anything can look good when compared to an alternative of your own choosing.
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Now, with a nod to the “remarkable” product mavens in the audience, understand that our hero, the Easy Open Coconut, has a very small notch cut in the back running horizontally across its back. This isn’t a perforation, mind you — it’s about 1/16th of an inch thick and probably was made with little more than a pencil. My nine-year old opened it with one smack.

Then again, he likes to hit things with hammers. A lot. And he’s a big kid, too.

The contrast phenomenon is a key element of effective persuasion. Anything can look good compared to an alternative of your own choosing.