The Soft Sell

Soft sell advertising agencies believed that the repetitive product claims of the hard sell tended to alienate consumers. Soft sell advertising strategies focused more on the user than on the product. The soft sell used emotional appeals, associations, and humor to attract consumers.

In this 1920s soft sell ad, a beautiful and wealthy couple is posed intimately; the product claim is not that the soap cleans but that it makes the user more lovable.

Soft sell ads use emotional appeals, like the need to be loved, rather than product information

Soft sell ads use emotional appeals, like the need to be loved, rather than product information

In this ad for Kelly-Springfield tires, two husbands discuss lying their wives about their late night. The product claim is implied, but the humor is designed to appeal and disarm consumers.

Soft sell ads also use humor; the joke here is that the tires are so good, his wife won't believe he got a flat tire.

Soft sell ads also use humor; the joke here is that the tires are so good, his wife won’t believe he got a flat tire.

Young & Rubicam was a top soft sell ad agency in print and radio. They oversaw Jack Benny’s program when his sponsor was Jell-O, and humorous references to Jell-O were integrated into the program. In this ad, humorous dialogue about a European “mystery girl” reveals she is a regular midwesterner who loves Jell-O.

Jack Benny sells Jell-O with Y&R's soft sell

Jack Benny sells Jell-O with Y&R’s soft sell

Young & Rubicam also oversaw comedian Fred Allen’s programs. In this commercial, Fred Allen and his announcer Harry von Zell parody hard sell radio commercials by “forgetting” the name of the sponsoring product, Sal Hepatica. Humor helped to disarm the audience’s resistance to the advertising.

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