ebsterís dictionary defines paradox as "a statement that is seemingly
contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true".
The word itself comes from the Greek para and doxa meaning "beyond
In a world flooded with information, advertisers use paradox to
catch our attention and influence our behaviour. We look twice at
film titles such as Back to the Future, Eyes Wide Shut and True
Lies because they look impossible.
Other advertising uses paradox in more subtle ways. In the booming
1960s in London, Roy Brooks was the best writer of property advertising
in the history of the British press. For an advertiser, he did
something totally paradoxical ó he told the truth. Brooks was so
successful that he could not get enough houses and apartments to sell.
More recently, a brilliant campaign by Sixt Rent-A-Car in Germany
used self-deprecation to attack the service culture and to position
itself as an "honest vendor". Sixt may provide excellent service,
but would we really believe them if they simply said so?
If xou don't fancy our counter staff, use our mobilephone service
In advertising, as in life, counter-intuitive, paradoxical messages can
sometimes be far more effective than straightforward communication. In his
book The Paradoxicon
Nicholas Falletta describes paradox as "truth standing on its head to
attract attention". Here lies an important clue as to how we can create
our own paradoxical solutions. By trying the exact opposite of what is
expected, we can sometimes discover a totally original answer to a
Anyone visiting modern Turkey today finds it hard to believe that just
80 years ago the majority of women hid their faces behind veils. The
unveiling of Turkish women was achieved in a few short years through
the paradoxical solution of one man ó Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's
revolutionary leader. As women were reluctant to show their faces,
Ataturk issued an edict that read "prostitutes must wear veils".
This problem was solved paradoxically: not by forbidding veils, but
by permitting them, albeit for a special group.
What relevance can paradox have to modern business practice? Imagine
that you are in an important sales negotiation with a potential new
client. Here are three surprising methods that could strengthen your
Nearly everyone criticizes the competition, so why join the crowd?
It is your job to know the areas in which your competitors are cheaper,
faster and better than you, and saying this up front will impress your
clients with your market knowledge and your frankness. By crediting
your client with the intelligence to make the right decision, you
increase your chances of winning.
Few salesmen like to admit it, but no offer is perfect. To admit
weakness takes honesty and confidence, qualities your client will
respect. If your customer doesnít already know your area of
weakness, she soon will. Tell her yourself before the competition
does, then show her how to ameliorate any negative effects. Prove
that the upside of your offer is so compelling that the downside
doesnít matter. Result: you win points for honesty and also build trust.
One of the most powerful paradoxical techniques in a negotiation
is to walk away from business that everyone expects you to accept.
If you donít feel that the conditions are right for you to provide
the best solution for your clientís needs, it is usually better to
say "no". That client will either re-discuss your terms of reference
or choose another vendor. At the highest level, you cannot lose
because you save your resources for those clients where you can
add the highest value. The "lost client" will silently thank you
and may even come back at a later time.
continue with part 2 ...
top of the page