Dead skydiver

133: An Advertising Lesson from a Dead Skydiver

Parachutest coverFor a combined birthday & anniversary gift, my wife bought me my first solo skydive lesson. With that came a temporary membership in the United States Parachute Association and a couple months of Parachutist, their trade magazine.

January’s cover featured the recent record-setting, 135,891-foot skydive by Alan Eustace. The images of the 57-year-old Google vice president’s ascent and free fall comprised just one of multiple articles on all kinds of astounding records, acrobatic maneuvers, and unique group formations from the last month in the sport.

Before you get to the ads and drop zone directory in the back of each issue, you’ll find one or two of the few photo-less pages in the 92-page publication. Trust me, you’ll be glad there are no pictures. The big words at the top of the page read, “Incident Reports.” A short paragraph explains that these pages are for educational value.

Incident reportTo a rookie, these reports seem extremely thorough, explaining what caused each fatality, what could’ve been done (if anything) to avoid it, and even a list of the type & brand of all the gear the deceased was implementing at the time of the incident. Each report tells how many years the jumper had been skydiving and how many jumps they had successfully completed prior to their last one—both cumulatively and within the past 12 months, based on their log book. One of the recent fallen had jumped over 6,000 times, 75 of those in the past year. One exception to the disclosure transparency: only age and gender are given, as no names are divulged.

It got me thinking. In most (if not all) cases, the didactic summaries are similar to the cautionary tales that I heard in my seven hours of training before my jump. Why publish this information? Why bring the mood down and show the risks instead of just the rewards?

Nameless, this column isn’t an obituary. My guess is that the sport wants the world to know it has nothing to hide and that withholding reality only hurts those who participate in it.

The auction industry has a similar stigma to that of the sport of parachuting. Both are seen as risky business to the uninitiated and inexperienced.

I design auction advertising day in and day out. One of the most ubiquitous phrases I’m given to include spans all asset types and geography: “selling ‘as is, where is’ without warranty.” It’s how auctions are sold to sellers—that they can have “contingency-free sales” where “the seller sets the terms.” This is appealing to those who are selling distressed real estate and used machines alike; and it gives the auctioneer confidence to sell just about anything legal.

“Buyer beware” favors the seller, the one to whom my clients have fiduciary responsibility. Since that’s usually well-disclosed, everyone involved understands that the buyer takes that uncertainty into account with their bid.

To give buyers more confidence, many auctioneers take extra steps in their online content to record videos of what’s being sold. I’ve got clients who proactively snap pictures of often over-looked details and even the evidence of wear or damage. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve got other clients who have refused to disclose information like square footage or number of bathrooms, tax assessment or lot size, and miles or hours on a piece of equipment. “We don’t want to keep them from coming out to the auction,” they explain.

My response tends to sound something like, “They’re going to find out. Why force them to waste time coming out to bid on something they won’t want? They’re going to call or email you to ask this question. Why not save your time and theirs by just disclosing the facts? Honesty on the front end reduces questions and objections later.”

Parachutest recommendationWhy not be more like the editors of Parachutist? Why not just put the truth out there for what it is, and let the marketplace determine its value?

If someone is not interested in buying the item as it exists, it’s unscrupulous to push them toward purchase. That’s not a sustainably-positive brand image. “Well, maybe they’ll bid on something else in the auction.” Then advertise that something else. Otherwise, you’ve got a case of bait’n’switch on your record.

The insecurity behind this subterfuge stems from the very real fear that we won’t get stuff sold. Since most auctioneers work on straight commission, this makes each deal speculative to varying degrees. I get it. Candidly, that’s why I’ve never been successfully tempted to become an auctioneer, even though I’m confident in my ability to market assets. That said, maybe the decision of how to describe an asset could be avoided with the decision of whether to take the deal in the first place. (I make my money on an auction whether it sells or not; so, this suggestion threatens my livelihood, too.)

In December, I helped a client build a robust property and market analysis report for the seller of a multi-million-dollar asset. I’ve created few proposals with as many comparable sales—definitely not one with as many decimal places in the aggregate sale figures. I emailed the auctioneer a few weeks after the submission to see if he got the auction.

[Paraphrase] “No. The seller didn’t like our estimated value. He went with one of the other guys who promised him a higher sale price.”

I responded along the lines of, “Well, better to avoid the stress of the seller’s expectations. Let your competition handle that headache, while you spend your time on easier, profitable work.”

That pragmatic approach works if you’re trying to get buyers or sellers—or people to jump out of a plane with you.

A Lesson in GravityThis experience in every way lived up to my expectations. Wow! Huge adrenaline rush with a sense of accomplishment. I doubt that I will ever pursue my solo license, due to the expense; but I absolutely enjoyed growing in my life experiences and my appreciation for what skydivers do by well-trained instinct. A long day of ground school proved worth it for my 18 minutes (or so) off the ground. The Timmy mentioned at the beginning of the video is the one person I know would do this with me. Most importantly, he’s the one dude I’d want to do this with me, if I ever get the chance to do it again. #heartpoundsalute
For the record, the soundtrack (attributed at the end of the clip) is VSC’s rights-purchased music, which is why I couldn’t edit this shorter for you.

Posted by Ryan George on Monday, October 27, 2014

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