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What Is Circular Reasoning?

Advertisers have been using Circular Reasoning to sell products almost forever.  Yet people are not totally aware of it or how it works.

Advocates would say it helps give a mental picture to an undefinable quality, like softness, smoothness, or strength.  Opponents would counter with “yes, but the connection between the reasoning and the exact truth is not provable.

Like a metaphor…strong as a Redwood, she has a heart of gold, or slimy as an eel.  I get a kick when I read a writer who derides cirircular reason as “just so much bull****!”.  Do they know what they’re saying?

Anyway, in writing this piece my intent is to educate (as always) and entertain.  It’s Copywriting 301 on the lighter side.

Charmin is the largest selling toilet tissue in the U.S. with 86,270,000 users according to Statista.

So, the fact that I’m writing this little “exposé” of this revered Proctor & Gamble product, shows I can’t be bought off.  Not even for a 30-pack of Charmin Ultra.  I have my principles, by golly.

That said…here we go.

Mr Whipple

From 1964 to 1985 Charmin ran a hugely successful campaign that catapulted Charmin into the top echelon of bathroom tissue brands in the U.S.

The mainstay of the campaign centered around Mr. Whipple (played by Dick Wilson in over 500 TV spots) who admonished shoppers, “Please…don’t squeeze the Charmin”.  But seconds later, he couldn’t resist squeezing it himself. All this to prove to everyone that Charmin is “Squeezably Soft”.  []

And it worked like a charm in popularizing Whipple’s tagline with the popular lingo of the time,  .  You’d hear in High Schools, and my mother’s canasta games.  It was everywhere.

Charmin built it's brand with Circular Reasoning
Mr Whipple

But Why Was Charmin So “Squeezably Soft”?

So finally, we come to the exposé.

When consumers went to their local markets to pick up Charmin (and they went in droves) virtually everyone stopped to squeeze the Charmin.  And, lo and behold…

it was softer.

Okay, Now We’ve Got To Go Technical. 

A roll of bathroom tissue consists of a cardboard tube around which is wrapped hundreds of sheets (generally two plies thick) of tissue.  Pretty standard for consumer products in those days.

Then, Charmin’s ad gurus got a bright idea.  Let’s re-engineer the cardboard tube, making it thinner, with less cardboard, and thus…not as rigid.

Bingo!  When the buyers were squeezing a package Charmin in the store, the new cardboard tube gave way more easily than did the old, more rigid tube, giving the impression that Charmin was, indeed, softer.

A phenomenally successful ad campaign based on Circular Reasoning.  If the package was softer when squeezed, ergo, the tissue inside must be softer. 

Not necessarily true.

And Today

Proctor & Gamble is still selling Charmin by the boatload as “soft and strong”.  Not bad for a cast-off brand of paper towels P&G bought in 1957 and renamed “Bounty” in 1964 about the time Charmin morphed into TP.

What a world.

Life is funny.

Not “ha-ha” funny, more like ironic funny. In my life (so far) I’ve been awarded three non-sports awards tied to marketing and copywriting.  One by the state of Arizona, another by a Charity, and the third by Nassau County (NY) Office of Consumer Affairs.

The irony is this – the smallest, oldest, least prestigious award is the one of which I’m proudest, because it was really won by the talent and creativity of my students.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

It was a class in Marketing and Advertising.

After my lessons and reading, students were broken up into four “Creative Teams”.  Their task was formidable.

  • Design a product for the mass market.
  • Differentiate your product from any competition.
  • Create a Name, Unique Selling Proposition, and Tagline.
  • Create one Print Ad, one radio spot, and one TV spot for your product.

What came out of the fertile minds of these 17 – 18 year-olds astounded me.

It Astounded Others As Well

As the ads were being finished up, I heard – through the grapevine – that the County was sponsoring a contest for marketing students in high schools and community colleges.

After discussing this with my students, they were so excited to participate, they agreed to work through spring break.  And work they did.  By contest deadline time all four teams presented their products and – as it was impossible to choose between them – they agreed to enter as a single, combined team.

So – get on with it – what did the products look like?

No Jetsons’ “Briefcase Planes” or “Levitation Pods”

Here are the two ads I remember most vividly.  Remember, their products had to have mass market appeal.

One brought us a new chewing gum brand. 

  • It was unique in the double-sized length of a stick of gum.
  • The tagline was “The Gum For Lovers”.
  • The differentiating aspect was in the advertising. A boy and a girl could start chewing from either end, then meet in the middle for a kiss.
  • They named it “2 To A Chew”. Great cadence and a rhyme.
  • The team even created their own jingle “Girls start of Pink, Boys start on Blue, Try Chewing Our Gum, New 2 To A Chew.

My replica of their handmade print/poster ad.

Double-Edged Blade – Circular Reasoning

Another team “floated” a new razor blade as their product.

While not a “new” product, nor truly differentiating itself from others by it’s make-up, this team chose to differentiate by their marketing claims.

  • Slip’ry Smooth – “The Blades That Float On Water.” (tagline)
  • “If they can float on water, think about how smooth they’ll feel on your face.”
  • To demonstrate and “prove” their claim, their TV spot showed their blade being placed in a bowl of water. “It Floats”.
  • The Circular Reasoning employed in their ad, was arguable – but effective.

Put these kids on Madison Avenue immediately : )

Circular Reasoning at its finest
razor blade floating on water 587519107

Representation of the TV Spot showing a floating blade.

“If it can float on water, think about how smooth it will feel on your face.”

Depending on your point-of-view, Circular Reasoning is either a marketing technique, a bit of “slight-of-tongue”, or outright misdirection.

Circular Reasoning exists when one provable fact (like a double-edged blade floating on water) is used to validate an unrelated claim (like it will feel smooth on your face).

See how many you can come up with.

I was honored (on behalf of my students) for excellence in the teaching of marketing, advertising, and consumer education.

What this experience taught me was…give people some basic training and task them with putting that training to work combining it with their own innate creativity…and you’ll find some extraordinary hidden talents.

From what I know, one of the students is now an optometrist, another writes high-level code for a multi-national aircraft manufacturer, a third is a mom and a fourth was majoring in Marketing and Copywriting…(yay!).

To Your Astronomical Success,

#     #     #

More For You

As you progress in marketing and copywriting, here are a couple of helpful articles for you:

And, if you are considering acquiring professional copywriting skills, might I suggest taking a serious look at my pride and joy, the “How To Write Copy” System at Write Like A Madman University.

You’ll find 4 full courses, 3 Tutorials, and 7 loaded toolboxes that will give you great “What-To”, “How-To”, and “Why-To” information.  These 159 Members-Only videos, audios, guides, checklists, templates, and real world Case Studies will provide you with an unbeatable copywriting and marketing “How-To” resource you’ll use throughout your career.

Plus, you’ll get access to my Blog Like A Madman with over 115 articles covering various topics to help you be the best writer or marketer/writer you can be.

And you’ll also be able to call on me as a coach, mentor, and editor.


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