Tuesday, October 2, 2018

#26 Your Toughest Copywriting Challenge: The USP

Issue #26 - Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Posted by Denny Hatch

Your Toughest Copywriting Challenge: The USP
The 116 Year-old Unique Selling Proposition
I was born in 1935. We had a cottage near the shore where we summered. No one had air conditioning in those days. In the steamy Long Island atmosphere—especially on rainy days—I remember how salt clumped and caked when it came out of the box and clogged the holes of saltshakers.

The “fix” back then: little grains of uncooked white rice in saltshakers more-or-less eased the problem. The rice grains separated the salt but were too large to go through the little holes.

In 1910 Morton salt started adding magnesium carbonate to its product. This magnesium deficiency supplement made it possible for salt to pour freely in all weather.

“When it rains, it pours” became the Morton Salt USP (Unique Selling Proposition) in 1912. The little girl with the umbrella remains as the logo. Today instead of pigtails, the little girl has a new dress and hairdo. The words of the USP have been dropped.

I don’t know when I first saw “When it rains, it pours.”  But it made absolute sense and became instantly imprinted in my brain. As a result, I have been a Morton Salt customer all my life.

Rosser Reeves: His Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Rosser Reeves (1910-1984) was an early pioneer of television advertising.
He was born in Danville, Virginia the son of a Methodist preacher.

As a 10 year-old boy, Rosser began writing poetry & fiction.

At the age of 19, he started his career during the Great Depression as a newspaper reporter. In 1940, he landed a job as a copywriter at Ted Bates & Co. He was committed to making ads that were simple, direct, and often annoying.

In 1961, Rosser wrote Reality in Advertising, which details the famous USP: Unique Selling Proposition.

• The USP is the one reason ‘why’ the product needed to be bought or was better than its competitors.

• Rosser says, “The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer.

• It must be unique—either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising”

• The proposition simply states 'Buy this product and you will get this specific benefit.'

• The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions.

• Reeves believes that the consumer tends to remember just one thing from advertising—one strong claim, or one strong concept.
—Posted by May-Ann, Tuesday, October 02, 2007 at 5:05 pm

Originally (Before TV) USPs Were Used in
Print Ads, on Packaging & on Billboards

The Edsel Bomb of 1959
The Edsel was one of the cruelest tributes ever paid a man. Named after Henry Ford's son and the longtime company president--who died at age 49 in 1943--the Edsel was not just a car but a whole division within Ford, created to compete head-to-head with General Motors' Oldsmobile. —Dan Neil, TIME

Tonight Show funnyman Jack Paar described the Edsel as “an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.”

Edsel was the biggest floperoo in Ford’s history.

Here’s a one-page ad testing seven (Count ‘em!) possible USPs:


The Origin of Allstate’s “Good Hands”
 “You’re in good hands with Allstate” was a slogan (and later a USP) dreamed up in 1950 by Allstate’s general sales manager, David W. Ellis. It was inspired by his daughter's recent hospitalization, during which Ellis’ wife was reassured that, under the doctor’s care, her daughter 'was in good hands.”

Ellis’s slogan triggered this ad circa the 1950s that moved me every time I saw it. Note the rough and powerful—yet gentle and loving—hands.

In current TV advertising spots, the action is fast, exciting and emotionally charged. Often the USP is featured in the final shot—a freeze-frame that can last on screen for a few seconds. The USP is the one powerful claim to be remembered by the viewer.

We've been Allstate customers for years.

Alas, the “Good Hands” have become the tacky little icon you see in the upper left of this final frame—something that might signify a beggar or signify a washbasin.

However, the  “Good Hands” USP is spoken at the end of Allstate TV commercials by the mellifluous voice of actor Dennis Dexter Haysbert. Hear his magnificent vocal instrument!

Haysbert is reminiscent of the magnificent basso of James Earl Jones proclaiming, “This… is CNN.”

Or also reminiscent of this long-lost USP articulated by the legendary voice of Orson Welles in 1978. Welles would do anything to raise cash to finance his films—even shill for a so-so wine.

Takeaways to Consider
• The one-line Unique Selling Proposition that catches on can be pure platinum for the advertiser.

A Dud:

A Modern Masterpiece:

Orphan Products and Services with No USP

• Gazillions of products and services—consumer and b2b—have no USPs. Their ads, displays, TV spots and packaging end with a big ho-hum. Blah. [YAWN…]

• Oh! The opportunities for copywriters to make advertising history and get rich in a three-quarter of a trillion-dollar industry!

P.S. For some ideas on how to go about creating a USP, check my August 1st post, How to Make Your Product or Service Unique and Sexy

Word Count: 869

Note to Readers:  May I send you an alert when each new blog is posted? If so, kindly give me the okay by sending your First Name, Last Name and e-mail to dennyhatch@yahoo.com. I guarantee your personal information will not be shared with anyone at any time for any reason. I look forward to being in touch!

Invitation to Marketers and Direct Marketers: Guest blog posts are welcome. If you have a marketing story to tell, case history, concept to propose or a memoir, give a shout. I’ll get right back to you. I am: dennyhatch@yahoo.com

You Are Invited to Join the Discussion! What USPs have I missed? What are your favorites? Least favorites? Do share! Thank you.


  1. Denny,
    I'm the Development Director for The Council on Aging of Buncombe County. We're in Asheville, NC and are getting ready to launch our Annual Appeal. Your column has some WONDERFUL ideas for highlighting our clients who are too often "out of sight, out of mind". I'll keep you posted on how we do.
    Tom Cannon

  2. Tom,
    Great hearing from you. Been awhile.
    And thank you for your kind words.
    Yes, do keep in touch. Am real interested in what you are doing.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. W had an HVAC client whose tagline was "Hey - we're not the cable company!" Funny, yes, but no customer benefit.

    We added one short line behind it: "Same-Day Service with Jones - GUARANTEED or it's FREE."

    1. "Same-Day Service with Jones - GUARANTEED or it's FREE."

    2. Domino's Pizza was first to do something like this, back in the 1970's -- "Guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes, or it's FREE!" Great launching pad for a USP for other businesses.

  5. No one in America can get through a week without hearing someone say that the decisive moment, the moment of truth, is "where the rubber meets the road."

    I did work for that company, and was continually saddened by its repeated insistence that the slogan was passé. "The name that's known is Firestone – where the rubber meets the road." So much equity. So little respect for it. We created for them a new slogan, "A tradition of innovation." Not as good, but we got them to accept it.

    I have heard many times that USP is also passé. And so we get abominations like "People who know, know BDO." Well, I DON'T know BDO, and I can assure you I don't care!

    And that is "where the rubber meets the road."

    Thanks, Denny!

    Best regards!

    Tim Orr

  6. I love it! "Where the rubber meets the road" is a USP to die for!

  7. The notion of USP: say something that the competition can't say or isn't saying. I think of FedEx - "when it absolutely positively has to be there overnight." We believed them; we still do.
    And now they're running a spot that heralds the joy of receiving a FedEx delivery, whether at business or at home. Smart.

  8. MEGA GAME นำไปเล่นเกมได้ทุกๆ เกมในเวลานี้ทางค่ายของเรานั้นจะมาจัดโปรโมชั่นแสนพิเศษให้กับผู้ที่เข้ามาเล่นทุกท่าน เครดิตฟรี 100 เพียงเท่านี้