How can you carve out a permanent niche for yourself in the minds and hearts of your customers and prospects? You can dominate your market through the power of oversimplification. Give oversimplification a prominent place in your toolbox.

A good place to start learning about the awesome power of oversimplification is Roger Dooley’s interview with Andy Cunningham. Dooley is the brains behind the brilliant website Neuro Science Marketing. I’m a huge admirer of his work.

Cunningham made her bones as part of Regis McKenna’s marketing agency. They were the team behind Apple’s famous “1984” commercial. That’s the ad that introduced the Macintosh to the world. And it’s probably the most famous commercial in TV history.

Cunningham’s new book is called “Get to Aha!” and was the excuse for this interview. Really though, listening to these two brilliant people discuss influence and persuasion is a reward in itself. And they provide some powerful insights into oversimplification.

If You Can’t Find an Enemy, Make One

One of the most powerful marketing campaigns in history was Apple’s I’m a PC / I’m a Mac campaign. Here’s how Roger described it:

“(Steve Jobs) created a social identity for Mac owners, and employed an “us and them” strategy in a lot of his marketing. The Mac person was young, cool, creative, and the people who used competing technology were, at best, boring and nerdy, and at worst, mindless lemmings walking off a cliff. That theme continued with the “I’m a Mac” campaign that was really a brilliant campaign too. …that tribal grouping caused people to make Mac part of their personal identity, and they became really quite religious in their defense of the brand.”

As Cunningham notes during the interview, Steve Jobs did not set out to make the Mac “the computer for the rest of us.” His original intent was that Mac become the business machine of choice. However, when the creatives of the world glommed onto the Mac, the smart folks at Apple, (or maybe Andy), realized they had stumbled into something extraordinary: the power of enemies.

To their credit, the Apple marketing team seized on that Us vs. Them mentality. They cranked it up to 11 and propelled the Apple brand into the stratosphere.

black spy vs white spyWas that Us vs. Them dichotomy strictly accurate?

Of course not. But strict accuracy holds no appeal to the monkey brain. Strict accuracy requires concentration and focus and analysis and hard work. Those are all things the monkey brain avoids. Those things require energy.

A plausible-sounding oversimplification is much more attractive. And it offers the benefit of being fast, not demanding and “accurate enough.”

“…strict accuracy holds no appeal to the monkey brain. Strict accuracy requires concentration and focus and analysis and hard work. Those are all things the monkey brain avoids.”

You can use the same technique to provoke devotion in your followers.


You gotta make some enemies. (Or at least invent some.) Draw your own “line in the sand.” Declare that anyone who isn’t with you is against you. Identify the “enemy” and then conduct a single-minded and unrelenting attack on that enemy.

(As a rule, you target your biggest competitor. Does this take big brass cajones? Of course it does!)

This is the tactic Saul Alinsky advocated in Rules for Radicals. And – as the last 50 years of American political history has shown us – it works.

Black & White Choices: The Evolutionary Advantage

Human brains have a bias towards simplicity. This bias has an evolutionary function. It allows for lightning-fast decision making.

black & white chess piecesThe human brain is a pattern-recognition machine. Any simple black/white dichotomy is a pattern. It’s the kind of pattern our brains are very good at recognizing.

Is that new person a friend or an enemy? The speed of that decision often meant the difference between survival or death. Those who could most quickly decide tended to be the ones who survived. Those who didn’t?

Well, they’re not around to tell us what happened.

This simple black/white pattern-recognition heuristic allowed our ancestors to survive. Quick decision-making was important to survival. Accuracy wasn’t. So our brains evolved to make decisions quickly, rather than accurately.

That’s why the Us vs. Them approach works. It’s simple. It’s unsophisticated. Even though it is often inaccurate, it still works.

When you clearly identify an “enemy” for your customer, you appeal to your customer’s biological biases. Biases that evolved over hundreds and thousands of generations. 

PRO TIP: When you identify a human tendency that has it’s roots in thousands of generations of evolution, it’s better not to fight it.

Apple saved its customers the effort of thinking by creating an oversimplification that worked: Us vs Them..

That’s why the market responded so positively to Apple’s oversimplified 1984 ad, the lemmings over a cliff ad and the I’m a Mac / I’m a PC ads.

Apple gave us oversimplified black-and-white choices that appealed to our built-in pattern recognition biases. They made us feel safe, the made us feel like buying a Mac was the “right” choice.

At its root, buying a Mac was the choice for survival vs extinction.

Powerful stuff.


You can save your customer effort by identifying “the enemy” for them. If you do your job right and do it well, then your customer will accept your definitions for “friend” and “enemy” without being conscious of having done so.

They will almost automatically put themselves either specifically with you or specifically against you. The one thing they won’t do is remain neutral.

And as any salesman will admit, it’s not the “No’s” that kill you.

It’s the “Maybe’s.”

A quick way to identify friends and enemies is with a manifesto. Get this guide to The Essential Elements of a Manifesto.

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