How to Design the Soft Sell

Kendra Gaines By Kendra Gaines  |  Nov. 01, 2013

In advertising and marketing, the term “soft sell” is an approach at selling and item by connecting with a potential customer. By soft selling a product, you don’t put any pressure on a person to buy right now, but you give them the opportunity to decide if it’s for them or not. Sometimes we use soft sell techniques by demonstrating a particular use of a product or by giving away something for free. We can even create soft sells by giving away information in our blogs.

Whether you’re doing a soft or a hard sell (being ultra aggressive), it’s obvious that you want to create a scenario where your offering is useful. What sets aside the soft sell is the fact that you’re establishing a connection with customers. These types of techniques become successful because you’ve taken the time out to see what your customer really wants. It’s no longer about a product or service but about what your customer wants and how it makes a difference in their life.

It’s not a new concept, obviously. But at a time when sending the correct branding signals is extremely important in business, the soft sell seems to be more popular. That, or either businesses are becoming smarter by utilizing these tactics more often than not. What’s notable in these current soft sells is how we’re doing them and how we’re designing them.

It’s not a new idea but it seems that micro-sites have become extremely popular. When brands roll out a new campaign, consumers will typically get a new smartphone app and website that is specific for that campaign. Designers, art directors and all those involved in the process are beginning to find new ways to interact with consumers in a way that engages them without submitting to the hard sell. Here are some examples:


Burberry Kisses

With this Burberry Kisses micro-site, users are able to send letters back and forth to each other sealed with a kiss. And if you have a webcam, you can send your personal kiss! The idea is to get their millions of social media followers engaged in actually using the brand in some perspective. While it seems to come a bit out of left field, the idea is that Burberry is creating something that’s useful for  consumers — it taps into that really personal feeling of writing a letter to your love interest, rather than just texting or tweeting them. It’s romantic, it’s playful and it’s luxurious. Name recognition plays a large role in what they’re doing, as someone may be a little more excited to receive a virtual Burberry kiss rather than any other virtual type of kiss. It’s a subtly branded idea that doesn’t even push for a product purchase but remains relevant every time you use it.

Burberry Kisses | Burberry


Evian’s baby&me

Evian. It’s water. Just plain, unflavored, non-carbonated water. That’s it. With so many people taking an advertising route that points to the fresh, spring taste and the natural, eco-friendly appeal of different water brands, it’s kind of hard to come up with something extravagantly better. Until Evian came around. They’ve always pushed the envelope when it came to advertising and this time they’ve created an entire campaign that seems to be so great, we forget we’re even talking about water. Evian has created a “Live Young” campaign that features kids. That’s win number one, but they’ve created different ways for this to go viral. While it started, essentially, with a viral video, now Evian has come out with an app that’s just cute. This app allows you to take a picture of yourself and get it converted to a baby picture. People are posting these adorable pictures all over social media, essentially expanding the reach for this campaign. It’s brilliant.



Dwayne Wade Driven app

Mr. Dwayne Wade is rather popular these days. He’s a three-time NBA champion who probably played in one of the most interesting NBA Finals series in a very long time. He chose a very strategic and smart time to release this app. It’s a fitness and basketball skills app that creates custom routines and allows you to track your progress. While it’s only available through the iTunes Store and is a paid app ($3.99), it’s easy to understand what D. Wade is doing. The brand he’s selling is himself. As a basketball player, there are tons of endorsement deals he’s laced with. Creating an app that’s extremely useful, not only to fans, but to anyone looking to get fit is a wonderful way to extend his fanbase and get people interested in what he’s doing. When you find a fitness tape you like, you’re likely to find more things from that specific instructor, and that seems to be the way Wade is building his brand.

Dwyane Wade Driven for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad on the iTunes App Store


Dove Real Beauty Sketches

This is one of my favorite campaigns that reveals so much truth about women and society in general, I had to share it with the world when I first saw it. If you’ve not been fortunate enough to see any of the videos, it’s about how we are very critical when describing our looks while others, essentially, are not. It’s an obvious truth and put together so well, that when you finally realize what you’ve watched, you’ll probably say to yourself, “All this for a bar of soap?” Dove is extremely clever and they’ve done a great job of creating branded messages that are directly in line with the way they want to be perceived. These types of “Real Beauty” campaigns are just magnificent in creating (viral) relevance for their brand and creating extremely deep connections with their customers because they’ve obviously taken the time out to get to know them. If you find a woman who’s never seen and liked a Dove Real Beauty campaign, I’d be very surprised and count her as a rarity.

Real Beauty Sketches - Dove


Gumulon by Stride Gum

There’s not a lot you can do to make chewing gum fun. Or so we thought. Orbit has those pretty clever campaigns about having a dirty mouth and Doublemint had the Doublemint Twins for a long time, but how do you really re-think the process of chewing gum? Stride has created an app to do that. And it’s not just any app, it’s a game. First off, everyone loves games — they make up the majority of downloads and purchases in most the App Store and Google Play. The fun thing about this game is it uses your front facing camera to detect when you chew. Why? Because chewing is how you navigate your character in the game. How neat is that? It’s a very fun concept that can get many people involved by downright being addictive. And you’ll notice “Stride Gum” isn’t necessarily plastered everywhere. It’s a hint at getting involved in the brand that Stride has by first making contact with an innovative and fun game.




All of these projects have almost nothing to do with the actual product (or what could be sold), but everything to do with the way the product wants to be seen. They’re making these apps and microsites not as a way to get sales but to push their brand statements.

Designing for the soft sell is extremely important. It’s a much more thoughtful process than just designing a flyer or brochure. Those types of things are typically meant for informative, hard pushes at something. Being more subtle is about using design to create a connection between a brand and the customer.


Have you developed a soft sell campaign? Have you any favorites that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments.