Copying the Inflation Buster

I don’t check my home equity every day, goes a joke among the Vanguard-Buffett-DCA crowd, why should I check my stock portfolio? It’s a riff on the availability heuristic: if I think it, it’s important.

‘Home’ is super available. Vacation rentals, of someone’s home. A chunk of net worth is home. Neighbors move. During Covid we were stuck in our homes. People began to work from home. After Covid the home market exploded. After that rates ran up. ‘Home’ is everywhere. 

Good copywriting, said Bob Bly, “enters the conversation people have in their mind.” Let’s look at a good Rocket Mortgage ad.

Transcript: “Buying a home? Rocket mortgage will cover one percent of your rate for the first year at no cost to you, saving you hundreds even thousands. With Inflation Buster that means more mini-vacations, a lot more lattes, and more date nights. Now imagine if rates drop within three years of your home purchase. You get exclusive savings when you refinance at that new lower rate. It’s more cash in your pocket. Save when you buy today and refinance tomorrow. Visit to get started.”

The good. Rapid fire: It’s not a house, it’s a home. One percent is a nice whole number, and worth more (psychologically) than 0.99999999%. First year… appeals to our myopia. More mini-vacations… highlight the opportunity cost. At no cost to you, and if rates drop… avoids our ambiguity aversion. Visit… as a call to action. 🧑‍🍳 😘

The bad. None!

The interesting. A picture is worth a thousand words, and this video is good. 

We’ve tracked ‘average’ monthly home payments (1971-2022). On a four-hundred-fifty-thousand dollar home, Inflation Buster saves about $200 a month. Put another way, it’s a year of payments on a four-hundred-thousand dollar house instead of the more expensive one. None of that factors into this ad. It’s not the customer’s language. 

Interest rates and home prices are not the important metrics. Only monthly payment matters. That’s the conversation in this ad.

Bad sales

When Labor Day Sales are bad.

All actions are homeotelic or heterotelic.

Good business strategy is homeotelic, single actions work toward multiple goals. Aldi has a good strategy. Dominos has a good strategy. Trinny of London has a good strategy.

Good strategy balances what’s made, how it’s delivered, and how it’s communicated: product, placement, promotion. Aldi uses private labels to control the product, small footprint stores to sell from, and focused promotion. Those fit. 

What does a business do well and what do customers want well done? Organizations answer these questions and the best organizations do so in a homeotelic way. This is an example from my local pickleball store: 

For today and the next two days only (ends Wednesday 9/7)…we are offering a special Labor Day 20% off sale on Bags & Apparel and 10% off all paddles (and receive a FREE Paddle Cover with your paddle purchase).

Go to our website by CLICKING HERE.

For Bags and Apparel, use discount code LaborDay20 at checkout

For Paddles, use discount code LaborDay10 at checkout and receive a FREE paddle cover too.

NOTE:  You can only use one discount code at a time, so if you are buying bags/apparel and a paddle you will need to place two (2) separate orders.

If you know what you want and want to go directly to the page, here’s the quick (direct) links:


Apparel > CLICK HERE

Paddles > CLICK HERE

Any questions, email 

The good: Scarcity drives urgency and attracts attention. For the I’ve been thinking about this group, this email drove sales. The free paddle cover is good too. 

The bad: (1) Discounts are heterotelic: more sales less brand value. All value is perceived value and premium products – like these paddles – shouldn’t be discounted. Price is a proxy for value. Here it is lowered. Freebies, gifts, ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ maintain the core product value and have other benefits – see below. 

(2) Why buy? Here customer language shines. Buy a bag and we will send three balls because you’ll have the room. Or, when you miss-hit at the end of the day your paddle is too heavy. Or, summer is winding down, get a long-sleeve shirt while they last. There’s nothing in this copy other than CLICK HERE TO TRANSACT NOW. As outsiders we don’t know the customer’s language, but a business owner should. 

(3) Hats, shirts, and towels retail for thirty dollars. These lightweight packable items are perfect for shipping, have good margins, and are an easier part of profitability. But they are also a form of CAC. Reducing profitability per item raises the revenue, a homeotelic approach. People pay to be walking billboards. These items are great thank you gifts, with the purchase of a premium paddle. Gifts also seed new product lines and delight consumers.

The confusing: CLICK HERE. Multiple discount codes. 

Labor Day Sales (like this) raise revenue but reduce brand value. Labor Day Sales are superficial and reactionary. Labor Day Sales are heterotelic, not homeotelic. Labor Day Sales should follow, not precede, Alchemy

Here’s an excellent example, received around the same time. 

Ridge speaks the customer’s language visually: my wallet is too fat. Why buy? Does it carry my cards and cash? Oh, it does. It’s the best way ever. Not ‘best’ via test, but ‘best’ is expert language, like someone judged wallets and this is indeed the best. Don’t CLICK HERE like a child, instead shop our wares like an adult. There’s no sale, but there are premium products (good, better, best) and because value is relative, ‘good’ appears discounted to ‘better’ and ‘best’.

Outsider commentary is a challenge. It’s another perspective, unaffected by sunk costs, and angled away from the status quo. However it’s also ignorant of successes, goals, and pesky problems like ‘oops we made too much’. Broadly sales are bad unless they are baked into a business’s strategy (like Domino’s Pizza).

Homeotelic, introduced here, applies everywhere. If someone learns to cook at home they save money, eat healthier, and gain skills. If someone joins a gym they meet new people and get healthier.

Hello Fresh Copy

We were HelloFresh customers. The food is good enough. The recipes are simple enough. The logistics are easy enough. Is the copywriting convincing enough?

(Received August, 2022)

The good. This card has two goals: get our attention and convey ease. The ‘$155 OFF’ attracts attention and interest. The ‘3 surprise gifts’ is good too. Gifts are better than discounts because they are a CAC Trojan Horse, seed additional purchases, and delight the customer. Businesses undervalue gift giving. 

The bad. ‘Packed schedule?’ & ‘We’ve got your back.’ & ‘…more time around the table with fam this fall!’ Terrible copy. There’s no story. 

Persuasion is about ease. One form of ease is the story we tell ourselves. I’m a busy mom/dad and about to be busier because school is back/holidays are coming/ summer camps and vacations and need help to make food that is cheap/quick/tasty/easy. Help me tell myself this story. It’s like mad libs.

One idea:

Erin, back to school? We’ve got your supplies. With Quick & Easy Meals ready in ~20 minutes or less, you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time eating your favorite foods with your favorite people. 


Erin, back to school, back to the office, back to the store for more folders, then candy, then gifts. With Quick & Easy Meals ready in ~20 minutes or less, you can spend more time at home with the family than at the store getting their groceries. 


Erin, what’s for dinner tonight? Something Quick, Easy, and Healthy for the whole family? Remember how easy it was to have everything delivered, prepared, and ready to go? Come back to Hello Fresh and save $155.

Surprisingly there’s no indication that we were customers. People are customers for a reason. HelloFresh must find the JTBD and use that language for good copywriting.

The interesting. That QR code. Tools work best in the right conditions. Restaurant menus could be great for QR codes. It’s interesting here. Getting the app must be a point of friction, this may solve that. 

Good copywriting begins with curiosity. Businesses must talk to customers, identify their priorities, create prototypes, get feedback, and work out the kinks. Then they can use the customer’s words to present a solution. 

It’s hard to crique copywriting without knowing the goal. Maybe this works. Maybe the ‘$155’ is the most important thing. Maybe – but maybe not. 

Remember Rule #27:You can’t sell anybody anything, they must discover they want it.

It’s not the fall…

It’s not the fall that gets you, it’s the impact at the end. 

The best metrics describe a state of the world. Hotness has three audiences. “Fahrenheit is basically asking humans how hot it feels. Celsius is basically asking water how hot it feels. Kelvin is basically asking atoms how hot it feels.” (Reddit

Another is the contrast between American and Canadian avalanches. In the states, a medium avalanche is “relative to the path”. In Canada a medium avalanche “could bury a car, destroy a small building, or break a small tree.” The southern system expects the audience to be familiar with the area

A third is calorie counts. Sure, bananas have calories but they can also be zero-point foods. Counting calories isn’t the point. Weight loss is the point, so what’s the best way to communicate information that leads to those actions? 

About hurricanes: “The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale we use to rate hurricanes is based on only wind and doesn’t take into account the chief hazards which can be storm surge and flooding rains. It’s wholly inadequate. We need to go away from rating one through five based on winds. Hurricane Harvey stalled for days over Texas and caused a hundred billion dollar plus disaster (Harvey made landfall as a category four storm, but most of the rainfall and damages was as a tropical storm).” – Dr. Jeff Master 

Hurricanes need to be rated more like Canadian avalanches. If measuring wind speed rather than rainfall wasn’t enough, there’s another problem: the hundred-year storm

Everywhere I’ve lived has a hundred-year storm. In Ohio (Southeast and Northwest) it was floods. In Florida it is hurricanes. Imagine a category five hurricane that hits Beach City once every hundred years. What chance is there for a storm of that level in the next thirty years? 

Master walks through this math. A one-percent chance each year is a ninety-nine percent non-chance. Multiply a ninety-nine percent non-chance thirty times and the hundred-year storm has a 26% chance of occurring in a thirty-year window. 

It’s not the hurricane winds that get you, it’s the flooding afterward. Yet we measure the winds. 

Top Gun Twitter targets

That makes no sense!!! is a signal for misunderstanding. We may not need to understand. The logic may not be local to us. But people don’t do dumb things.

Tyler Cowen questions Twitter’s ad targeting, “can’t they send me a targeted ad for Indian classical music at least once? An economics book? That would be easy given who I follow. But they can’t even do that. It’s Top Gun. I know Top Gun is out and my eyes roll.” 

This is a known problem. Thomas Tull founded Legendary Entertainment in 2000 based (partially) on this idea. The fans of Batman will know when Batman comes out (2005, 2008, 2012). People reading the newspaper will not know, but people who read the newspaper also may not care. Tull said he could give his mother two tickets and money for popcorn, drinks, and a snack and she still wouldn’t go see Batman. 

Tull thought: How to persuade the middle group? Don’t waste money advertising to the huge fans or the never-buyers

The Top Gun:Maverick trailer came out July 2019! Everyone between thirty-five and fifty knew about the movie. Yet Top Gun is on Twitter. That makes no sense?

Option 1: Momentum. Paramount Pictures has an annual budget for social media and each gets their share. TG was on Twitter because it’s just something they do. 

Option 2: Social proof. PP has the annual budget to advertise on social media to build social proof. According to Robert Cialdini, social proof and authority are both tools to reduce uncertainty. Maybe lots of people heard about TG but were unsure if they should go. Seeing it on the timeline makes the film appear popular, more people go, the film appears popular, more people go, and so on. 

Option 3: Twitter ads are just bad. Cowen is right. 

Option 4: Twitter ads are secretly great. Cowen did go see Top Gun. The mechanism is something other than social proof (#2)

Option 5: Twitter ads aren’t targeted, they’re brand building. Maybe a better analogy for Twitter is the NFL, a place for national brands to reinforce their messages. My last three promoted tweets were for Google, Extra gum, and the AP news. 

Option 6: Something else. 

A viral YouTube ad from 2013 was It’s Not About The Nail. Put another way this thing isn’t really about the thing at all. A lot of life has deeper parts to it. 

Last week one of our regular players brought Gatorade to the pickleball courts. She had too much and was getting rid of it. The superficial reading is that she wants to get rid of it. Why? It doesn’t spoil. Just drink it over the next few years. But really it was about sharing. 

Status Games (review) make no sense superficially. But peel back the layers of evolution and we see that status is a proxy for power. Rather than physical conflict to create a hierarchy, certain species use status. Physical conflict reduces the individual and collective. Groups which adopted a non-physical mechanism performed better than ones who did not. 

Sometimes superficial is just superficial. Twitter might just have bad targeting and Yeah that makes no sense is a fine answer. But sometimes it’s not! And that’s where the fun stuff hides. 

Thinking paths and more

An athlete shoots 70%. If they shoot twice, what are the chances they make at least one? 🤔 

Before answering, consider thinking. Daniel Kahneman has an entire book about Thinking, Fast and Slow. Fast thought is immediate. Slow is deliberate. Often ‘thinking fast’ about thinking fast and slow is that slow is better.

That’s not the case. Lots of fast thought works well. 

One problem with Kahneman’s book – which he admits, Kahneman is a scientist and when the evidence changes his understanding does too – is the social science replication crisis. Some studies don’t repeat. Or repeat quirkily. For example: Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which is more probable? (1) Linda is a bank teller. (2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement. 

There’s a lot in there. But our fast reaction goes something like: If this information is here it must be important. Answer number two. That’s how we think. 

But take the same Linda is 31 years old… prompt and ask this question: There are 100 persons who fit Linda’s description. How many of them are: (1) Bank tellers? __ of 100 (2) Bank tellers and active in the feminist movement? __ of 100. 

Phrased that way the conjunction fallacy goes away. 

Thoughts are path dependent. Reframing changes the path.

An athlete misses 30% of the time. If they shoot twice, what are the chances they miss both? 🤔 Well they miss thirty percent of the time. To miss both it would be 30%*30%, which equals 9%. So to the original question, this athlete will make at least one more than ninety percent of the time.

If riddles are a good proxy, there are two tools: intuition and presentation. Intuition is internal. How many mental models do we have? How numerate are we? What’s our (ongoing) education? Presentation is external. What are the norms? What’s the phrasing? All framing is relative so what is this relative to?

Let’s leave with one more. Historically category five hurricanes hit Beach City once every hundred years. What chance is there for a storm of that level in the next thirty years? 

Other examples for our intuition: Birthday Bet, Simpson’s Paradox.

Also, this thinking and these riddles are courtesy of Michael Steiner’s podcast appearances. Sign up for Listen Notes and search him out. I enjoy [The Pathless Path]( & The Derivative.

White water white wash

We like things we are good at and we are good at things we intentionally practice.

We practice better numeracy through examples like A+ BS HSA rates. The point there was that organizations choose favorable framing in absolute or relative numbers.

Numbers are just characters in a story.

LoTR has Frodo. Stranger Things has Eleven. Batman has Batman. Tim Harford’s advice for better numeracy is to ask who is telling me this story and why are these the characters?

A clever example comes from the August 2022 episode of Acquisitions Anonymous where the hosts discuss a Vancouver white water rafting company. Business pitches use numbers to tell a story about why a business is worth a lot of money. Like a job interview or a date, it’s a polished version. 

This particular pitch used a blended SDE (seller’s discretionary earnings) multiple. Rather than value the business on elevated 2021 numbers, the seller’s broker included 2019 & 2018. That is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and co-host Bill D’Alessandro pulled away the mask. 

Yeah, Bill begins, blended earnings are often good but the 2021 Covid-19 bump is so large it pushes the weighted average higher than any other year. Pre-Covid-19 the SDE was around three-hundred-thousand-dollars but the weighted average is over five-hundred. 

Averages, weighted or otherwise, work best with distributions like number of autos owned, Wordle guesses, or years of school. 

Averages, weighted or otherwise, work terribly with distributions like financial wealth, number of testicles (an average of one), and movie revenue. 

Stories work best with coherent characters. Number stories work best with coherent calculations. We are experienced with stories about people. We stop books, leave theaters, or stream something else if we don’t like the way things fit together.

We’ve so much less experience with numbers. 

But now we have a little more. Thanks Bill.

2022 definitions

These are an ongoing series.

Psychological literacy: An understanding of ones unconscious and automatic processes. (via Dolly Chugh)

Heterogeneous: a data set where the mean is misleading. More here, here, and here.

Zoom towns: An enjoyable place to live enabled by remote work. (via Conor Sen)

Hopium: the drug of hope, as in, “you’re high on hopium.”

Inflation: the balance of supply and behavior.

Temperature: (An idea we love to talk about here, here – and this tweet is a great addition.

Breakthrough: (An update) In the early 2000s, Daniel Yergin said, the question around American energy was, “would imports rise to sixty or eighty percent?” Well, that didn’t happen.

“This guy, George P. Mitchell, in Texas was convinced you could get gas out of shale rock. He had a commercial reason, to supply a substantial party of Chicago’s natural gas and his fields were running down. It took sixteen years to get halfway there and another five years to get a complete breakthrough in 2003. People never saw it coming. No one saw the scale of it, how fast the U.S. went from the biggest importer of oil in the world to the biggest producer of oil in the world – a net exporter which was inconceivable.”

Fixing weaknesses (NFL)

Ethics aside, there are no bad businesses – only the wrong business model. Successful organizations have the right people interacting in the right way given the conditions. Outcomes are a mix of who and how with a sprinkling (or deluge) of randomness. 

One ‘condition’ is the relationships with customers. Amazon sellers interact through Amazon, and whatever information the everything store deems important is what the who needs to figure out how to do. As a result those stores compete on price and stars. 

Another ‘condition’ is fickle investors. Money managers prefer clients who aren’t depositing and withdrawing money constantly. So they write letters, go on podcasts, and pitch what they do in an effort to get the right clients. Organizations with a low CAC have figured out the current how

A ‘how’ we’ve advocated is to always fix your weaknesses. Eric Eager explains an NFL example. 

“The Chiefs just got done with negotiations with Orlando Brown, who wanted to be the highest paid left tackle in football. The Chiefs balked, and it’s a great decision. If you pay for a guy to go from an 85% win rate to a 95% win rate, that doesn’t matter nearly as much as taking your weakest guy from an 80% win rate to 87%.”

For NFL offensive lines the conditions are such to fix your weaknesses. 

A lot of times we look at the who and the how. It’s the nouns and verbs that are most salient. ‘Hire a new salesperson to make more calls.’ Instead should we start with the system conditions?

Systems are clearer during change. The four eras of consumerism: rural homes and mail, city center stores, suburban expansion, and internet DTC saw changes in the distribution and communication conditions and the dominant businesses changed. System analysis, relative to who and how, is likely underrated. 

Average measurements are overrated because they are easy to compute, give a number which implies certainty, and convey ideas about as well as a bunny ears black and white television.

Fixing weaknesses is a good default option. But so is asking about the system. It’s a non-obvious and valuable way to figure out how the who can do their best work. And maybe that means fixing weaknesses.

Robot vacuum innovation using JTBD

Robot vacuum innovation using JTBD

Too fast? Slow down. Too hot? Cool down. Too little? Add more. Too long to wait? Make it shorter. Maybe.

Waits are complainable for a couple of reasons. Fairness, if someone enters a line later but finishes sooner. Ambiguity, if the wait duration is unknown. Comfort, if there’s somewhere to sit, charge a phone, or entertain us, waits can be wonderful.

Not all problems have “symmetrical solutions”. Changing something else might change the main thing. Even better, sometimes something else is easier.

For instance, we bought a Roomba. It is loud. Rather, it is Loud AF.

Too loud? Make it quieter. Maybe. But loudness has layers like, how much noise I can hear. One change is quieter. Though that tradeoff makes it more expensive.

Another approach is to hear it less. The Roomba does just that! The vacuum has a scheduling feature and integrates with smart homes. Want a quieter Roomba? Run it when no one is home.

Asymmetry is at the heart of Alchemy. Rory Sutherland wants people to see that problems are asymmetrical and then use psychology (in this case, technology) to solve the problem in a new way.

The idea of symmetry is from Bob Moesta in episode 7 of the Circuit Breaker podcast. The idea of tradeoffs is from episode 2. One of the Roomba’s competitors is non-consumption, episode 13.