Benefits will always beat out features, but not all benefits are created equal. A benefit that can be confused for a feature isn’t a true benefit at all. And benefits that don’t set your product or service apart from what competitors are offering might leave your potential customers scratching their heads in confusion.

The new Epson ads featuring  Shaquille O’Neal are examples of benefits gone wrong. Here’s one of the spots:

At the outset of the ad, Shaq faces a problem that will resonate with everyone who owns an inkjet printer. One of his cartridges has run out of ink, and he can’t find a replacement.

But the solution — Epson’s liquid ink refills — is more of a feature than a benefit, and doesn’t differentiate these printers from those that use cartridges.

Different Ink Container, Same Ink Challenges

The challenge that Shaq is facing is that he has run out of ink. Liquid ink doesn’t solve this issue better than an ink cartridge. If you don’t have a magenta ink cartridge, why would you assume that you’d always have a liquid magenta refill on hand?

Because the ink delivery system is a feature and not a benefit, Shaq and Epson aren’t providing a good value proposition for potential customers. 

You could argue that the ad does provide some benefits, but here we see that it doesn’t offer benefits that truly differentiate Epson printers from other brands.

One benefit: Their ink refills contain more ink than a cartridge, so you need to make fewer trips to the store. But two critical questions are not answered: How much more ink do you get compared to a cartridge, and how much do the ink refills cost compared to the cartridges? Hypothetically, the refills may only provide 10% more ink and cost 50% more. 

Overlooking the Obvious 

It’s frustrating that a differentiating benefit is completely overlooked: ink refills appear to be friendlier for the environment than cartridges. Everyone knows how much metal and plastic goes into a cartridge — what a waste! I assume you can throw an empty plastic ink bottle into any recycling bin. Now, that’s a selling point.

Another frustrating point: The ad doesn’t address a concern many customers may have. Liquids are messy, and Epson doesn’t explain how its solution keeps ink from dripping all over your hands, your printer, your desk, your floor, your guinea pig armor — you get the idea. If there’s a design feature that prevents spills, Epson should have mentioned it prominently. 

The Epson ad fails because it focuses on features and doesn’t provide a compelling, differentiating benefit. Hiring Shaq doesn’t guarantee a slam dunk if the message of your ad is fundamentally flawed.