Proven advertising ideas to get more people to buy from you, visit you or know about you. Not to mention plenty of tips on creating successful copy, layout and images. All filtered through the thick haze of classic rock lore.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

All Things Must Pass: The antidote to "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

Nothing makes a good marketing pro cringe more than the phrase : "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

This favorite phrase of too many managers and business owners praises complacency, and complacency is a strategic no-no in a marketplace that's constantly changing. It puts an unnecessary ceiling to a company's growth and competitive edge. This phrase is also the twin sister to "We've always done it this way." Meaning, we're fine the way we are. We don't have to change. We're doing well.

But there are countless stories of successful companies that went under because they stayed the course while the marketplace, the customers and the times have changed. So your company's marketing plan frequently has to be reviewed and revised. New ideas and new ways of communicating to your target audience must always be embraced. That's why we always have to test new ideas, new creative and new strategies with the currently successful ones. Because what's successful today may not be successful two days from now.

So the next time your client or boss says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," think of George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass." Why? Because no organization is immune to what could be a fatal challenge. Even the greatest and most influential organzations can pass. And perhaps history's greatest example of this is Montgomery Wards.

One of the oldest retail institutions in the U.S., Montgomery Wards began in 1872. It changed the way America sold things. It created the catalog, direct mail and even Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. It had hundreds of stores in 31 states. It was a household name. And in December 2000, Montgomery Wards went bankrupt after 128 years.

If Montgomery Wards could go from being the poster child of the Industrial Revolution and Big Business to the poster child of "All Things Must Pass," then how can we be so complacent to say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." For us to stay vibrant and viable, we must be committed to always review, react and, if necessary, revise our marketing plans.

Read More......

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The opposite of concise is "utilize"

Every word must be concise. This is why the word "utilize" must be avoided, even reviled. Why? Because the verb "use" gets the message across much faster and clearer than the three-syllable "utilize" -- which makes "utilize" cumbersome and unnecessary. Compare these two sentences:

Utilize our website today.

Use our website today.

The second sentence is stronger, crisper and more precise. In other words, clear writing isn't about showing off vocabulary or using 25 cent words; it's about using concise language to communicate clearly.

But don't take my word for it. Here's what Professor William Strunk, Jr. of Cornell University wrote in 1918 about gunking up sentences with unnecessary words and expressions:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Many expressions in common use violate this principle:

the question as to whether -- whether (the question whether)
there is no doubt but that -- no doubt (doubtless)
used for fuel purposes -- used for fuel
he is a man who -- he
in a hasty manner -- hastily
this is a subject which -- this subject
His story is a strange one -- His story is strange.

In especial the expression the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs.

owing to the fact that -- since (because)
in spite of the fact that -- though (although)
call your attention to the fact that -- remind you (notify you)
the fact that he had not succeeded -- his failure

And in our pursuit of concise writing, we should all add the unnecessary "utilize" to our list of words that should be revised out of every sentence.

Read More......

Saturday, January 20, 2007

How to prove you're not an English-mangling monster to those who think copywriting is something lawyers do

What our third grade teachers taught us about writing isn't necessarily true today. Especially in copywriting and other types of persuasive writing. Which is why it's often perfectly acceptable to write in fragments. It's also okay, if not preferable, to end sentences with prepositions. Or to start sentences with "and" or "or." And, of course, contractions are our friends.

I know you know all this. But there will be times when you need to show your crisp copywriting to your boss or client (either external or internal), and you may get the usual resistance: "You can't start a sentence with 'and.' And you can't end a sentence with a preposition. And don't use contractions; it doesn't sound professional."

So how do you prove they're wrong and you're not some English-mangling monster? Just use this simple tactic that has worked for me every time: come armed with reprints of ads or brochures from the company's competitors that are chock full of fragments, contractions and sentences that end with prepositions and start with "and."

You may also want to remind your boss or client that truly persuasive writing must be personal. It must sound like how friends talk to each other in the living room or at a restaurant -- concisely, passionately and with little regard for many of the grammatical rules we learned in third grade.

Read More......

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How to get the right feedback from those you show your work to

Show someone your work and you're liable to get an "I like it" or "I don't like it." And nothing else. This response is appropriate if you're asking for an opinion on tobacco-flavored ice cream or the smell of your new hair gel. But it's a weak response if you're trying to find out if your piece really works (especially if you're too close to it to know if it really works).

So what should you do when you're trying to get some helpful, strategic feedback and instead you get only an "I like/don't like it" response? Simply dig deeper by asking these questions:

1. Did it grab your attention?
2. Was this persuasive to you?
3. Was the key selling message clear at a glance?
4. Was it easy (and even fun) to read?
5. Was it dynamic? Relevant? Tasteful? Human?

These are just a few suggestions. The point here is that sometimes you may need to ask more strategic questions from those you show your work to ... so you can get more strategic feedback and so your piece can be more effective.

Read More......

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Bob Dylan Rule of Branding

Here's a quick but important lesson Bob Dylan can teach you about branding (and no, it's not his lyric: "When you ain't got nothin'/You got nothin' to lose).

It's around December 1962. Bob Dylan already had one folk album out on Columbia Records and began recording his second one. On this second album, he recorded a couple of rock songs with a band accompanying his guitar and harmonica (one song was an original and the other was an Elvis cover). His manager said no way. You already started defining yourself as a folk singer with your audience, not a rocker. And we have to continue building your folk brand, not alienate an audience that's just starting to know you. So Dylan went on to achieve the pinnacle of his branding by being synonymous with folk and protest songs.

And more than two years later, Dylan was able to reinvent his brand and switch over to rock. He was already a household name, and switching to a new brand would not ruin him (though changing an audience's perception of a brand is always extremely challenging, which will be discussed later). This is an important lesson if you're thinking of re-branding your company, products or services. If you're not brand new but for some reason you want to say you're doing something new and different, it's best to first make sure your target audience really knows who you are. What you are. What you stand for.

Because if you try to redefine yourself before you solidify your brand, your audience will never really know who you are. And that could be the ruin of any branding campaign.

Read More......

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Lennon & McCartney rule of creating great advertising

Here's a question I've wasted way too much time thinking about: What the heck happened to the songwriting skills of John Lennon and Paul McCartney after the Beatles broke up?

How could the same guys who wrote "Strawberry Fields" and "Hey Jude" also write such embarrassments as "Meat City" and "Let 'Em In"? Did they forget their craft? Was it drugs? The influence of non-songwriters Yoko and Linda?

It's none of the above. I strongly believe their songwriting skills as individuals devolved because they created their post-Beatle songs in a kind of vacuum. After they wrote their post-Beatle songs, those around them said it was great, and they ran to the studio to record "Instant Karma" and "Helen Wheels." But as Beatles, they had each other to bounce off their ideas. They challenged each other. Even their competitiveness inspired them to innovate and experiment. All that ended when the Beatles ended.

So what does this have to do with creating great advertising? Everything. Because creating great advertising works the same way; it requires having someone else with a talent for recognizing good work to bounce your ideas off of (it could be a co-worker, copywriter, creative director or art director to name a few). Sometimes you're too close to your ideas and concepts to see it strategically. You need another set of trusted eyes.

In other words, the Lennon & McCartney rule of creating great advertising is not to create in a vacuum.

Read More......

Words that should be blacklisted - part two

The bureaucratic favorite, “and/or” should be avoided like infectious waste.

Its use is almost forgivable in legal contracts for people who crave meandering, passive sentences with plenty of prepositional phrases -– but inexcusable in marketing materials. Why? Because it disrupts the flow of your sentence and makes the reader slow down. Anything that slows the reader and opens an escape hatch from your main message (not to mention your call to action), is bad.

So what should you use instead of “and/or?” Either “and” or “or.” But not both. Using both adds nothing, and makes your sentence look more like a legal document than a persuasive tool.

Your job as a marketer is to use crisp sentences that clearly communicates your selling message.

Read More......

Monday, January 8, 2007

Assume your prospect doesn't have a dual personality

Many direct mail letters seem to be written to Bill Bixby as the Hulk -- people who have two personalities. Here's why.

Many direct mail letters seem to be written to Bill Bixby as the Hulk -- people who have two personalities. These letters begin with something like: "Dear Marketing Professionals" or "Dear Gaming Enthusiasts." And too many fund raising letters begin with: "Dear Friends." The problem here is these letters are addressing their audience in plural, when in fact their reader is only one person. Yes, there may be 10,000 people on the mailing list. But when your letter arrives in your prospects' mail box, only one person reads it -- unless your reader has a split personality or if someone else has the unlikely habit of reading over his or her shoulder.

Remember, you're always writing to one person ("Dear Marketing Professional," "Dear Gaming Enthusiast," "Dear Friend") . Reading is a very personal activity, and your sales or fund raising letter must take advantage of that.

Read More......

For all your fill in the blank needs

At all costs, avoid using a headline or subhead that says: "For all your ______ needs." It's a phrase we've almost come to expect from mom-and-pop shops: For all your hardware needs; for all your leather needs; for all your lactate-free food needs. But in the world of strategic advertising, it's a phrase that's offensive because it's lazy; it reaches for the nearest phrase from the trite shelf. No pro worth his or her salt would write it. It doesn't meet the challenge of communicating the product's key selling message in just a few words.

So I was surprised when my wife showed me a two-page spread in today's Sunday paper for a major brand-name skincare product line. The headline said: "Always healthy. Always beautiful." But the subhead said: "For all your skincare and beauty needs."

What a waste of premium real estate.

Read More......

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Nothing new under the sun

This 1957 ad could have been produced today (with digital imagery replacing the illustration). There's no headline to speak of and no copy -- just a catchy tagline. This kind of treatment could work to arouse awareness for a household name candy. But not for the many services and products today that are selling themselves short by sacrificing just a few lines of persuasive copy for award-winning creative.

Read More......

4 easy tips for money-making direct mail copy

How can you make your direct mail package so irresistible that it beats your competition every time? It starts with the writing. Crisp, attention-getting copy can persuade even your most skeptical reader to buy from you. So here are four quick tips to help your direct mail package (whether it’s a sales letter, brochure, flyer, newsletter or whatever) outsmart your competition and make you money in the mail.

1. Cut to the chase. Start your lead sentence with the greatest benefit you offer your prospects. Tell them exactly what they want to hear right from the beginning.

2. Write to your readers as you would a friend, with warmth and personality. Don’t be afraid to use the word “you.” It works magic in direct mail.

3. Don’t sell yourself short. Write longer copy. Under the right circumstances, not only will your readers read a four page-letter or a eight-page brochure, but they’ll even respond much better to it than they would a one-page piece . . . as long as you’ve grabbed their interest.

4. Put your thesaurus away, that is if you’re looking to impress your readers with fancy 25-cent words. If you really want to impress them so they reach for their check books, write clear and readable copy stressing how you can benefit them. Simple language sells.

Read More......

Words that should be blacklisted - part one

There are some words you should never use in your ads, websites, brochures and other collateral. The word that tops my blacklist is the word "unique." Originally, it meant being without a like or equal. Now it means nothing, or less than nothing, because it's so overused. If everything's unique (unique school, unique design, unique hairstyle) then nothing's unique. So instead of using a word that no longer has any real meaning to your target audience, just describe what makes you special and how you differentiate from your competition.

Read More......

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Illustration Agreement Rule

The image or illustration in your ad must agree with the headline next to it, right?

Not really.

Let me explain.

Let's say you're creating a magazine ad for a financial services company, and the headline is "Time to Swim with the Sharks." It might seem logical to choose a photo of a shark swimming in the ocean. The problem, then, is that potential prospects reading the magazine will flip right past the ad because they're not interested in sharks; they're interested in the services you sell.

So really, the illustration should agree with the products or services you’re selling, not with the headline copy. Going back to our example, the photo of your financial services ad should show your biggest selling message (perhaps the happy results of using your services), not a shark. What about the headline, "Time to Swim with Sharks" then? It should be dumped. It doesn't work. The headline, like the image, should broadcast your key selling message and not scary sea animals (unless that's what you're selling).

Read More......


Welcome to Electric Idea Circus, the site where you'll find valuable marketing-communications ideas you may not have thought of.

Whether you want to persuade people to buy from you, visit you, know about you or donate to you -- this is where you'll get ideas to increase your effectiveness and efficiency. Plus, there'll be plenty of tips on creating successful copy, layout and images for both print and the Internet.

Again, welcome.

Read More......