CAN WE FORGET THE SUPER BOWL FOR JUST A MOMENT?
If you've been around for at least a year, you know that we here at the screed do not touch Super Bowl commercials for at least a week after the game.
We talk mainly about big-brand thinking for small-business marketing.
And we are champions of the thoughtful process.
So, we wait for the dust to settle. And when all the pundits are done clamoring over the public's "favorite commercials," which means nothing, we move in.
We talk about actual, sales-inducing, ROI-generating tactics and strategies.
So instead, this week, we're talking about the smallest thing that could possibly be on your radar.
RHODE ISLAND TOURISM LIVES!
That's right, Rhode Island, the state that brought you the spectacular failure of a tourism slogan in 2016, along with a tourism video featuring footage of Reykjavik, is back in the news!
Over a year and a half ago, Rhode Island unveiled the baffling slogan "Cooler & Warmer" to great and immediate derision across the nation.
At that time, an old friend of mine named Bob Holfelder, who lives in Rhode Island, commented publicly that he had a much better slogan for the smallest state in the nation.
And since Mr. Holfelder is a professional trombone player, you can be certain that his slogan comes with equal amounts gravity and profundity.
The Providence Journal liked it so much, they spoke to Mr. Holfelder and published his suggestion on April 4, 2016.
WE HERE AT THE MOUNTAINTOP MARKETING FORTRESS APPLAUDED HIM IMMEDIATELY
It was genius.
And it didn't go unpunished.
Last week, scandal ensued.
Rhode Island has a new tourism slogan.
It is (drum roll please): "Fun-sized."
That's right, Rhode Island moved from a nonsense tourism slogan to a plagiarized one.
Mr. Holfelder immediately took to social media to decry his lack of credit, payment, acknowledgement, or even a pat on the back.
WHAT IS GOING ON IN RHODE ISLAND?
They spend a gazillion bucks on "Cooler & Warmer," then don't have the nerve to stand behind it, but they do have the nerve to rip-off a new and better slogan from a resident without so much as a phone call.
"Hey, Bob. Love your idea. We can't afford to pay you. But here's a six pack of Narragansett lager. Which, by the way is probably being brewed in Rochester, New York. But hey, it's still fizzy and yellow. 'Bye."
Mr. Holfelder was understandably chagrined, but journalism to the rescue!
A reporter from the Providence Journal got back in touch with him, and turned his tale of woe into further news.
In the article, the reporter speaks to Mr. Holfelder, as well as to the state's chief marketing officer--who credits Nail Communications with the campaign.
SEEMS THEY THINK NAIL NAILED IT
In the meantime, Mr. Holfelder said to the Journal, "It would be nice to at least get recognition, if not some compensation."
The state's CMO said, "If we make a profit on it, we could certainly give it to him."
That is about the worst public case of indefinite pronoun usage to a reporter imaginable. "Give it to him."
"It" being what?
This does beg a question, though.
Did anyone really swipe that slogan?
It's hard to know.
My guess is, not consciously. We get so much information flying at us every day that it's possible to hear something like that, sublimate it into your unconscious, and then later on spit it back out as something you just came up with.
And, it could have just been independently barfed up by some other writer with a wit equal to Mr. Holfelder. I've certainly written down ideas only to have due diligence reveal that I'm not the first genius to barf up that idea.
What Mr. Holfelder has going for him is that he's on the record in the state's newspaper of record using the phrase.
So, maybe he'll get something. And he deserves it.
And I'm not saying that just because I still owe him money.
In the meantime, this all points to a much greater problem for people, especially non-professionals, who need to create advertising.
"THIS IS THE LAST IDEA I'LL EVER HAVE!" SYNDROME
The difference between actual writers and non-writers creating advertising?
Actual writers forget more original ideas than non-writers ever come up with.
When the Fabulous Honey Parker and I write names and taglines for a business-branding project, we can easily generate two-hundred ideas for each.
When a non-writer tries the same thing, they often quit at the first mediocre idea they come up with.
Then, they're surprised when someone else comes up with the same idea.
If this happens to you, it means you means you haven't worked hard enough yet.
You can do more.
And you can probably do better.
BUT NEVER, EVER SHOULD A WRITER STEAL SOMEONE ELSE'S IDEA
That's the lowest of the low.
And, worst-case scenario, that writer can get sued.
It's OK to be inspired by other work. You just can't copy it.
I've been inspired by plenty of other advertisements throughout my career. But you can never draw a line between the work that inspired me, and the work that came from the inspiration. It's completely different.
It's easy to be original.
It's even easier to be merely competent.
But either requires spending a lot of time writing down a lot of crap on a blank page, and then being astute enough to recognize a diamond in the rough.
Got a writer who can't give you anything original? Tell that writer, "Do not fear the blank page. Embrace it. And despoil it with lousy writing. That's what it's there for. And that's how one's writing becomes worthy."
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
HAVE I PAINTED MYSELF INTO A CORNER?
Something happened last week.
It gave your faithful screedmeister here a wakeup call.
I may be in trouble. You may get to witness the unraveling of everything that has happened here since January 16, when we unleashed the madness of "They All Laughed When I Tried To Write Better Advertising..."
The title is an allusion to the classic John Caples headline for a home-study music school: "They laughed when I sat down at the piano--but when I started to play!"
As you know, if you've been around for the last two installments of the weekly screed, we've been indulging in a protracted answer to a question from Mr. Chris Pollard, a radio creative director in Dryden, Ontario.
HE WANTS TO KNOW HOW TO GET AFFORDABLE TRAINING FOR HIS CREATIVE STAFF
Many of the affordable alternatives that used to be available have fallen off the edge of the earth.
So far, the dubious counsel we've given is that his people should become geeks for advertising, as well as geeks for life, the universe and everything.
This is nail-on-the-head advice for anyone in any situation who wants to create good advertising.
Last time, the promise was made that a more practical and concrete answer to Mr. Pollard's question would be forthcoming.
Then, last week, an email arrived.
It came from Brian Tepper, Mr. Pollard's compatriot at Acadia Broadcasting.
SEEMS THIS SERIES OF MISSIVES IS CAUSING A STIR
People at the company are paying attention.
Mr. Tepper also told me about many of the things that are being done to make their copywriters better.
And some resources I was going to suggest have already been put into play.
Eegad! What have we done?! The build up to this week's concrete answer is shot to hell!
Your faithful scribe has painted himself into a corner from which he cannot escape!
Just maybe, there are more answers that none of us had anticipated.
And here's why I say that.
MR. TEPPER ALSO REVEALED SOME SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES
It seems their company has some unwitting copywriters.
During a round of layoffs--which became epidemic in radio a few years ago and have persisted--some traffic people were let go from the traffic department.
But they were allowed to assume the mantle of copywriter.
This is truly impressive and unusual.
I compare it to someone who's been working in air traffic control. They've had a career telling the planes where to land when. It's a fairly rigid environment--there are limited options for creating success. It's all very detailed and well outlined.
ALL OF A SUDDEN, THAT AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER GETS LAID OFF
And that person is told, "But, now you're going start designing and building airplanes."
Someone who has always worked within a specific range of parameters with limited options for creativity is suddenly thrust into a job that is completely the opposite.
There are no limits beyond the length of the commercial.
And now, without ever having designed a plane, this person has to figure out how to build wings and take flight!
Red Bull might give you wings, but a sugared-up caffeinated energy bomb is not going to solve this one.
But here's the good news: unlike with planes, at worst, if they fail, nobody gets hurt.
And at best, I still believe it is entirely possible to make this work in ways that nobody ever anticipated.
THESE PEOPLE DON'T BRING THE BAGGAGE OF HAVING ALREADY BEEN PROFESSIONAL WRITERS
One of the problems with writers, especially young ones, is often they feel they have all the answers.
I know. I was one of those writers.
The creative ego can run away with things.
When rejected, the ego-fueled writer says things like, "They just don't understand my genius."
Well, sometimes that writer doesn't understand what he's doing. Too often, he's just amusing himself at the expense of the client's advertising budget.
But when the writer starts to realize that his oh-so-amusing unbridled creativity isn't the only thing that the job requires, and that there are so many technical and psychological underpinnings that actually make a radio commercial generate results, things evolve.
And the writer becomes better and more effective.
THE TRAFFIC PEOPLE PROBABLY DON'T SUFFER FROM WRITER'S EGO
But what they do have, typically, is an ability to use a left-brain approach to things.
They understand order and details.
They haven't spent their careers trying to fill up a blank page with words that inspire people to action.
They've spent their careers keeping things organized and running smoothly.
So now, the trick is to give them new skills to help them fill up that blank page while trying to bring order to the daunting chaos it represents.
All kinds of wild and crazy things can happen on that page.
At some point, however, the things that happen there have to be tamed.
And a left-brain sensibility can be useful.
DON'T LET THE LEFT BRAIN SQUELCH THE RIGHT BRAIN BEFORE THE GOOD STUFF HAPPENS
This isn't a unique challenge.
It happens to everyone who isn't a writer.
They sit and stare at a blank page, and experience fear and loathing.
And the sensible left brain says things like, "Oh, that'll never work. You can't do this. That's a crazy idea. Let's go get some poutine."
Then, the writer gets loaded up on carbs, needs a nap, and nothing gets done.
THE PAGE REMAINS BLANK
Fear of the blank page is common.
Getting over that requires the courage born of realizing that this fear is pointless.
The fear of jumping out of an airplane, crossing an ocean in a sailboat, stepping backwards off of a rock face with a rope in your hands, those things are all legitimate fears based on the action and its potential to end your life.
Where does the fear of a blank page come from?
"If I write the wrong words, I could explode!"
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy BLAMMO!
Not gonna happen.
I BELIEVE IT'S THE FEAR OF FAILURE
The fear of not being good enough to do it.
The fear of being judged.
All kinds of imagined social disappointments are conjured up by the prospect of filling that clean white page.
It ain't gonna happen.
And the only way to understand that is by actually following the advice of noted journalist, novelist and suffragette Mary Heaton Vorse: "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."
That's how you start. "I can't do it" is no kind of excuse.
And when you learn how simple it is, and how there are rules for making it all better, it stops being daunting and starts being a delight.
BUT THIS DOES NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION!
Where is the affordable training?!
I'm about to answer that question. But first, know that this discussion about how to write better advertising, is going to continue. There's just too much ground to cover. We might be brand-focused obsessives over here, but we are also writers and are obsessive about that, too. So we're going to talk more about writing and how to be on brand with effective copywriting.
In the meantime, as discouraged as I am by the fact that the gents in Canada are already using the resources I would've suggested, there are a couple more.
FIRST, EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW THAT THE BLANK PAGE WILL NOT HURT YOU
It is not a loaded gun.
Second, for a practical solution to training writers, the Radio Advertising Bureau has a program that they developed with Dan O'Day. It's called CPCC: Certified Professional Commercial Copywriter.
I find the CPCC a less than perfect solution for the non-writer, because it's specifically about creating radio advertising. Copywriters need a foundation beyond radio. But in an age when corporate needs to justify the expense from the perspective of ROI, this is a good solution: a certification program that gives the writer a credential, which can be shown to the client as a measure of authority (and can help close the deal), and in which a true expert in the genre imparts his wisdom in a practicable and easy-to-understand fashion.
I've known and worked with Dan O'Day for 20 years. We occasionally have healthy differences of opinion (like the veracity of Bud Light's "Real Men Of Genius" campaign), but we agree on most things. And when it comes to training Dan is a rock. This is important stuff. http://www.rab.com/public/academy/onlinecourses-sales.cfm
NEXT, BECOME A LISTENER
Listen to all kinds of radio, not just advertising.
But definitely, listen to award-winning radio.
Go to Radio Mercury Awards dot com and listen to the winners. Among other things, understand why the Richards Group continues to crush it in this competition, especially with the 30-year juggernaut of Tom Bodett for Motel 6. Not all of the advertising you hear there is necessarily good or effective, but it does give you an idea of what is possible with nothing more than a few words and some music. Occasionally, some sound effects. It helps you to think like a radio pro.
I have a lifetime of thinking like a radio guy. When I was a little kid, my parents would wax poetic about the impact of dramatic radio shows, so I would find them and listen. Then came Cheech & Chong records which, 1970s dope humor aside, had some excellent production value. Later, The Firesign Theater, which had some of the most absurd writing and mind-bending production around.
But it was the Radio Mercury Award winners that really upped my game. Not to mention entering the Mercury Awards and not winning upped my game. It's an important bar to have. When you have skin in the game and you lose, it give you a perspective unattainable in any other way. And that is how I finally became good enough to win my own Radio Mercury Awards. Twice.
BUT SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED
I also lost interest in awards.
Because ultimately, it's about something more.
It's about performing for the client.
And when you start getting good enough to win, and you also start generating ROI, it changes everything.
The client entrusts us with their brand. They rely on us to do something they can't do.
It's up to us to work the game and develop the chops required to make their customers sit up, take notice, and respond.
And when you get to develop a juggernaut of a campaign based on a solid brand (that you may have also helped define), it's a little like famous ad man Jerry Della Femina once said: "Advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on."
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
DID I GET IT WRONG LAST TIME?
If you were paying attention to the last screed, we left halfway into answering a question from Chris Pollard, champion radio creative director in Ontario, to wit: "How do we move the needle?"
He's asking how to get affordable training for the people on his staff so they can create better radio advertising.
One of the first things I said was: Even if you don't care about radio, stick around. This is going to be worth it.
And I still stand by that. Thank you for being here.
However, last time, my first recommendation to anyone wanting to create better advertising was to become a geek for advertising.
It doesn't matter what kind of advertising you do, you need to understand techniques and history.
DID I JUMP THE GUN?
In preparing for this follow up, I realized: Uh-oh.
Did your relentless scribe put the cart before the horse?
Last week, I invoked the name of the father of Guerrilla Marketing, the late, great Jay Conrad Levinson. Back in the day, he had the good fortune to be hired and then fortuitously fired by Howard Gossage, the brilliant eccentric and marvelously creative ad man who ruled advertising from atop a converted firehouse in San Francisco during the '60s.
The delightful quirk that drove so much of Mr. Gossage's work no doubt rubbed off on Mr. Levinson, who offers a directive in his bible of guerilla marketing.
And that directive is blindingly important in this whole question of how to create better advertising.
He said, "Get people's attention."
WELL, DUH. OF COURSE YOU WANT TO GET PEOPLE'S ATTENTION.
But wait there's more.
He went on to say something that so many people creating advertising never stop to consider.
"People do not pay attention to advertising."
People do not pay attention to advertising?! Why should they not be interested in the brilliant words that come streaming forth from my word processor!
Why not, indeed. As Mr. Levinson continues, "...they pay attention only to things that interest them. Sometimes, people find those things in advertising."
Getting their attention does not mean yelling, "Free beer!" And then saying, "Now that I have your attention, I'm selling this horse."
It means something else.
"TO BE INTERESTING, BE INTERESTED."
No, that is not Mr. Levinson speaking.
Nor is it David Ogilvy, as the internet meme machine would like you to believe. I can guarantee this, because the quote appears two thirds of the way down page 88 of that grand old chestnut of persuasion, How To Win Friends And Influence Peopleby Dale Carnegie.
If people pay attention to what interests them, and you wish them to pay attention to your advertising, it becomes necessary that your advertising is interesting.
And this takes us to a very basic element of writing great advertising.
It's not about advertising.
IT'S ABOUT PEOPLE
And this is where we should've begun the discussion.
Not at becoming a geek for advertising.
But at becoming a geek for life, the universe and everything.
Anyone can explain the basic mechanics of creating an advertisement.
But what can't be taught is a curiosity about the world outside the advertisement.
And that's something you find in all the great advertising writers who have come down the pike.
To a person, they are interesting--but more importantly, they are interested.
And I guarantee you that when Mr. Pollard in his office in his radio station in Dryden in Ontario in Canada at the top side of North America hears this, he's going to wonder what the heck has happened.
ALL THIS MAN WANTED WAS ADVICE ON RADIO TRAINING
He's received commentary on advertising geekdom, is now being told that an interest in life, the universe and everything is really what every writer needs, and what on earth is he supposed to do with that?
I feel your pain, Mr. Pollard. It's frustrating for me, too.
Don't worry, we will get back on topic.
But first, we need to beat this mule some more.
Too much thinking in business (and in life) is channeled and labeled and siloed and stratified and packaged and otherwise rigidly defined.
There is no room for anything that isn't categorized.
EVERYONE WANTS WELL-DEFINED ANSWERS AND SOLUTIONS
Here's the problem with talking about training people to create better advertising.
There's no on-off switch.
You can't just send someone to a training program and come out with a top-notch copywriter or a genius voiceover performer.
It's all a process.
And the process begins a long time before someone walks into a radio station or an advertising agency or even your business and says, posing with arms akimbo, "I am writer!"
Instead, they've spent their lives, walking around and bumping into things, wandering down the road less traveled, wondering "What the heck?", and asking questions.
AND THIS IS KEY
Good advertising writers are interested.
They have curiosity.
They want to know more.
They ask questions.
Then, when it comes time to write an ad, after they've asked all kinds of questions about what they're supposed to be selling, they have no problem sitting down writing endless awful advertisements for it.
ONE NEVER WRITES A GOOD AD BEFORE ASKING QUESTIONS AND WRITING CRAP
One big problem?
A lot of people stop at the crap.
They think it's good. They parade it around and people applaud.
Because maybe it's clever.
Maybe it seems like an advertisement.
But in reality, all it really is, is an ad-like object.
The world is filled with ad-like objects.
You see them and hear all the time.
And they make you feel nothing--unless they make you feel the wrong thing.
OFTEN THEY'RE FUNNY
And there's nothing wrong with funny advertising.
But funny is not the goal. Funny by itself makes the prospect feel the wrong thing.
The funny needs to be relevant.
The funny needs to connect with the sales message.
And this is one of the big challenges we face.
Especially in radio, there's a perception that advertising needs to be funny.
Advertising needs to be relevant.
That doesn't mean it needs to be a "buy now, but wait, there's more, there's never been a better time to buy this baloney!" pitch fest.
AN INTERESTED PERSON UNDERSTANDS PSYCHOLOGY
Not formal psychology. I took psych 101 in college. It was awful. And was obviously taught by somebody badly in need of a psychologist.
We're talking practical psychology, or whatever else you want to call it. Mindset. Thinking. Makeup. Sensibility. Consciousness. Attitude. Feeling.
Ah, there's that word. "Feeling." How does the advertisement make the prospect "feel."
The interested copywriter understands this.
The interested copywriter understands the feelings of the person to whom they are speaking, and how to hit the emotional trigger that makes that prospect feel, "Here's the solution to my problem."
THAT'S PART OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
And that kind of emotional intelligence about the craft comes from spending life, walking around and bumping into things, wandering down the road less traveled, wondering "What the heck?", and asking questions.
It does not come from saying, "Hey, we're gonna write a funny ad that wins an award!"
Before anything else happens, the right person with the right attitude has to be at the helm of the great ship HMS Word Processor.
Fortunately for the indubitably frustrated Mr. Pollard in his radio station in Dryden, Ontario, Canada, North America, 49 degrees 47 minutes North, 92 degrees 50 minutes West, we will be getting around to a practical and concrete answer to his question next time.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHO REALLY IS RESPONSIBLE?
I woke up Monday morning to hear the news, oh boy.
The NBC executive who coined the phrase, "Must See TV" had died.
His name was Don Ohlmeyer.
A veteran of NBC Sports, Mr. Ohlmeyer was also the man responsible for having Norm MacDonald fired from SNL for too many jokes about his friend, OJ Simpson.
What about this smells wrong?
And how surprised is Dan Holm going to be?
DAN HOLM IS THE WRITER/PRODUCER WHO SAT DOWN AND WROTE THE PHRASE, "MUST SEE TV"
Of course, the success of NBC's famous Thursday-night promotion is going to the executive who happened to be sitting in the chair when it all happened.
In TV, nobody celebrates writers.
Except maybe the other writers.
And as the story is told, Mr. Holm didn't exactly trot out "Must See TV" as the powerhouse tagline to promote Thursday nights.
The story goes that Mr. Holm used the phrase in a promotional script. A gentleman named Vince Manze, who ran the network's promotional agency, saw the genius in it and cherry picked it for greater things.
This happens all the time. For one of my own clients, I've written a tagline that began its life buried in a piece of body copy.
THAT TAGLINE IS WORTH FAR MORE THAN THE CLIENT EVER PAID FOR IT
But it also required the ability to recognize its value, and be plucked from body-copy obscurity, and thrust into the spotlight as a defining statement for the brand.
And nobody's going around saying, "Hey, look at the tagline Blaine wrote!"
They're going around, repeating the tagline.
It belongs to the brand, not the person who wrote it.
And that's OK. If I go to my grave being known only for the brand tagline for a specialty product for the construction industry, it's going to be a grand disappointment.
I'd prefer to go to my grave for being known as a fabulous dancer.
But I digress.
Credit for copywriting notwithstanding...
FOR A WHILE, "MUST SEE TV" WAS A BRAND JUGGERNAUT FOR NBC
That was the era of the coveted Thursday-night viewership domination.
Shows like Mad About You, Wings, Seinfeld, Friends and ER all happened during that period.
And certainly, much good did come out of NBC during Mr. Ohlmeyer's tenure as president of the network's west-coast division.
That said, the gentleman also had a reputation.
Mention of that reputation probably won't be popping up in any of the obituaries-and it's a reputation for a trait that is so common in marketing.
The Fabulous Honey Parker has seen it repeatedly in her career in Big-Agency Advertising.
I've seen it repeatedly during my career in Small-Business Advertising.
THAT REPUTATION IS ONE FOR BEING A PREVENTION DEPARTMENT
Depending on the environment, sometimes it's called The Advertising Prevention Department.
In the case of Mr. Ohlmeyer, it might be called the Programming Prevention Department.
According to the Infallible Oracle Of Everything, Wikipedia, Mr. Ohlmeyer's reputation at NBC was that he was "...not the inspiration behind NBC's hits in this period, but was often a roadblock they had to work around to make them happen."
The article goes on to say that he insisted the hugely popular NBC drama, ERwould get destroyed by Chicago Hope at CBS.
Of course, ER went on to win a total of 23 Primetime Emmy Awards, 124 Emmy nominations (making it the most nominated drama program in history), and picked up 116 awards in total during its tenure.
AH, BUT WHAT ABOUT BEING BASHED IN THE RATINGS, AS PER OHLMEYER THE ORACLE?
Besides being a critical powerhouse, ER spent a couple of seasons as the most watched show in North America, and for years fought with Seinfeld, another NBC show, for the #1 ratings slot.
Mr. Ohlmeyer also didn't want to give the go ahead to Will & Grace.
He insisted a TV show with gay characters couldn't reach a large mainstream audience.
As the highest-rated sitcom among adults 18-49 from 2001 to 2005, and winner of 16 Emmy Awards out of 83 nominations, it seems that Mr. Ohlmeyer's nose for what people would buy was not 100% dead accurate.
And this is not a slam at all at Don Ohlmeyer.
Far from it, in fact. He helped make some amazing things happen.
BUT IT'S A CAUTIONARY NOTE FOR ANYONE PUTTING CREATIVE WORK INTO THE ETHER
And the cautionary note is perhaps best illustrated by a line given to us by a CoupleCo interview subject.
If you don't know, CoupleCo is a nascent project being launched by The Fabulous Honey Parker and me.
It will start life as a podcast about and for couple entrepreneurs, and grow into other media.
We were interviewing a couple who have a photography business, and are a raging success.
We asked each of them, "What is the single most important piece of advice you could give a couple who wants to be in business together?"
Without hesitation, he said, "Don't think your opinion is always right. Because 99% of the time, it's not."
AND THAT IS A FINE BIT OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE
Especially in a business where one either has to help create a brand, or has to put that brand before the public (I'm talking to you, all you writers and small business owners-you're all in this together), fear and ego are your enemies.
Again: Fear And Ego Are Your Enemies.
We've talked about this before.
We will talk about it again.
Fear says things like, "Oh, I can't do that, it'll insult someone."
We've literally had a client be afraid of a piece of copy that talked about how hard it is to read a menu in a dark Chinese restaurant.
Without using this exact phrasing, the client said he was afraid it would be considered a micro-aggression against Chinese people.
WHAT HE DIDN'T REALIZE IS IT HAD ALREADY BEEN RUNNING FOR YEARS
We were asking him to approve not the entire advertisement, but just an edit to the advertisement.
It had been on the air for seven years. In those seven years , no one had ever called him on his politically incorrect micro-aggression.
As for Ego, that's the little voice in your head that tells you things like, "Yes, those are the rules for other people, but I'm above that."
Or, "I don't like that so nobody will."
Ya know what?
I love olives. Happy to eat them.
Ya know what else?
Honey Parker hates olives. Will not eat them.
We will never come to an accord over this. It's just the way things are.
ONE THING WE DO AGREE ON IS THAT WE DON'T ENJOY WILL & GRACE
We are not the Will & Grace audience.
But we do not begrudge the TV viewing public its fondness for that NBC sitcom.
And we admit, it was well done.
And one of the brightest spots for us is Megan Mullally's supporting role as Karen Walker. This character is described (in know-it-all Wikipedia, of course,) as "'a spoiled, shrill, gold-digging socialite who would sooner chew off her own foot than do an honest day's work.' She is also a promiscuous borderline alcoholic/drug addict with an often tenuous grip on reality and very few morals."
Really, Ms. Mullally is just damn funny, and a stellar comic actress.
SO, WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL-BUSINESS OWNER?
After all, TV programming is an incredibly complicated big business. What can the small-business owner take away from this mayhem of convoluted mega-business mishegas?
Well, don't be afraid of good creative.
Don't let Fear & Ego rule your decision making.
And ultimately, it helps to turn to one of NBC's iconic leaders, the late CEO and Chairman Grant Tinker, who also co-founded MTM Enterprises with his then wife, Mary Tyler Moore.
Mr. Tinker was known for his distinctive approach to all things business, "First be best, and then be first."
Of course, that requires defining the word, "Best."
What is best?
That's a topic for a whole different screed.
But be guaranteed, it isn't fueled by fear or ego.
If you'd like to know more about couples who are not ruled by Fear & Ego, check out this teaser video for what's to come at CoupleCo...
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHERE ARE YOUR WORDS FAILING YOU?
Recently, I was asked to rewrite an advertisement for a client
The client is in a very, very sexy category.
Yay, construction materials!
Here's the thing.
This stuff doesn't sell itself. Even construction materials require advertising that hits the mark.
No, it might not be sexy.
But it's an 8-figure business that's selling its product from New England to New Zealand.
AND THEIR BRAND IS ROCK SOLID
No pun intended.
In their category, they have a brand that stands apart, stands out, and stands up to the competition.
They're also just fun to work for.
The product they sell is a permanent cold asphalt that saves the user around 50% over the cost of traditional asphalt repairs.
Traditionally, a road repair is done twice: first with a temporary cold patch, and then later with a permanent hot mix.
You've seen the temporary pothole repairs. They're the ones that never last, destroy your suspension, and blow the chrome spinner wheel covers off your Smart Car.
This product eliminates the second, hot-mix repair. You just come in, make the repair once, and you're done for good. Guaranteed permanent.
They had an ad going out to the trade, and wanted the copy refreshed from a previous version.
AND THE HEADLINE WAS NAGGING AT ME
The headline, which they were happy to continue using, was "Patch once. Save money."
I looked at it.
It sat there on the page, mocking me.
What is missing, headline?
Why are you irritating me?
What is it about you that makes you incomplete?
I left it.
Instead, I went through the body copy and freshened it up.
And the answer to the headline dilemma punched through.
That's what it needed.
The headline had said, "Patch once. Save money."
What it was supposed to say was, "Patch just once. Save big money."
All of a sudden, the proposition is more distinctive and acute.
You're going to do even less work and save even more money.
I sent the headline over to the client.
His reply was something like, "Oh. That's better."
Apparently, the headline had been nagging at him, as well.
And this points to something all too common in writing advertising.
THE WRITER QUITS TOO SOON
Sometimes it's laziness.
Often, it's a time deficit.
Sometimes, it's just plain ignorance.
Occasionally, it's arrogance.
Regardless. Whatever you're creating, whether it's print, digital, broadcast--from a TV commercial to a website to a one-sheet--copywriting is a puzzle to be solved.
You can be the writer. You can be the client. You can be a middle man. It doesn't matter who you are.
If the words are nagging at you, the copy isn't finished.
Of course, this requires that you have the conscience to let those words nag at you. I've known too many ostensible pros whose bar for "Good enough" is way too low.
They suffer from an arrogance of ignorance and indifference that shoots everyone in the foot.
Those cases aside, there's a simple rule to remember about copy.
IF IT'S NOT ON THE PAGE...
It's not in your advertisement.
Or your website.
Or your brochure.
Or your commercial.
Or whatever else it is you're using to communicate with your customer.
And if you care, you will likely get that feeling, the one that says, "This isn't quite right."
The "Good enough!" attitude is necessary. There comes a point where you have to stop cutting bait and start fishing.
That notwithstanding, one MUST be scrupulous about one's words.
METICULOUS ATTENTION TO DETAIL RULES
A willingness to parse the copy and figure out what's missing matters.
At the very least, it's how a customer is enticed to pay attention.
At the very best, it's how you change the world.
Somewhere in between those two places is the bank.
It's where the advertising generates more response and makes more money.
And a good copywriter is going to sweat the details until vowels and consonants are dripping from his pores.
Example: last weekend, the Fabulous Honey Parker and I were running in a trail race.
(Notice I said, "running," not "competing." Saying that either of us is competitive strains credibility. But we always beat the people who never start.)
Someone running ahead of me was wearing a T-shirt from a local university.
The message on the back of the shirt, under the university's logo, was this copy: "Envy the past. Fear the future."
MY FIRST THOUGHT WAS: "WELL, THAT'S STUPID."
A university is about educating and enlightening with the goal of building a better tomorrow.
Who would teach anyone to fear the future?
Then, I thought, This must be something from the sports department. It's intended to taunt the competition.
A cursory Google search reveals that this is a message that has gone onto the T-shirts ever since the university's football team joined the PAC-12.
Here's the problem with me running behind a guy wearing a shirt like that.
There is entirely too much time to parse the words. I spent several minutes breaking it down and trying to decide whether it made sense.
As a message to the competition, which it undoubtedly must be, it's a couple of things.
One, it's arrogant, which is dangerous. Those are words that you may find being spoon fed back to you. They will not taste good.
Two, it's slightly off target. The words are wrong.
As I was running through the dust and rocks, I kept looking at that shirt and rewriting it.
I KEPT ASKING MYSELF, "IS 'THE' THE CORRECT WORD?"
At the risk of sounding a little too much like an erstwhile U.S. president who, under questioning, said that his answer depended upon what the definition of "is" is, you need to think about these things.
Because really, this message is not about a general past or a general future, but about one party's specific past and another party's specific future.
A past in which the university's team has reaped the glory of victory.
And a future in which the university's team is going to eat the opposing team's lunch.
So maybe the message should be, "Envy our past. Fear your future."
Because technically, that's really what it's about.
It's about you, on the opposing team, looking on our record with envy, and in tomorrow's game, being forced to go headlong and eat dirt.
PERSONALLY, I CAN THINK OF A FEW LINES THAT ARE MORE FUN AND LESS RISKY
"Fear not. Death will be glorious."
"It's a good day to die. Ready?"
"What's in your wallet? And do they take it at the ER?"
"We'll carry the torch. You enjoy the flames."
"Our mascot will look even better from down there."
"Come feel the pain."
OK. Are they good lines? Mainly, no.
But this is the process.
I wrote all of that in slightly more time than it took to read it all.
Too many people stop writing at the first idea.
Sometimes, that idea is brilliant.
More often, it's not.
OFTEN, THE WAY BRILLIANCE OCCURS, IS BY WRITING TONS AND TONS OF CRAP
Writing not nearly enough crap, and thinking only half way, is how too many people approach the problem.
Immature copywriters want to be like Zeus, hurling lightning bolts of genius down from Mount Olympus and then prancing off to the next erotic escapade.
The experienced copywriter knows: One is not Zeus. One is the erstwhile King of Ephyra, better known as Sisyphus, forced to roll that immense boulder up a hill for eternity.
And in case you didn't know, Sisyphus was sentenced to this endless task for...
How fitting. All of us committed copywriters are doomed to pay the price for our youthful copywriting indiscretions of ego-driven, crafty writing by pushing the copy boulder uphill for eternity.
We are doomed to participate in trail races where we run along, analyzing the copy on the back of the shirt of the guy in front of us and rewrite it while trying to not go flailing headlong in the scree and end up with a face full of pebbles.
DON'T LET YOUR WRITING GO ONLY HALFWAY
Whether you're writing for yourself or for someone else, or someone else is writing for you, the job needs to be complete.
It doesn't need to be art. Most of the time, good copy is not artful.
But all the time, when it works, good copy is a product of competent, thoughtful craftsmanship.
It is not the product of ego-driven cleverness.
And it's definitely not the product of lazy thinking.
And when the right words are on the page, magic happens.
And they become customers.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.