Just had a shocking realization...
I have no idea how to write advertising.
Yes, that seems odd for a guy who’s been doing it for over 20 years. But it’s the truth. I don’t know how.
I’ve sold stuff. Lots of it. Won huge awards. Have my own business.
And you can do it, too.
But where does it all begin and end?
There is no system.
Everybody wants a system.
But if you’re starting from the boundaries and structure of a system, how can the outside creative idea penetrate your work?
Yes, purpose and intent are critical and compulsory.
But so is chaos.
Creating from chaos?
How does this happen?
This morning, I’ve been sitting in front of the computer, pounding out taglines wild and reckless.
None of them are good.
One is. Not great. But OK. What does that idea look like?
I go to Google, type in a related search term, and hit “images.”
Chaos with captions!
But there amid the chaos, a new creative thought emerges. Could work.
What about our big-brand competitors? What are they doing?
I search a big brand by name. There’s some good stuff with good feeling.
What can we do that’s different, that feels as good or better? And how will it be informed by our own brand veracity?
Quick, Google search on reviews from our customers.
Lots and lots of same same in there.
But looking for the things that aren’t the same, that’s where to find the diamonds that feel right and good and true and tasty.
No, they can’t be quoted in the ad copy.
But they can inform the ad copy.
And maybe that’s the challenge right there: what feeling informs the copy?
How are you being informed?
Ideas are everywhere except inside your head.
Gotta beat the bushes so they fly out like a covey of lovey doveys.
Does that even make sense? It doesn’t matter. Write it down.
We have more tools at our disposal than ever.
Try to create in a vacuum, and it sucks the life out of you.
Use Google as your guide and other tools to find the chaos that brings ideas and informs the feelings and the order you’re trying to bring to bear on customer-winning copy.
Ask questions. See what happens. Think up craziness. See what comes. Collect the gems.
Slogging through a lot of stuff seems chaotic--but it can bring brilliance.
I don’t know how I create ads.
But I do know that what I don’t do is sit and stare at a blank and empty.
It doesn’t help. (Unless it does.)
It’s a systemless system and a methodless method for hoovering ideas into your vacuum.
See? I really don’t know. You can, too.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
The snick of the penpoint across the page is proverbial. Familiar, like a casual friend. It’s been awhile. But he’s back. And it feels good to hear him. See him. Sense him. Be wary of him. (The pen can get a guy into trouble. And that may be happening right now…)
This morning in The Extra Hour that comes with the first dawn of Daylight Time’s death, I’ve been making coffee.
Preparing to make coffee.
Readying the little pot for when my little wife shuffles up the stairs of our little home and into the little hours of the new morning.
This Extra Hour brings bonus time for focus. But…on what?
The diminutive details.
Like the spoon in the espresso-grind bag of dark-roast Hispanic-heritage coffee that folks routinely mistake for Cuban but was founded by an entrepreneur Spaniard and is as American as the Brooklyn Bridge and born in the Bronx.
In this silvery spoon, the dark, powder-fine grains of deep-brown black heap to a precarious peak and hold before dropping into the filter.
Why is it I never noticed that except here in The Extra Hour?
And speaking of The Extra Hour, the kitchen clock has been losing time. Like, maybe it’s trying to get that hour back.
I go and grab a double-A battery from the place where I keep the recording gear. I take that battery to the clock and replace the old one that’s there.
The old one has an unusual, unidentifiable label. It’s some imported battery brand not available to the general public and is sold only to the manufacturers of a giant-faced clock that is operated by a tiny electric motor fueled by the second littlest of the standard-size single-cell cylindrical dry batteries known to man.
It is also double-A trash. “Thunk” into the can.
It sounds as if it struck soft into yesterday’s damp coffee grounds.
And the snick of the penpoint across the paper in The Extra Hour brings a question: What now?
And what does this have to do with advertising anything?
Do you find yourself challenged by trying to create copy that’s surprising, engaging or is candy to the ear?
Try paying big attention to little details.
For a moment, forget the sell and focus.
Drill down into the sounds and the sensations.
Just take a breath and…
This is not a meditation. This is a moment.
A moment is a brief period of time.
It is also a force in physics. For example, the force it takes for an object to resist inclination and return to position is called a righting moment.
But here, let's call this our writing moment.
Take that moment to hear what happens.
Feel the space.
It is rich with the subtle force of soft sensations and quiet things going on--even in a crowded room.
(Why do so many writers like working in cafés and bars? It’s not because they’re quiet…)
There is a copy culprit to whom we all fall victim.
We don’t take the time. We’re losing minutes. We rush into the creation of busy words that fill the space instead of filling the ear and on into the heart.
It happens in so many ways. A lack of care. A lack of question. A lack of sight and sound.
We ask ourselves, How hard can we push this motivational boulder over the top so it comes crashing down on our customer, smashing into the crazy conviction that there has never been a better time to rush in and buy now.
That is, after all, the common question.
But it yields an answer that nobody needs.
It’s not the question the customer is asking.
Right now, our culture is awash in noise.
Everyone is shouting.
Nobody is listening.
So shut down your computer. Take a pen. Grab some paper. And…
Scribble the words--the ones that come when you start to feel the room and see the shapes and feel in your gut the whims being whispered at you.
Grasp the gold that’s just lying there for the taking and see how it suddenly informs your mission--which may not even be yet defined.
That is, after all, how we ended up here in The Extra Hour...
LIGHTNING BRANDING ON AMAZON
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Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
We spend so much time talking brand, we don't spend a lot of time talking copy...
And recently, your relentless scribe had the opportunity to write a piece of direct response copy that was 100% successful.
Please understand, I'm not patting myself on the back. Had I failed at this, it would've been inexcusable.
Instead, I'm offering it as an example of how anyone can write a good advertisement for almost any product or service.
Personally, I have never in my life written an advertisement for a motor vehicle or a motorhome. So, that makes me unqualified in that area, right?
Of course not--but a lot of so-called "pros" will try to tell you that.
First, some backstory. As you may know, the fabulous Honey Parker and I have a podcast called CoupleCo: Working With Your Spouse For fun & Profit.
For two years, we've been driving across the country in the CoupleCoach, a 25-foot C-Class motorhome. We've been interviewing entrepreneurial couples about crushing it in business without crushing each other.
We usually show up with two black bags. One contains good microphones. The other contains good wine. (People are scared of microphones. They are not scared of wine. It helps loosen up the conversation and makes the subjects very happy.)
COVID-19 sent our transcontinental travel plans were sent into a sideways skid. Nobody really wants strangers showing up, regardless of whether they're toting microphones and wine. So, we decided to sell the CoupleCoach.
Step One: Take the CoupleCoach and have the outside professionally cleaned by a commercial truck washer, complete with Armor All on the tires. (BONUS: You feel really cool sitting in line, waiting with all those tractor trailers.)
Step Two: Park the RV someplace pretty. Take a comprehensive range of photos using the phone's camera set to HDR. Use a photo editor to crop the images, deepen them and boost the color.
Step Three: Write the copy.
Here's where the fun begins. (If you fail to see the merriment in this mission, you'll probably just want to go hit the unsubscribe button. That's OK.)
Creating this copy requires understanding: a) your Core Customer, b) the benefits of your product, and c) your copywriter's voice.
CORE CUSTOMER: This motorhome is smallish at 25 feet, but it's also expensive. It's also built on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis, which is an object of desire. So the Core Customer presumably knows something about Mercedes, and has some money to burn. The customer will have a decent level of income and sophistication--and little to no experience with RVs. We'll call the customer Sophisticated Newbie. So, while a first motorhome might be a daunting prospect, Sophisticated Newbie has accomplished things in life. This person also wants to have fun.
BENEFITS: The key benefits are a) the Mercedes chassis, b) the rig is really clean, c) it is loaded just enough, d) it is well maintained, and e) it's a great size for a newbie.
VOICE: Did you know that I'm a smartass? (Don't answer.) We'll have to reign in the smartassery for Sophisticated Newbie, but just enough. This person is buying a fun machine, so we still need to have some fun. We have to project confidence with a smile, and be reassuring to the our Sophisticated Newbie.
Now, about the competition...
Just for the fun of this exercise, I found two competing ads for a comparable rig. Same maker. Same chassis. Same model line. Here's the first ad:
"Approx. 8900 miles, two slide outs, Mercedes diesel, kitchenette, rear queen size bed, Onan generator, propane range, microwave, electric/propane fridge, A/C, propane heater."
Twenty-three words! Zero character! Buy now! (The minimal photography and drab images are especially persuasive.)
The other ad has more photography. It's somewhat better. At the same time, it manages to make the RV look like a mobile prison cell. Even on the outside. And the owner's stuff is still all over the place--in the RV, in the closets, in the storage compartments.
His ad also has more copy. It's about 300 words long. Here's an outline of what each paragraph details:
So, here now, your relentless scribe's copy for the CoupleCoach...
The Coachmen Prism 2200LE is the best of both worlds: the legendary Mercedes Sprinter 3500 chassis, and a roomy, comfortable C-class coach. (A friend with a much more expensive Sprinter-based C-class peeked inside this one, and was really bummed out. His rig was just more expensive. This one was more roomy.) The Sprinter is a pleasure to drive. And once you park and open the slide, the coach has plenty of living space. We've had 8 people inside and felt perfectly good about it. (Not sure you can do that in a van.)
The walk-around queen bed features the upgraded mattress. It's surprisingly good by any standard, not just RV-bed standards. The entertainment center features a 32-inch flat-screen TV and a surround-sound bar, as well a stereo system with CD/DVD. Kitchen features a combination microwave/convection oven, a three-burner range, and a dual-fuel refrigerator (electric/propane). Works great. Always had ice for our beverages.
Bonus: we bought this rig new. That means we handled all of the road trials so you don't have to. And (for real) we've never pooped in the toilet. This is one clean rig. We've lived and worked in it for extended periods. The swiveling cab seats are great for that. We've always had plenty of storage. There's also a custom made black walnut dinette tabletop, and a custom sink cover/cutting board. Both are handcrafted artisan product by Boone Creek Farm in Missouri. (The original factory components are also still in the rig.)
All regular maintenance has been performed by Mercedes Benz of Draper. We've also had warranty work on the coach performed at the Coachmen factory. Additionally, we had Coachmen install tank heaters so the rig can be used in colder weather. The Onan generator has very low hours. There's a Zamp portable solar panel, which is really convenient. When you park your rig under a shade tree, you can still put your solar panel out in the sun. (The coach came pre-wired for solar as a standard feature.) The receiver hitch is great for your bike rack. All six tires are fairly new, and still have plenty of life left in them. When not in use, the rig has always been stored under cover in St. George.
Here's a link to the full specs...
Is this genius copy? Heck no. It's just fun and authentic--and it did something really, really useful...
It attracted the right people. Everyone we spoke to was a pleasure. (The scammers notwithstanding, of course. Everyone tries to get a piece of you. Hint: a text message sent at 2am is a dead giveaway that you're not really an interested buyer in Arizona who doesn't have ready cash but will provide a cashier's check, sight unseen.)
Everyone who reached out was new to RV'ing. They were all happy, interested and interesting. By day four, we had a conditional offer over the phone from a retired college professor and his college professor son. They drove four and a half hours to come pick it up, we went to the credit union to confirm their cashier's check, they drove away, and I had to tell four other people whom I would've liked to meet that the RV was sold.
And why did this happen? The buyer said exactly what we'd hoped: the photos made it look attractive, the copy made it sound attractive, and talking on the phone immediately confirmed that this was just the seller and the deal he'd hoped for.
And this is not that hard to do.
Yes, I write better than some people. Yes, I have more experience turning a phrase than many.
But everyone has a voice and a command of the language. And something I don't have that you do is your story.
Whatever you're selling, you have a story that goes with it. That story needs to be attractive. What is it that makes a prospect desire what you have? Hint: it is not saying, "Don't try to scam me, wait until I get around to you, and here's just one of the problems you're going to buy when you buy from me." It's saying, "Wow, isn't this great!? We've had our fun with it, and you can, too!"
The easiest way to do this is write a letter to someone you know about what you're selling and what they'r like about it. Then, don't mail it. Turn it into an ad.
You can write an ad for almost anything and make it better than the other ads for similar products. Just tell me a) your story, and b) what's in it for me.
If you'd like to see the classified ad (with all the photos) at KSL.com, click here.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
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 is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.