Category Archives for "Copywriting"

3 Success in copywriting: Mix up the words for better results.

Sometimes, when it comes to copywriting, one single word is everything. The difference between a marketing home run and a dribbling bunt.

I recently ran into a client who was completely fixated on one word in a headline: “Precious.”

“Babies are precious, not parking places,” she argued.

“Yes, but diamonds are also precious. And what’s more valuable than diamonds?” I countered.

By using that one word I exaggerated the value of the free parking and elevated that little product feature to an entirely different realm. It was an effective use of incongruity in advertising copy, and she just couldn’t get her head around it. Just as most people can’t get their heads around the idea of disruption.

So I tried some alternative adjectives…

“Popular” just didn’t have the same effect. “Convenient” didn’t have the alliteration I was looking for. “Valuable” just sucks. The more I searched, the better the word “precious” seemed. The incongruity of it was perfect for that context and purpose.

Incongruity in advertising is a mismatch between an element in the ad (product, brand, endorser, music, word, photo, etc.) and an exiting frame of reference. Academic research on the subject has shown that “incongruity causes disturbances in one’s cognitive system”…

That’s precisely what advertising people are going for; a disturbance in your thinking that causes you to pause, consider or reflect on the brand. That’s what good copywriting is all about.

“Impirical evidence suggests that individuals presented with incongruity are more likely to engage in detailed processing than they are with congruity, and may even respond positively to the incongruity.”

On the other hand, ads, tweets, presentations and websites that contain nothing new or different will not be processed at all. Like the following blurb from a Bed & Breakfast website:

“Welcome to our home! We invite you to look around our website and consider a stay with us on your next visit to or through Lexington. When we open our door to you, we consider you as welcome guests, but want you to feel as comfortable here as you do in your own home. Our mission is to provide you with lodging, rest and meals that are memorably special, to do so with the kind of Southern hospitality you expect and deserve, in tasteful household surroundings that carry the tradition of Old South charm. You will find something “extra” everywhere you turn during your stay, from the bedding, room amenities, complimentary toiletries, and more…Each area has its own entertainment system, open WiFi access, and, for each room, individual climate controls. We believe you will enjoy your stay with us so much that you will regret having to leave, but depart looking forward to another visit. We hope to see you soon.

“Complimentary toiletries.” Really?

How long did it take for your eyes to glaze over and your ears to tune out? It all sounds so much like every other blah blah blah B&B website, you don’t hear a word of it. Your mind just skips over it, like a triple speed fast-forward button on the TV remote.

In marketing, the opposite of incongruity is not congruity. It’s invisibility!

When everything lines up the same, old, expected way, the message becomes completely invisible. Without some degree of incongruity, the copywriting fails.

But effective incongruity hinges on proper, relevant context. Example: I recently used the word “babaganoushit” in a headline. The message was targeted specifically to restaurant owners — they know babaganoush when they see it.

The context made the incongruity of the word effective. If the target was the general public, it’d be a different story. If an element is totally out of context AND incongruent, it seldom works.

I recently saw a TV spot for a local realtor that was so wildly out of context and incongruent, it didn’t work at all. All you see are tattooed arms putting a puzzle together while the voice-over talks about “real estate market tearing families apart.” Creepy!

If you’re a client who purchases advertising, try to embrace incongruity. It could be one word in a headline that seems not quite right, or one image or graphic. Chances are, if it seems just a little outta place it’s going to work well. It’ll stop people in their tracks and engage the creative side of their brain. It’ll break through all the “babaganoushit.”

Copy like the bed and breakfast paragraph above is, what I’d call, boringly congruent. It’s so expected and chock full of cliche’s no one’s going to hear it. Our brains are wired to weed out the mundane.

So next time, take time to throw in at least one interesting word like Babaganushit. It makes all the difference.

 

1 Garbage In, Garbage Out — How to get effective advertising from your agency.

Took a load to the local dump the other day. As I hucked yard debris and unwanted consumer goods out the back of the truck, I got to thinking about waste in advertising.

There are mountains of it, even in this age of informed metrics and marketing ROI.

As an agency copywriter I spent months — years even — working on poorly defined assignments and campaigns that went nowhere. More often than not, we simply didn’t have anything insightful to go on. It wasn’t a lack of creative juice… we always had lots of good ideas. The problem was lack of direction.

After a few rounds of constructive criticism and outright rejection, we either had to come up with a strategic nugget of our own, or continue throwing conceptual darts, hoping something would stick. Not a good arrangement, for either party.

So here’s some insider’s advice on how to work efficiently with your ad agency. It’s not rocket science. If you want the creative product to be effectively memorable, you’ll need to do your part. Most importantly, you should provide concise strategic input and stay actively involved in the planning phase of the advertising process.

Because it really is a case of garbage in, garbage out. And there’s already too much garbage out there.

yorba_linda_landfillAvoid the landfill with a good Creative Brief.

Every agency has its own version of the Creative Brief. Creative teams rely almost entirely on this document, so the only way you can be sure your ads will be on target is to agree on the strategy mapped out in the brief.

Jon Steele, Account Planner, account planner on “Got Milk,” says a good creative brief should accomplish three things:

“First, it should give the creative team a realistic view of what their advertising needs to, and is likely to, achieve.

Second, it should provide a clear understanding of the people who the advertising must address.

And finally, it needs to give clear direction on the message to which the target audience seems most likely to be susceptible.”

In a nutshell, he says the creative brief “is the bridge between smart strategic thinking and great advertising.”

Unfortunately, smart strategic thinking is often lacking in the small-agency environment. Agencies pay lip service to it, just like they pay lip service to doing “breakthrough creative.” In reality, most small agencies simply don’t think things through very well before the creative teams begin working.

Perfectly natural considering the creative product is their only deliverable. Everyone wants to get to the good stuff, ASAP.

Sergio Zyman, former CMO with Coke-a-Cola, says “ strategies provide the gravitational pull that keeps you from popping off in all different directions.” Likewise, the creative brief is the strategic roadmap that keeps all your agency people — the researchers, creatives, media planners, programmers and AEs — heading in the same direction.

Drafting a truly insightful brief is both a creative and a strategic exercise. Andrew Cracknell, Former Executive Creative Director at Bates UK, says “planners take the first leap in imagination.”

Steele says the brief should not only inform the creative team, but inspire them. Instead of just listing the problems that the creative team will face, a great brief offers solutions. In the case of “Got Milk”, the brief said ditch the “good for you” strategy and focus instead on deprivation… what happens when you’re out of milk. The creative team took it from there.

So if you’re a client, insist on staying involved until the creative brief is absolutely nailed down. Then sign off on it, and set the creative team free, in the right direction.

Then, when they present the creative product, you can judge not on subjective terms, but on one simple objective question: Does it follow the brief in a memorable way?

Don’t overwhelm them with data.

Advertising people don’t look at business like MBAs do. And as a general rule, they hate forms. So don’t expect your creative team to glean much inspiration from sales reports and spread sheets. And don’t assume they understand the fundamental metrics of your industry.

You need to have your elevator pitch and your essential marketing challenges nailed down in layman’s terms. Before you go to an agency or a freelance creative team. As Zyman said, “If you want to establish a clear image in the mind of the consumer, you first have to have a clear image in your own mind.”

Do a presentation for the agency… present your version of the facts, and then engage them in dialog. It’ll force you to focus on strategic thinking and it can generate tremendous team energy. But don’t be surprised if they question your most fundamental assumptions. That’s what they do.

Remember, advertising people are specialists.

Don’t expect your agency team to grasp all the nuances of your business. Even though agencies often claim to immerse themselves in your business, all they really care about are creative forms of communication. “What are we going to say, and how are we going to say it.”

If you want someone who understands balance sheets and stock option restructuring, hire a consulting firm.

It’s unfortunate that so many ads are nothing but garbage. But if you have your act together from a strategic branding standpoint, and stick to the process, a good agency can be a tremendous asset. It’s a classic win-win arrangement: They can win awards, and you can win business.

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5 Brand differentiation. Is your message too generic?

Golf is one of those categories where brand differentiation is difficult. Clubheads are as big as they’re going to get, and every brand promises the same thing… Longer, straighter drives. High technology. And distance above all else.

This headline from a Cobra Driver ad sums it up: “Scientifically engineered for insanely long, straight drives.”

Sounds insanely generic to me. Why pay $50,000 to convey a message that applies to the entire category? You could literally insert the photo of any driver and no one would know the difference. Seems like a high price to pay for invisibility.

Apparently, even golf shoes can help us hit it farther these days. Get a load of these two he-man headlines from a recent Addidas campaign:

“Lock and load… 14 weapons in your bag. Two on your feet.”

“Not a shoe, a piece of artillery.”

The brand managers at Adidas are assuming that high tech features and a Rambo tone will sell shoes just as well as drivers. But as Spike Lee once said, “Is it the shoes? Is it the shoes? Is it the shoes?”

I think not.

Here’s what the copy says in one of those shoe ads: “Three distinct power geometry zones in the outsole for maximum energy transfer during the load phase, impact and finish.”

Here’s what consumers will say: “Yeah, but are they comfortable? Do they have them in my size? How much?” Those are things relevant to Joe sixpack.

This is a category that takes itself quite seriously, indeed. In that environment, humor can be a refreshing and effective way to differentiate your brand. Titlest did it with John Cleese for the NXT Tour golf ball. FootJoy pulled if off brilliantly with their Sign Boy campaign. It’s harder to do in print, however.

Mizuno pulled it off with a series of magazine ads poking fun at the almost obsessive loyalty of their customers. These are guys who love their clubs so much they buy an extra seat on the plane rather than checking their bags. They’re the fanatics who rehearse the golf swing while waiting in line, and consider their forged irons an unfair advantage that borders on sinful. The ads were purposely, humorously, exaggerated, but they captured the authentic passion for the brand that no competitor could claim.

mizunoMp57-extend-500x509-1Those ads would absolutely not work for any other club company. I don’t play Mizuno irons, but I aspire to. And those ads spoke to me. With a wink and a nod, Mizuno confirmed what I already thought… that their forged irons are for smart, accomplished players who know something the rest of the golf world doesn’t know.

see all of Mizuno’s ads here: http://www.mizunousa.com/news.nsf/golf?OpenForm

Sad to say, Mizuno recently dumped that campaign and started running ads that lack the market wisdom, the emotional connection and the brand personality of the old ads. In fact, the new ads are generic enough to speak for any forged iron on the market.

Successful branding involves a high degree of differentiation. It’s about having something different to say, and saying things differently. But the message also needs to be relevant. Otherwise, different doesn’t work so well.

Adidas has a unique new shoe line and an ad campaign that’s different. I’m just not sure their message is relevant for the category.

Mizuno-MX700-DriverMizuno has a unique story to tell and unprecedented brand loyalty, but they’re running a message that’s generic.

Before you ever approve a new ad campaign for your brand, try this: Take the ads and insert the name of your competitor. Then ask yourself, objectively, does the message still work? If it does, you should seriously consider starting over.

You may just need a new concept from your agency or a new creative brief. Or you might need to devise a strategic approach that deviates from the generic, industry spiel like “Scientifically engineered for insanely long, straight drives.”

Worst case, it’ll force you to look closely at the product itself. Mizuo and Adidas both have great products that are inherently different than the competition. It shouldn’t be that hard to come up with an ad campaign that communicates the product’s differences and the brand personality in a relevant manner.

If you want more branding insight, subscribe to my rss feed by clicking on the link at the top of this site. Or e-mail me directly: JohnF@BNBranding.com

2 Learning from Mad Men: Old-school advice on choosing the right message for your ads.

Life in an advertising agency makes for great TV drama. And sometimes the powerful men of those fictitious agencies can even teach us a thing or two.

Donald Draper in Mad Men

Donald Draper in Mad Men

Take Donald Draper of Mad Men. That character is based on a real-life ad man of the 50’s — Rosser Reeves. As chairman of the Ted Bates Agency, Reeves produced some of the most memorable slogans of all time, like “M&M’s… Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”

Creatively, Reeves’ TV ads were formulaic and boring. He had a blatant contempt for public intelligence and many of his spots were banal and insulting by today’s standards. But by God, they worked.

If you ever find yourself staring at a blank screen wondering what to say in your next ad, Reeves and/or Draper are not a bad source of inspiration. See, even though the media landscape’s changing faster than you can say “Twitter,” the fundamentals of good message development still hold true — 50 years after Reeves coined the phrase “Unique Selling Proposition.”

He defined the USP as “The quality by which a given product is demonstrably different than all others.” He could look at a product, size up the research, and extrapolate a USP that no client had ever considered. He was an expert at positioning, 30 years before the term was ever invented. Strategically, his work was brilliant.

Here are the rules that Reeves lived by:

• Stick to one idea only. Reeves was adamant about adhering to one simple sales message the viewer could easily absorb. The U.S.P.

Back then, his unique selling propositions really were unique. For Colgate Reeves devised the claim “Cleans your breath as it cleans your teeth.” In reality, every toothpaste does that, but Colgate was the first to make the claim. Reeves hammered that idea home over and over and over again on network television. He never deviated from that message, and it worked.

Takeaway For Today: When it comes to a USP, less is more. Your pitch needs to be honed down to seven words or less. Like you’re doing a billboard… You can’t have two or three ideas on a billboard.

images-1• Leverage the drama of television. Back in the 50’s product demonstrations were a required element of almost all television advertising. Reeves understood that, and he used Television quite effectively.

The whole idea of a USP was to be demonstrably different. If it couldn’t be demonstrated for the world to see, it wasn’t a USP.

Takeaway For Today: Don’t just tell people about your product, show them. Take a lesson from Reeves and demonstrate something! Find the drama in your business, and feature that in your ads, on YouTube, or wherever you have an audience.

• Be Relentlessly Repetitive. Back in the Mad Men days, ad agencies got paid on commission. More frequency translated to more revenues, so their media budgets were generous to say the least. They never abandoned a campaign that was working.

Takeaway For Today: With today’s fragmented media environment, it’s harder than ever to get your message across consistently. So its even more important to define your core brand message and stick with it. If you have your value proposition (USP) nailed down, and a campaign that’s working, don’t quit. Milk it for all it’s worth.

• Make your ads sound good. The human ear is an amazing thing. The latest brain research proves what Reeves knew intuitively… that audio mnemonic devices aid recall. He used sound cues and catchy jingles to help people remember the product. His slogans would repeat certain sounds or words, to great effect. Like this: “Only Viceroy gives you 20,000 filter traps in every filter tip to filter, filter, filter your smoke while the rich, rich flavor comes through.” (Bad example, but you get the point.)

Takeaway For Today: Pay close attention to how your spots sound. On TV or on the radio, every syllable should be scripted for its sound quality. Is there anything in that 30 seconds that’s memorable, or does it sound like everything else out there?

• Credibility. At the Ted Bates agency most TV spots featured official looking men in white lab coats demonstrating products and proving product claims. It was authoritative salesmanship. It was science. During that period in American history, it worked.

Takeaway For Today: Credibility is still tremendously important, but now it’s about transparency. People want honest, user-generated reviews and third-party testimonials. Not pseudo-scientists or celebrity spokesmen.

Reeves focused exclusively on product-oriented USPs, like all those filter traps in the Viceroy cigarettes. But these days, we usually have to dig a little deeper to find a pitch that resonates with people.

Case in point… When Goodby, Silverstein started working on the California Milk account, they learned that the health benefits of milk didn’t resonate with anyone. Just because healthiness is a benefit of milk, doesn’t mean it’s THE benefit to put in your ads. “Milk. It does a body good” simply wasn’t doing much good for milk sales.

Instead of focusing on what happens when you drink milk, the account planners at Goodby decided to take the opposite approach and focus on what life would be like without milk. Much more provocative.

This insight was based on two universal truths revealed in the research. One, that milk is hardly ever consumed on it’s own. It’s always milk and cookies, or milk and something. And two, that everyone has opened the fridge at least once only to find the milk carton empty. So the idea was this: Stay stocked up on milk, or else!

No other organization was taking this approach, and the creative teams at Goodby did a superb job of executing the seemingly negative idea in fun, memorable ways. “Got Milk” will certainly go down in advertising history as one of the all time great campaigns.

Takeaway For Today: When it comes to your advertising messages, don’t settle for the obvious. You can’t just take your sales presentation and put it in a 30-second radio spot. You have to dig deeper than that. You have to step out of the bottle and approach it from an entirely different perspective. You have to take time to sift through all the trivial little details that come up in focus groups and sales meetings and hone in on one resonant truth.

One main benefit. One compelling message. One thing you can — and should — hang your hat on. The Donald Draper, Rosser Reeves USP.

Once that’s done you have to find a way to communicate the USP more creatively than Reeves ever could.

2 Now, more than ever, you need to quit running those recession ads.

I pay attention to ads. When I read the morning paper or one of my favorite magazines, I notice who’s running what and I thoroughly study the ads that catch my eye. For better or worse. Lately, a lot of headlines lead with the preamble: “now, more than ever…”

Now, more than ever, you need this new Ford.
Now, more than ever, you need to put your money in a little, local credit union.
Now, more than ever, you need a financial planner.
Now, more than ever, you need a vacation to warm, relaxing 5-star resort.
Now, more than ever, you need to support your local non-profit.
Now, more than ever, you need this coupon for pest control services.

Arghhhhhhh! What do carpenter ants and termites have to do with economics? Do pests eat more wood when times are tough, or do they diet? I just don’t get the connection.

Seriously. Why do so many companies want to remind us of the recession? Why would anyone want to associate their brand with lawbreaking bankers, government bail-outs and the desperate plight of laid-off workers?
It’s just not a good idea. Everyone knows about the economy, so don’t waste your ad space on the topic. Do us all a favor and delete all copy that reads like this…

“We know that times are tough right now, but”…

Not long ago I saw a full-page newspaper ad for a small local bank (that shall remain anonymous.) They used the “open letter to the community” approach. Put the bank president’s sorry-looking mug shot in the ad too.

Wow. What do you think the 10-second take-away was from that ill-conceived effort? More bad news about the economy. Local bank in dire straights. Another shady banking executive trying to sell us a bill of goods.

Nothing good can come from that knee-jerk approach to advertising. The minute you start letting circumstances beyond your control dictate your marketing messages, you’re in trouble.

Instead, stick to the message that you had developed before the bottom dropped out. If it was working then, it’ll work now. If you feel compelled to add a discount offer of some kind, fine. Do it tactfully. Don’t dwell on your motivation behind it. Don’t remind a guy that he just got laid off, and then ask him to shell out for a new pick-up truck, no matter how good the terms may be.
There was another full-page banking ad not long ago that featured a scary-looking photo of a dead tree and its root system…. “Now more than ever, you need a bank with long-standing roots in the community.”

Sometimes the best advertising strategy is to just shut up.

One company that has leveraged the economy in a reasonable way is the Korean car maker, Hyundai. Hyundai didn’t abandon their core message, they added to it.

The Hyundai Assurance program is a sincere and substantially different offer that no serious car buyer can ignore… if you lose your income, they’ll make your car payments for 3 months. Hyundai can pull it off because it fits with their brand. They’re the underdog. They have momentum right now. They can do stuff like that.

If GM tried the same thing, it’d be a disaster.

One other ad that’s worth mentioning… a small-space ad that said, simply: Now What? Great headline, and relevant question for a financial planning firm.

So now, more than ever, think twice before you start running ads that are reminders of our current misfortune.