Copy Points

Scraps of Thought from The Mighty Copywriter

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Prevent Slow Burn

In the 1930s, film-goers loved comedian Edgar Kennedy for his mastery of the "slow burn."

When thwarted by a foe, Kennedy would glower, then slowly rub his hand over his face as he fought off—and inexorably succumbed to—his fury.

I find myself doing the slow burn whenever I encounter a self-indulgent blogger; the writer who, rather than informing me from the get-go, drowns me in silly eyewash.

A prime example can be found in a recent post on Hubspot, "Why Blog? The Benefits of Blogging for Business and Marketing."

The author uses 118 words to tell us why she's telling us what she plans to tell us. Her long warm-up leaves me cold:

I had a co-worker email me the other day asking for a blog post about the benefits of business blogging. "It's for a friend," she said.

Sure it was.

I told her I'd shoot over one of our up-to-date blog posts about why businesses should blog and... I couldn't find one. Whoops. Quite the meta mistake.

So I'm doing it now. If you're trying to explain one of the core tenets of inbound—
business blogging—to your boss, a coworker, your mom at Thanksgiving, whomever, then send them this post. I hope it helps. For even more reasons why you should blog for business and marketing—and how to get started—download our free e-book here.

Please, spare readers false starts—especially jejune ones.

Remember, only you can prevent slow burn.

Maybe I'm Amazed

This month, were he alive, John Lennon would have turned 75.

Fans can only imagine what he'd have to say about life, love, and the lunacy rampant in our world today. Or how marvelous his musical output might have been during the 35 years that have passed since his murder.

Not long ago, I rediscovered a 45 year-old solo album Lennon's partner Paul McCartney made entitled, simply enough, McCartney.

It contains Sir Paul's own all-time favorite composition, "Maybe I'm Amazed," plus a dozen other songs he penned, all quite wonderful.

Listening to the album and remembering just some of the nearly 200 songs McCartney wrote and performed with Lennon, as well as all the fabulous music each Beatle produced after the band's breakup, leaves me in awe of their talent.

If only I had a shred of it, I'd be a happy camper.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Miracle on 34th Street? Or Ploy to Sell CDs?

In the wake of Pope Francis' three-city tour, brisk sales of his forthcoming rock album Wake Up! are assured.

In Central Park, just one of many stops, he drew more than 80,000 fans—20,000 more than BeyoncĂ© turned out the day after Francis appeared there.

You might argue the Vatican planned the trip to max out Christmas sales of Wake Up!—an acceptable stunt, provided the profits are actually used to aid refugees.

But your argument would be sheer casuistry

Apropos, given that Francis is the first Jesuit pope.

Casuistry is a method of moral reasoning perfected in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries by the Jesuits. 

It is still used today to solve moral puzzles in business, law and science.

Casuistry, derived from the Latin word casus (meaning "case"), studies all sides of a question. It becomes useful when values conflict. For example:
  • Should a CEO's duty to maximize shareholder return take priority over protecting the environment? 
  • Should employees' right to privacy yield to improved productivity? 
  • Should an employer benefit from the knowledge of workers it hires away from a competitor?
  • Should an employee take advantage of a discount offered by a supplier, if free tickets to a football game come with the deal?
But, sadly, the word casuistry, as well as phrases like "Jesuitical reasoning" and "Jesuitical arguments," are most often used as pejoratives implying intrigue and equivocation.

The Oxford English Dictionary in fact claims that casuistry "often (and perhaps originally) applied to a quibbling or evasive way of dealing with difficult cases of duty."

Sunday, September 27, 2015

6 Energy-Saving Tips for Communicators

Self-taught his trade, Jack London said he discovered how to "transmute thought, beauty, sensation and emotion into black symbols on white paper" from Herbert Spencer's now-neglected 1852 essay The Philosophy of Style.

From Spencer, London "learned that the right symbols were the ones that would require the expenditure of the minimum of my reader’s brain energy, leaving the maximum of his brain energy to realize and enjoy the content of my mind, as conveyed to his mind.”

Foreseeing today's attention-deficient audiences,
Spencer preached "the importance of economizing the reader's or hearer's attention, to so present ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental effort."

"A reader or listener has at each moment but a limited amount of mental power available," Spencer says. Most of that energy is consumed when the brain takes in the written or spoken symbols, leaving little to spare for comprehension.

Spencer insists, "the more time and attention it takes to receive and understand each sentence, the less time and attention can be given to the contained idea; and the less vividly will that idea be conceived."

To compensate for audiences' sparse mental energy, writers and speakers should economize; or, as Spencer suggests, follow "the law of easy apprehension."

I've boiled his law down to six tips:

1. Avoid long, Latinate words. Use instead the short Anglo-Saxon ones we learned as kids. Use Latinate words only to express big ideas, because "a voluminous, mouth-filling epithet is, by its very size, suggestive of largeness or strength," and "allows the hearer's consciousness a longer time to dwell upon the quality predicated."

2. Use words that sound like their meanings. "Both those directly imitative, as splash, bang, whiz, roar; and those analogically imitative, as rough, smooth, keen, blunt, thin, hard, crag; have a greater or less likeness to the things symbolized; and by making on the senses impressions allied to the ideas to be called up, they save part of the effort needed to call up such ideas, and leave more attention for the ideas themselves."

3. Use specific, instead of generic, words. "If, by employing a specific term, an appropriate image can be at once suggested, an economy is achieved, and a more vivid impression produced.

4. Watch your word sequence. The order of your words should allow readers' or listeners' brains to process each as it arrives, with minimum effort. Put subjects in front of predicates, and give priority to big ideas by placing them at the front of the sentence. "The right formation of a picture will be facilitated by presenting its elements in the order in which they are wanted; even though the mind should do nothing until it has received them all."

5. Place subordinate parts of a sentence ahead of the main part. "Containing, as the subordinate proposition does, some qualifying or explanatory idea, its priority prevents misconception of the principal one; and therefore saves the mental effort needed to correct such misconception."

6. Place related words and expressions near one another. "The longer the time that elapses between the mention of any qualifying member and the member qualified, the longer must the mind be exerted in carrying forward the qualifying member ready for use. And the more numerous the qualifications to be simultaneously remembered and rightly applied, the greater will be the mental power expended, and the smaller the effect produced."

Don't have the energy to read Herbert Spencer's The Philosophy of Style?

Good news: there's a free audiobook.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why Experiential Marketing Rules

Fortunate folks can say, "Wow, I just had a peak experience."

But no one has ever said, "Wow, I just had a peak advertisement."

Ads can grab us, hold us, and charm us; but only experiences have, baked-in, the promise to unleash moments of self-actualization.

That's a prime reason experiential marketers keep pushing the envelope, as Lucasfilm did recently at Comic-Con.

Admit it or not, we all want to be "peakers."

In Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, Abraham Maslow first described peak experiences as, "rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect."

Peak experiences can arise from simple, accidental life events, or be engineered.

Artists, in particular, are specialists in engineering them.

A peak experience of my own took place in 1991, when I worked on the crew that installed Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Umbrellas.

I was one of 960 fans who labored for five days at minimum wage to erect 1,760 immense yellow umbrellas atop the brown hills that hug an 18-mile stretch of Interstate 5, 60 miles north of Los Angeles.

The morning of The Umbrellas' big reveal, we ran headlong, like kids on Christmas morning, from one giant umbrella to the next to crank them open.

That experience was indeed "exhilarating." But the luminous part came next.

Once the 1,760 umbrellas were open, curious crowds appeared.

Christo and his wife had engineered a wonder.

I saw young mothers gasp and their children chuckle with delight.

I saw crusty ranch hands gape from their jeeps.

I saw migrant workers skip and dance.

I saw a beefy tractor trailer driver stop on the interstate's shoulder, climb from his cab, take a long look at the hills, and burst into sobs at the beauty.

In their aftereffects, Maslow says, peak experiences leave us with the feeling the world's truly perfect.

We turn into "peakers," he says, and long for a chance to repeat the experiences.

Because we all seek perfection.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Why does every management consultant want executives to become "storytellers?" Why does every grammarian want businesspeople to "write like you're having a conversation?"


Also known as the "curse of knowledge," mindblindness grips you when you know so much about a subject, you can't see it through the eyes of anyone less informed.

When you're mindblind—when can't imagine life for those who don't know what you know—you can't communicate why or how others should follow your directives; and you can't write (or speak) with clarity or concision.

Mindblindness produces not only unrealistic expectations ("We always delight our customers!"), but blame ("You slackers, you disappointed our customers!").

Mindblindness is a primary reason leaders fail, and why so much business writing stinks.

It never occurs to the mindblind that others aren't up on the latest jargon and grasp the steps too obvious to mention. So they don't bother to explain the jargon, spell out their logic, or supply details.

Philosophers call extreme mindblindness "solipsism," the belief that nothing exists outside your mind.

Bertrand Russell said that, although it could be true, solipsism should be rejected because it's easier to believe the external worldincluding other people's mindsexists.

“As against solipsism it is to be said, in the first place, that it is psychologically impossible to believe, and is rejected in fact even by those who mean to accept it," Russell said. 

"I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me.”

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Do Facebook Users Want?

With a grant from the National Institutes of Health, a Boston psychiatrist and psychologist have teamed to answer the question, "Why Do People Use Facebook?"

They reviewed 42 scientific studies of Facebook users and have discovered the following:

  • Healthy people enjoy using Facebook because it improves self-esteem (our shield against feeling like outcasts). Women and members of ethnic minorities use it more than men and Caucasians.
  • Healthy people don't idealize themselves on Facebook, with one big exception: they present themselves as more emotionally stable than, in fact, they are.
  • Narcissists especially enjoy using Facebook, and spend an hour every day in front of the screen. And they love to upload photos, often enhanced with Photoshop.
  • Highly neurotic people share more on Facebook than healthy people. They prefer written posts over photos.
  • Extraverts have more Facebook friends and are more likely to become Facebook addicts.
  • Introverts substitute Facebook use for real-world social interaction. And shy people spend more time on Facebook than people who aren't shy.
  • Good-looking Facebook users are more attractive to other users than plain-looking ones; so are users with good-looking friends.
  • Facebook users with only 100 friends are unattractive to other users; so are users with 300 friends.
Do the findings make you want to delete your Facebook account and find a shrink's sofa? 

They shouldn't. As Freud said, “A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get into accord with them: they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.”
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