Copy Points

Scraps of Thought from The Mighty Copywriter

Sunday, August 30, 2015

All We are Saying

In a full-page ad this week in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, Burger King called for a one-day halt to the "burger wars" with its rival McDonald's.

The Whopper shop wants to "get the world talking" about the UN's annual International Day of Peace next month.

Wasting no time, McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook posted an 87-word "No thanks" on Facebook, spurring critics to call him a wet blanket.

Easterbrook might have replied with one word, "Nuts," like American General Anthony McAuliffe did at the Battle of the Bulge, and proved at least that his company values efficiency.

Branding gurus are unanimous about linking your brand with a cause: just do itWant to shake down those activist do-gooder Millennials?  Wear "capitalism with a conscience" on your sleeve.

But Burger King's cheesy stunt, by sugarcoating a serious issue, shows why you should take gurus' advice with a grain of salt. 

Easterbrook's reaction, though sound, isn't savory, either.

The whole episode, in fact, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

All we are saying, is give peace a rest.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

3 Words You Should Never Ever Use

We reward disruptors like Uber and Airbnb for obliterating needless stuff.

You can reward audiences by eliminating these three needless words from your writing.


Writers too often use “that” without purpose. Whenever you use the word, ask yourself whether you can ditch it; chances are, you can. I think that you will find that our prices are competitive becomes I think you will find our prices are competitive.


Writers hope to intensify words by slapping "very" in front of them; but the word adds no value. Our CSRs are always professional reads better than Our CSRs are always very professional.


Overuse has sullied “awesome.” The word once meant "inspiring" or "daunting," and was reserved for descriptions of mountains and miracles, not candies and cupcakes. So avoid it. Our cloud suite is awesome is less credible—and more cheesy—than Our cloud suite is first rate. (Least cheesy might be Our cloud suite is comprehensive, reliable and easy to use.)

But never say never: needless words can enhance your writing.

E. B. White, a crusader for concision, once advised a fellow writer:

"It comes down to the meaning of ‘needless.’ Often a word can be removed without destroying the structure of a sentence, but that does not necessarily mean that the word is needless or that the sentence has gained by its removal. If you were to put a narrow construction on the word ‘needless,’ you would have to remove tens of thousands of words from Shakespeare, who seldom said anything in six words that could be said in twenty. Writing is not an exercise in excision, it’s a journey into sound. How about ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?’ One tomorrow would suffice, but it’s the other two that have made the thing immortal."

Now that is very awesome!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Good Storytelling isn't Measured in Words

When it's concise, even long-form writing seems short.

Magazine writing proves the point.

Nonfiction writer Joan Didion mastered concision by writing for magazines like Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Life for decades, says Louis Menand in The New Yorker.

Didion, the "quintessential magazine writer," drew readers into her stories by leaving things out (the fiction writer's trick).

She developed "methods of economizing the exposition and managing the reader’s experience, ways of getting the reader to participate in the job of making sense of whatever it is that the writer is trying to think through," Menand says.

Didion mastered concision because she was forced to. When a writer works for a magazine, Menand says, her ability to write concisely gives her a Darwinian edge.

"The job of the magazine writer is never to give readers a reason to stop before they reach the end. The No. 1 sin in print journalism is repetition. Pages are money; editorial space is finite. Writers who waste it don’t last. Conditions demand a willingness to compress and a talent for concision."

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Top 2 Mistakes Millennial Exhibitors Make

Ask 100 Millennials if they think trade shows are worth their time and money, and 98 will say "Yes," according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

But, like their Boomer forebears, Millennials continue to botch their participation.

Millennial exhibitors' Number 1 mistake?

Presuming the sale.

Like many Boomers, Millennial exhibitors pose questions only as a pretext to presenting.

Rushing to close, they impress attendees as pushy; and attendees flee the booth as quickly as they can.

Young exhibitors who close presumptively leave the show each night complaining about the "terrible traffic."

Millennial exhibitors' Number 2 mistake?


Like many Boomers, Millennial exhibitors idly chat—a lot. But, while banter beats aggression, it doesn't do much for sales. Attendees learn plenty from exhibitors who love banter—but only about football scores, the weather, and the price of food in the convention center.

Young exhibitors who act like social butterflies leave the show each night complaining attendees "only came for the tchotchkes."

What's the answer?

Quit presuming the sale, nix the small talk, and ask good questions.

In other words, try a little progressive qualifying.

And be sure to ask attendees questions they might actually answer:

  • How did you reach this point in your career?
  • Whose idea was it to shop—the boss's or yours?
  • What happens if you don’t find a solution?
  • Do you have a favorite vendor?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Can Your Brand Pass the Cool-Test?

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined his pornography-test by saying, "I know it when I see it."

Consumers also rely on Stewart's standard when judging whether a brand is cool, according to Professors Margaret Campbell and Caleb Warren.

Their article in the Journal of Consumer Research, "What Makes Things Cool," pinpoints five cool-tests for a brand:
  • Cool is whatever consumers think is cool
  • Cool is distinct from simply likable
  • Cool expresses self-styled independence
  • Cool grants social standing
  • Cool varies by consumers' ages
Because cool is subjective, it's hard for brand marketers to anticipate consumer response to their products and promotions. 

But, based on their studies, the professors believe there are three ways for a brand to pass the cool-tests. A cool brand must:
  • Portray itself as rebellious, but in a nice way (endorsing personal, but never political, revolution)
  • Associate with cool spokespeople
  • Introduce innovative products and product packaging
Can your brand pass the cool-test?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A $49 Cure for Tone Deafness

Tone deaf? 

Well, good news: there's an app for that.

For only $49 a month, Crystal will provide you the empathy you sorely lack.

A Gmail add-on, Crystal scrapes your colleagues' social media posts; analyzes the posts; and attaches to each individual one of 64 different personality types.

Then, whenever you craft an email, the app prompts you to revise your words and ideas, so they sync with the reader's personality type.

Autocorrect, meet Myers-Briggs.

Crystal also suggests when to tighten your message; toss in an emoji; or use a little humor to soften things.

The end result? All your emails turn out more pleasant and pithy.

Crystal's developers claim their algorithm assigns personality types with 80% accuracy.

You can boost that accuracy, too, by answering multiple-choice questions about a colleague (such as, "If there were a conflict at work, how would he or she react?").

Friday, August 21, 2015

Express Editors Eliminate Leads

Mirroring bloggers, the editors of Express, the anorexic sister of The Washington Post, have eliminated lead paragraphs in news stories, as the following article shows:

Palmyra scholar beheaded by ISIS

Khaled al-Assas, 81, spent his life protecting the Roman-era ruins

DAMASCUS, SYRIA. The aging antiquities scholar dedicated his life to exploring and overseeing Syria's ancient ruins of Palmyra, one of the Middle East's most spectacular archeological sites.

Islamic State militants who now control the city beheaded him in a main square Tuesday after accusing him of being the "director of idols," then hung his body on a pole, witnesses and relatives said Wednesday.

Journalists used to sweat strong leads.

Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee, in The Wall Street Journal, called the strong lead "a flashlight that shines down into the story" and, because it bears an illuminative role, "the hardest part of a story to write."

Alas, no longer.

In the race to the finish line, there are no more leads.
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