Copy Points

Scraps of Thought from The Mighty Copywriter

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Return of Mad Men?

Once upon a time, people believed corporations weren't crooks.

The Great Recession changed that.

It was Corporate America's Watergate.

In today's Post-Recession period, corporations look no longer to Mad Men to tell their stories, but to brand journalists, who pride themselves on eschewing '60s-style corporate hokum.

"I've been a reporter, and I've also been a marcom writer," says David B. Thomas, posting on LinkedIn. "There's a big difference."

The marcom writer, according to Thomas, produces only "buzzwords and grandiose claims."

The brand journalist tells a story. 

"The people who read [the story] appreciate it because it gives a straightforward, unbiased analysis of the situation," he says.

Above all, the brand journalist strives to be informative. 

"Before she starts writing, she asks, 'What's important here for my audience? How will this help them solve their business problems? How can I make this interesting, informative and fun so that people will remember it and share it?'"

A practitioner myself, I appreciate the difference between a marcom writer and a brand journalist, too.

But then I remember how the Original Mad Man, David Ogilvy, once insisted, "The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be."

Ogilvy also scolded contemporaries who relied too heavily on buzzwords. 

"Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon," Ogilvy wrote.

What's old, it seems, is new again.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Picture This!

Emerson once wrote in his Journals, "In good writing, words become one with things."

It turns out to be true of all writing.

Neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center have discovered that, when you read, a tiny portion of your brain behind your left ear sees the words not as strings of letters or symbols, but as pictures.

The neurons in that part of your brain store words in their entirety, as if there were a little dictionary inside your skull.

When you look at a word you know, your brain instantly sees a picture.

Your spongy little dictionary (called the "visual word form area") works precisely like the miniature photo album located in the opposite side of your brain, behind your right ear. 

In that part of your brain (called the "fusiform face area"), pictures of people's faces are stored.

The researchers also discovered that students with reading disabilities can improve their skill by learning words as visual objects, instead of struggling with phonics and spelling.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Shoddy Content Can Only Fail

Introduced in 1813, shoddy is a cheap woolen cloth made from recycled rags. Victorian-era manufacturers used it to make low-end clothing.

Civil War soldiers—whose shoddy uniforms would disintegrate after only days—are responsible for our use of the word to mean cheap workmanship.

By flocking to shoddy content, today's marketers are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

But it won't work, says Jeff Rosenblum, a columnist for Ad Age.

A marketing movement is underway to deluge customers with shoddy content—a movement that gives Rosenblum deja vu.

"I'm getting nasty flashbacks to the early days of banner ads," he writes. 

"When banner ads first came out, the marketing industry treated them like rebranded laundry detergent'new and improved!' So, we shifted a bunch of dollars online and used half-baked data to prove it worked. Until, of course, we realized it didn't."

Banner ads bombed because marketers didn't grasp their value.

"The same will be true of content if we don't apply the lessons we learned. If we simply develop content because we think it's new, improved, quicker and easier than previous tactics, we're doomed to get the same disappointing results that we got from banner ads."

Content works, Rosenblum says, when it's understood:

  • Content improves brand perceptions. "Great content shows customers why a brand is different and better than the competition. It creates evangelists that carry the brand message more effectively than paid media ever could," Rosenblum says.
  • Content empowers customers. The premise is straightforward: customers give you their time; you give them useful information. "It's easy to create a social post with a cute kitten and generate a bunch of social shares, but that doesn't do anything for the brand in the long run."
  • Content is more than clicks. Marketers need to measure more than likes and shares. "You need to understand how well the audience understands what makes the brand different and better. You need to understand what, specifically, shifts them down the sales funnel and generates revenue."
  • Content isn't cheap. "Too often, brands spend countless hours talking about the power of social media, but spend an infinitesimal amount of their overall budget creating content."
"Unlike banner ads, content marketing can fundamentally alter the future of a brand. But it won't be quick and it won't be easy," Rosenblum concludes.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once told a would-be writer, "Nothing any good isn't hard."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Spotlighting the Skeptics

Can you be trusted with customers' data?

The answer depends on who you ask, according to a new study by Royal Mail MarketReach.

The firm asked 7,000 consumers in the UK whether they trusted marketers to use their data ethically, and protect it from thieves and hackers. 

Its findings show:

  • Older people worry about potential data abuse more than younger people;
  • Women are more reluctant to give marketers data, and want greater reassurance that their data will be safe, than men; and
  • High-wage earners trust marketers with their data more than low-wage earners do.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Embracing Swag

Mimicking their B2C cousins, savvy B2B marketers are plying swag to secure customers' loyalty, says a new white paper from Forrester Research.

B2B Loyalty, The B2C Way offers dozens of examples:
  • On Super Bowl Sundays, a marketing automation provider—knowing its customers are at work—ships them "war room care packages."
  • A B2B phone company sends customers a catalog of general merchandise they can buy for loyalty points.
  • Another B2B phone company lets customers use their loyalty points to bid in an auction for tickets to sports events.
"Loyalty programs may be a B2C construct, but the concepts apply in B2B marketing," the white paper says. 

"As B2B marketers get serious about loyalty, they can jumpstart their efforts by embracing some B2C approaches. In some cases, it may be a matter of reframing, organizing, and scaling what’s already in place."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Un Words

Before you unfriend that geek you unearthed at the unconference on unmarketing last week, pause for a moment of gratitude.

You can thank two IBM researchers, Lance Miller and John Thomas, for our love of "un" words.

Musing over computer commands, they wrote in a 1976 report, “It would be quite useful to permit users to ‘take back’ at least the immediately preceding command (by issuing some special ‘undo’ command).”

The Bard is responsible for no fewer than 314 of the ones that appear in The Oxford English Dictionary, including unsex, unshout, unspeak and unswear.

Charlotte Brontë, in Jane Eyre, has her character say, “I had learned to love Mr. Rochester; I could not unlove him now.”

And contemporary songsters like "un" words, too.

Among Bob Dylan lyrics, one of my favorites goes:

"You taught me how to love you, baby
You taught me, oh, so well.
Now, I can’t go back to what was, baby
I can’t unring the bell."

Monday, July 13, 2015


I've been taking a basic drawing class every Saturday for the past two years.

The art school's catalog promises the course will teach you "to see things like an artist."

After many repeat classes (I'm a slow learner) I can vouch that the catalog doesn't overpromise.

Learning to draw, in fact, rewires you to see differently.

You begin to focus on details and relationships that were once invisible to you.

In an essay, the Victorian art critic John Ruskin (himself an artist) contrasts the experiences of two people strolling in the woods. One is "a good sketcher;" the other with "no taste of the kind."

The latter sees only trees. "He will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect, but that the trees make the lane shady and cool," Ruskin writes.

But the sketcher sees more: dancing motes of sunlight; emerald-bright mosses and "fantastic lichens;" leaves of "a hundred varied colors;" and "old and gnarled wood" awash in light and shadow.

"The enjoyment of the sketcher from the contemplation of nature is a thing which to another is almost incomprehensible," Ruskin writes.

"If a person who had no taste for drawing were at once to be endowed with both the taste and power, he would feel, on looking out upon nature, almost like a blind man who had just received his sight."
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