drama_queen[1]I’m guest posting on Copyblogger today with a post on the importance of specifics.  But this post goes beyond the commonly stated “specifics are more believable than realities” advice, and looks at WHY most writers intuitively grab for the general and the abstract over the specific (hint, it has to do with fear), and HOW to overcome that inclination by focusing on dramatic staging.

If that sounds interesting to you, you should check it out over at Copyblogger.

But be, forewarned: before using specifics to stage drama, make sure you’re ready to stand out in the marketplace, uncamofluaged and in all your polarizing glory.

cb-podcast-coverOver at Copyblogger, Brian Clark just posted a meaty and insight-saturated interview titled, Attention: Is Your Headline Getting Any?

And at the tail end of that interview, Brian announces a Headline Writing Masterclass that I’ll be co-conducting along with Brian via Webinar.

So I wanted to announce this Webinar to all of my readers here at the blog, and to give you a brief explanation on how to sign-up and what kind of content you can expect:

Trouble_girl3First, you may want to look at my old post: How Trouble Taught Me 4 Ways to Write Better Headlines.

What that post should tell you is that my approach to teaching headline writing is in direct opposition to most others. I don’t give you headline templates or formulas to Mad Lib with your own products and brand names; I seek to help you understand the dynamics and principles behind effective headlines.

When you can create great headlines from first principles, you never run out of awesome headlines, regardless of how voracious or demanding your content marketing needs.  When you rely on templates, you end up looking schlockey as you stretch and deform the headline to inappropriate contexts and  and you quickly run out of templates.

So why not learn how to make them yourself?

Well, most writers don’t learn it because darn few people teach how to do it.  Sean D’Souza has some decent stuff on headlines, and Brian Clark reveals some good stuff in this interview and in his blog posts.  But other than Sean and Brian, most people revert back to the Swipe File/Mad Libs technique.

So, yes, this is yet another info-product highly recommended by it’s creator – except all you have to do to get this one is sign-up for the Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter (which is a good deal in itself; I’ve been a subscriber since it first came out).

What will this Webinar cover, in more specific terms?

So, in Brian’s Copyblogger interview, he mentions his the 4U Method of Writing Headlines*, which means that every headline should be:

  1. Useful (with a broad definition of “useful”)
  2. Urgent
  3. Unique
  4. Ultra-specific

So in those terms, this Master Class will teach you:

  1. 10 specific ways to signal Usefulness to your Audience
  2. 7 Fascination Triggers to create added Urgency and Uniqueness to your headlines
  3. How to layer technique onto technique to multiply the magnetic effect of each
  4. Over 33 Headlines Deconstructed in Depth
  5. Understand the difference between power adjectives vs. amateur-hour adjectives

I’d offer you all a money-back guarantee, but, um, we’re not charging any money for it, so… just go sign up for it already!

Oh, and in the words of Bartles & Jaymes, “and thank you for your support” 🙂

* According to a commenter, the 4U Method comes from the great Bob Bly Michael Masterson.

26riney.190“Social Media,” “Brand Touchpoints,” and “Transparency” have become promiscuous and, well, downright slutty little buzzwords in today’s world. To the point where one almost reflexively judges a marketer using them to be a bit of whore himself.

But would you ever expect those same strategies to come from a big-time TV advertising firm? From back in the 90s? Straight outa the mouth of an advertising legend who created 3 of the Top 100 Advertising Campaigns of the Century, and two of the most potent and admired political ads, since, um, ever?

Well, here’s a video of Hal Riney talking about the launch campaign he created for Saturn. Skip ahead to the 56 second mark and see if you can’t hear the man describe exactly these kinds of new-school strategies.

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A Quick and Dirty Transcript

And for those of you who who’d rather just read a transcript, here’s what the man said:

“But our job isn’t to do television commercials. Our job is to solve problems. And it may be that television is the answer, but it probably isn’t the only answer, and there are other ways to think about things… And…and our answer was to find ways to make people like this company. And that took the form of letters that we wrote to consumers and a thousand other things besides television commercials.

So we did everything…

… and we, and we got involved in a lot of things like… like color. What kind of color – what do we call the colors, you know, Santa Fe Sunset, or what? Well, how about Red?

All you had to do was to look at everything Detroit did and just do the opposite. And, and that’s virtually what we did. We guided the company through all of that and it was extraordinarily rewarding to find out that this kind of honesty and straight-forwardness and integrity that we tried to maintain, actually worked.”

A Breakdown of (just some) New School Strategies Employed by Saturn

Well just look at all these no sh*t, new-school branding strategies:

  • Personal, mailed letters = social media.
  • Organizing plant tours and owner get togethers (not talked about in this interview, but vital parts of the campaign) = Social Media
  • Letting people see how the cars are built = transparency
  • Having a no haggle pricing policy = transparency
  • Making the “thousand other things” match up with the brand promise and advertising = transparency
  • Relying on customer advocates and Word of Mouth = Buzz Marketing / Tribal Branding
  • Skipping out on the falsely exotic paint names, like, “Cheyenne Sunset” in favor of the more conversational, authentic color names, such as “Red” = speaking in an authentic voice = transparency

But What About Saturn’s Branding?

As you may have noticed, this interview with Hal Riney is featured as an extra from a documentary on advertising called Art & Copy (highly recommended, by the way). And in another scene from that movie, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein (former employees of Hal Riney’s) discus their famous “Got Milk” campaign. Here’s a rough paraphrase of some of what they said:

The previous milk campaign was “Milk: It Does a Body Good,” which showed athletes doing stuff, like sprinting a 100 yard dash and then downing a glass of milk. And that didn’t work because it wasn’t the truth about milk. No one guzzles milk after working out. That’s not how or when we drink milk.

In contrast, the “Got Milk?” campaign worked because it reflected the essential truth about how and why we drink milk, and it did it by focusing in on the genuine moment of need.

This is a brilliant strategy and one that was memorably dramatized in all of the Got Milk TV campaigns, starting with the very first one:

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Tell the Essential Truth About The Product

So let’s just start with that, shall we? You have to tell the truth about your brand.

As a canonical case study of this dynamic, Avis Rental Cars couldn’t say they were number 1 because, well, they just plain weren’t. And when Avis tried to advertise as if they were number 1, they got clobbered.

Yet once they ran their famous “We’re number 2; we try harder” campaign, the advertising worked. They told the truth about themselves and their service: they admitted what the buying public already knew (that they were #2 in the industry), an admission that bought them instant credibility, and then Avis used that credibility to make buyers feel differently about what they knew (that being #2 kept them hustling harder than the competition) — and it worked.

So that’s point number 1: Tell the truth about the product or service.

For Saturn, they told the truth about being a brand new car company trying to resurrect America’s pride in manufacturing. About wanting to build an honest car, to sell it for an honest price, and in an honest straightforward fashion. This is in contrast to car commercials typical claims of superior performance, luxury, prestige, engineering brilliance, or price — none of which would have rung true or worked.

Instead of making false claims about superior performance, Saturn made an honest claim to virtue, which is often a more-then-acceptable substitute.

If you doubt this was really the strategy, take a look at this ad from the initial launch campaign. There’s a clear line of virtue symbolically transmitted from the 3rd grade teacher, to the letter and picture she sends to the plant, and then onto the car itself when the plant worker literally puts that symbolic piece of virtue into the car. Watch it and see…

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Tell Them What to Expect – And Then Live Up To It

Then there’s the other side of the Avis campaign, the one no one really talks about. And it’s a two-parter:

  1. avis-time-02-01-1963-007-aGiving specific verifiable expectations to the customer
  2. Making darn sure the cars lived up to the promise.

Take a look at one of the original ads from that Avis campaign. Now count the number of specific, verifiable promises made in it: no dirty ashtrays, worn wipers, etc.

Well, what no one really talks about is how Doyle Dane Bernbach — the agency that created that campaign — insisted that Avis put the operational systems and managerial priorities in place to ensure that the cars lived up to the advertising.  As Bill Bernbach put it: “It’s always a mistake to make good advertising for a bad product.”

And they weren’t kidding around, either.  Avis did a complete customer service overhaul, upgraded their fleet of cars, and ensured that each employee received a copy of new Avis ads in his or her pay envelope before each campaign was launched.

Few people talk about these things when discussing the Avis campaign, but they are an undoubtedly major reason the ads worked.

So what about Saturn?

Many of Saturn’s major brand promises centered on the dealership experience, as dramatized with such astonishing brilliance by this Hal Riney ad:

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As long as the dealership followed-through on that experience, the ads would work. And that’s why Hal Riney makes a point to mention the letter writing and the “thousands of other things” they had the dealerships do to ensure brand integrity. My favorite touch from the commercial is setting the clock for the new owner – ahhhh 🙂

So why is this so important? Three reasons:

  1. Specifics make your claim more credible
  2. Specific allow you to shape your customers’ expectations
  3. Specifics allow you to easily fulfill those expectations

Without this strategy, most stores devolve into promising great customer service, which isn’t believed and generally results in nothing but greater complaints from customers who come in with heaven knows what kind of expectations.

The Advertising Still Helps & We’re Still Tribal People

So what does this mean today?

Well, non-advertising communication of the brand, through multiple customer touch points and social media and all those grand new-school advertising things ARE indeed important.

But only when aligned around an intelligent, strategically sound campaign.

Oh, and it still helps to have some old school mass media muscle driving your essential message out to the, um, masses.  Yes, Virginia, digital is cool and direct marketing is cool, but mass media still kicks some major branding ass when wielded effectively. And brands are still all about shared values and tribes and personality — and relevancy (yes I’m not above using a slutty marketing buzzword or two 😉 ) — those are the make or break factors.

People want to belong, Something that Saturn and Hal Riney well knew…

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P.S. For those of you who laughed at the “look at everything Detroit did and just do the opposite” line, you might enjoy this article on Counter Branding from Roy H. Williams, another advertising great, and my business partner.



by Jeff

on-a-mission-from-godEven a vicious criminal wants his gun manufactured by a virtuous man.

He most certainly doesn’t want the gun to have been made with cut corners, with an unscrupulous eye towards maximizing profit margins, and a sociopathic inconsideration for the end-user.

And so it is with everyone: no matter how much we may fail to attain virtue ourselves – no matter how much we behave as foolish children – we still want the things we buy and the people who provide our services to be virtuous.

For advertising and copywriting, this means that demonstrating or dramatizing virtue on the part of the product, manufacturer, or service provider is often enough to move the needle.

This is especially true in cases where proving superiority in performance is difficult or legally prohibited or impossible. In practical terms, demonstrating virtue means using your copy to indirectly show how the actions of  your client are driven by something deeper than economics.

Here’s an example demonstrating this technique of implied virtue:


In a previous post, I focused on the story’s ability to flatter prospective customers, but I ignored how the story implies that Mr. Beckley works on Mercedes because he has an affinity with the values that the car stands for – that he cares about how all that added engineering and build quality ultimately protect the driver.

In other words, Beckley’s  decision to focus on Mercedes and Volvos is a principled, virtuous choice, making him, by transference, a principled, virtuous mechanic (as opposed to a mechanic choosing to concentrate on a more lucrative or less competitive foreign auto market).

So Mr. Beckley not only becomes a mechanic you can trust, but one with whom you share a common brand affinity for Mercedes automobiles. Brilliant.

Taking WIIFY to the Next Level

Currencies_That_Buy-_CredibilityI touched on this emotional dynamic a bit earlier with my post on What’s In It For You (and on One Tough Mother’s Magical Advertising Secret),  But now I’d like to tie that idea to the work of my colleague Tom Wanek.

Tom’s framework of signaling theory, as described in his book Currencies that Buy Credibility, really functions as the missing link between credibility and WIIFY. Here’s how:

1. To show virtue, you have to show an unreasonable devotion to excellence or end-user satisfaction. You have to demonstrate extra-painstaking measures that go beyond the merely economic. And ideally, you want to do this with something other than an explicit claim.

2. Signaling Theory says that non-adaptive/non-economical expenditure of resources can be used to “prove” or signal mating fitness. The male peacock’s weighty tail feathers show off his vigor; they demonstrate his ability to survive despite the handicap, kind of like beating someone up “with one arm behind your back.”

3. In business, an apparently non-selfish investment of money, resources, time, etc. can signal the sincerity or virtue of your business offer. This is the crux of Wanek’s brilliant application of Signaling Theory to marketing. A money-back guarantee (supposedly) shows that you’re willing to take on all of the buying risk, ostensibly due to confidence in your product. Richard Davis’s willingness to shoot himself while wearing Second Chance Body Armor rather dramatically demonstrates how risking Safety and Wellbeing signals belief and trusts in a product:

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4. Ads can demonstrate virtue by leveraging one of Wanek’s 6 Currencies that Buy Credibility, namely:

  • Material Wealth
  • Time and Energy
  • Opportunity
  • Power and Control
  • Reputation and Prestige
  • Safety and Wellbeing

In the Beckley Automotive example, Mr. Beckley is sacrificing opportunity (the opportunity to work on any mark and make of vehicle) in order to signal his shared affinity for Mercedes.

My point is simply that layering virtue with Signaling creates a stronger overall effect than either strategy alone. And that this kind of implied demonstration of virtue is what most people are really after in most of the products and services they buy — that it represents what Ogilvy referred to as “a first class ticket” and “the positively good.

So what are you doing with your advertising? Are you using either or both of these techniques to maximum effect?

P.S. As previously noted, the Beckley Automotive example was used with the kind permission of the brilliant Chuck McKay, a marketing and business strategist with much to offer any business serious about pursuing increased market share and profitability.

P.P.S.  Tom will be teaching at Wizard Academy on the 26th of this month for those interested in an in-depth study of marketing through signaling theory

2011-01-06_1357Frankly, the chances are good that you’re squandering the very best branding opportunities available to you on your current Website.  Read on to find out why, and what you can do about it.

The Importance of Micro-copy

It all started a few months back, when my friend and former colleague from Future Now, Robert Gorell, told me about Hipmunk.com.  He wanted to talk about micro-copy and I was all ears.

Robbert believes (rightly) that the small snippets of copy that make up the predominance of customer interaction represent a huge opportunity for conveying “brand voice” – an opportunity that’s usually squandered.

For example:


All of these are areas where companies could take an opportunity to carefully break with the trite norms of the Web or of their industry and come up with something different. Something reflective of the brand personality. And all these remain fairly vanilla on the vast majority of Websites.

Hipmunk.com is an example of how to do it right

Instead of allowing you to only sort flights by airline, number of stops, or cost, Hipmunk.com also allows you to sort by “agony,” a combination of flight duration, number of stops, and cost.


How cool is that?

This is the kind of copy that brings to mind Tim Miles‘ writing adage: “Don’t tell her you’re courteous. Open her door.” A quote I always like to paraphrase as, “Don’t tell readers that you ‘understand’ them, write something that demonstrates your understanding – something that only a person who understood could write.”

Not only is the sort by agony feature a useful function, but the “agony” label shows that chipmunk “gets it”: they understand that most business travelers begrudge their time wasted at airports and are hoping to reduce it as much as possible, while still taking into account costs.

Micro-copy and Persona-Based Marketing

So while I appreciate the brilliance of the micro-copy, I also see this as an example of persona-based marketing. Because coming up with new and useful ways to sort flights or categorize products or view your options involves getting inside the heads and the lives of your prospective customers. You have to understand before you can create something that demonstrates that understanding.

And this is where Persona-based marketing becomes so very, very important. Personas provide marketers and copywriters a tool and framework for getting inside the lives and heads of their prospective customers. And the more you are unlike your target customer, the more you need help getting into their heads, the more you need personas.

Which is why any male interested in Marketing to Women ought to check out Michele Miller’s new Marketing to Women course, Unzipped.

The Unzipped approach to Persona-Based Marketing

2011-01-06_1429I read (and recommend) Michele’s previous book, The Soccer Mom Myth, and found it to have incredibly deep and worthwhile insights into persona creation.

Now, as a disclaimer, Michele is a fellow Wizard of Ads Partner and The Soccer Mom Myth was co-written by my friend and Future Now colleague, Holly Buchanan. So I’m biased. Then again, I was also as jaded as I was biased, thinking that I already knew everything the book was going to cover about persona-based marketing. Wrong! I was so wrong, in fact, that I invested in taking Michele’s online Marketing to Women course that was offered as a follow-up (and yes, I had to pay the tuition just like anyone else).

At any rate, if you’re available for the course at the end of this month, you should really check it out.

And if you can’t make it, why not buy the book, which is available for Kindle for only 99 cents.

P.S. The course will be co-taught by the brilliant Tom Wanek, author of Currencies that Buy Credibility.



by Jeff

2011-01-02_2210Let me ask you this: has anyone ever come out, point blank and told you, directly and explicitly, that BMWs were status symbols and more to be coveted than, say, Hondas?

What about Polo or Lacoste clothing? Is it because of explicit word of mouth recommendations that you somehow feel that those brands make better polo shirts than The Gap?

The Importance of What “They” Say

The vast majority of our brand hierarchies and preferences have been formed apart from explicit WOM endorsements. These things rest not so much on what your buddy has said, but what the infamous “they” say. Or rather don’t say, but strongly intimate and suggest.

And it’s these same brand hierarchies that form the background against which customers form and express their opinions. Confirmation bias says we tend to see what we expect to see, and branding shapes expectations…

So what’s the point?

Advertising’s Sleeper Effect

Mass Media effectively shapes brand preference. Few people want to believe they’re “susceptible” to advertising, that they can’t immediately discount a paid for message as obviously biased. And intellectually, they’re right, at least in the short term.

When we first hear an ad message, we take all claims with a large grain of salt in light of the obvious self-interest and bias involved in the message.

But what happens over time?

According to psychological research, over time the emotional bias imparted from the advertising sticks while our intellectual discounting of the message wears away. Over time, (intelligently crafted) advertising affects our internal brand hierarchy. Or at least the ads will affect your friend’s and neighbors’ brand preferences ; )

Why Local Branding Works Even Better

Of course, the customer experience or product reality has to be aligned with the brand promise / advertising message. Fail to deliver on your advertising’s promises and you’ll just go out of business faster. And it’s easier to create a new brand preference where none previously existed than to dislodge an already established brand preference.

But buying this kind of putative WOM can be done, despite what the more militant (and misguided) social media types might tell you.

And done rather easily at that, at least when it comes to most local and medium sized businesses. I mean, do you currently have a strong brand preference for carpet cleaners? Or power washers, roofers, flooring stores, bicycle shops, deck builders, HVAC guys or any of the other hundred things and services sold in your local town?

I thought not.

Some of us might, from prior experience, be able to recommend a provider for one or two of those categories, but not most of them. And that’s where an intelligently run radio campaign could make any better-than-average provider of those things a king in his category – the one “they” say is the best choice; the local brand at the top of the customer’s preference hierarchy.

My Wizard of Ads partners and I bestow such crowns (and riches) on clients all the time. All it takes is a business with the guts to embark on an aggressive ad campaign and an ad writer who knows your business and knows what he’s doing.

If you’ve got the guts, I know an ad writer I could recommend – “they” say he’s the best 😉