“Bite the wax tadpole,” said the copywriter.

wax tadpoleWriting clear copy is hard.

One reason is that everyone speaks a different language. Something that seems clear to you may not be clear to someone else. Let me give you a few extreme examples:

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AH-HA! Break though creative block in 4 steps

lightbulbYou’ve just been handed an assignment to write a direct mail package for a new product your client is introducing. It’s an important launch. You’ve been asked to be fresh, dynamic, and creative.

So, you pour yourself a cup of steaming coffee, turn on your computer, and settle in to give birth to an epic campaign. However, when your fingers hit the keyboard … nothing happens.


You write a few words. Delete. Then write a few more. Nothing. You try again and again to piece together a complete sentence, but you begin to realize that you have no idea what to say. You have no ideas. You’re dry.

Now you start to sweat and find yourself glancing frantically at the clock every five minutes. You can feel that deadline creeping up on you. Your stomach turns and you begin to wonder why you ever took on this assignment. You wonder why you’re even in this business.

And still the clock is ticking ….

Sound familiar? It has happened to all of us in the creative business. Some call it creative block. Others call it a slump. But whatever the term, the result is the same: frustration, stress, missed deadlines, or poor quality work.

The problem here is more than a tight deadline. It’s our society’s concept of creativity. Generally, we think of creativity as that mysterious “AH-HA” experience, where an idea seems to leap magically into our head in a bright flash of inspiration. But this “AH-HA” feeling is just a synapse firing in our brain. It’s an electro-chemical event over which we have no control.

However, what we CAN control are the events that lead up to and follow that sudden spark. Creativity isn’t just a moment. It’s a process. And despite what you might think, the process isn’t disorganized at all. In fact, it follows definite steps that you can apply to your everyday work to help free your mind and unleash your creative powers. Read more

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B2B copywriting vs. B2C copywriting

Recently, I ran across a short interview I did with Inside Direct Mail several years ago about the difference between copywriting for business to business advertising (B2B) and business to consumer advertising (B2C).

Given the growth in B2B, and the fact that I came off sounding reasonably intelligent, I thought I should reprint the interview here on my blog.


What is one of the key differences between B2B and consumer writing?

Business buyers often aren’t spending their own money. That’s good and bad. Good because they’re more open to big-ticket purchases. Bad because they usually have to get approval from others. In fact, you must sometimes talk to many layers of a company before making a sale – decision makers, buyers, and end users. All of which means you have to provide more purchase justification than you do for consumers.

Two other challenges also face the B2B marketer:

First, the buying process is often complicated, following a formal, rigid pattern of bids, budgets, bargaining, and analysis.

Second, you often have to get past a ruthless mail room or secretary before your message reaches your prospect.

However, these differences too often overshadow the similarities. Remember, business buyers are people with the same basic problems, fears, feelings, and dreams as everyone else. They just have those problems, fears, feelings, and dreams at work instead of at home. So while your products may be less sexy than in consumer marketing, you must never separate the sizzle from the steak. Read more

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$#!* Happens – A dirty story about ad testing

It was about 11:00 a.m. when we started up the mountain outside of San Pedro Sula in the northwest corner of Honduras. The humid air lay heavy and still in the valley below, causing the fields of sugar cane to shimmer in the hot sun.

We were videotaping b-roll for a few TV spots one of my fundraising clients wanted to test. Our task that day was the same as it had been every day that week: to capture images of the devastating poverty these people suffer.

The camera crew donned their battery belts, cables, and assorted gear and we followed the narrow dirt path toward the shacks above. As we ascended a steep rise and veered to the right, we came across a young boy toting an armload of dry firewood. One of our videographers wanted to shoot this and positioned himself in the middle of the path.

That’s when it happened. And to understand what happened, you must understand the term “wrap-and-throw.”

Many of the people my client helps are so poor they live in makeshift shacks, some of mud or wood, others little more than plastic or cardboard nailed to sticks. These places often have no sanitary facilities. So the residents have developed a practical way to deal with their waste: They wrap it in a small bag and throw it.

Thus, we were walking in a “wrap-and-throw” community. And while the videographer set himself to shoot the kid with the wood, one of our guides trotted ahead to ask the child’s permission. The boy agreed, and the guide came running back toward the cameraman.

A wrap-and-throw lay silently in the path, aged and ripe. A group of unsuspecting, sunblock-smeared gringos stood stupidly smiling three feet away, anticipating nothing but the beautiful picture they were about to record. Our guide’s foot came down hard at ground zero … and the principles of ballistics did the rest.

It gave new meaning to the term “$#!* happens.” Read more

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