Can good design be ugly?

Drudge Report

In a recent article on 37signals, a writer asked the question, “Can good design also be ugly?”

He’s referring to the Drudge Report, a news site that is loved (and hated) by millions. It’s one of the most popular and successful Web sites in the world. And it’s profoundly ugly.

The writer’s conclusion is that, yes, good design can be ugly. And I heartily agree.

He says that the ” … definition of design goes beyond aesthetic qualities and into areas of maintenance, cost, profitability, speed, and purpose.” Or, in architectural terms, we might say, “form follows function.”

He’s writing from the perspective of Web design, but his take on what makes for good design applies to anything, most especially to direct response advertising. Read more

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The 6-word copywriting challenge

Six-Word MemoirsRecently, in a four-way e-mail conversation with friends, someone mentioned talking to a teacher from our high school days. When my name came up, the teacher described his memory of me in six words: “wavy hair, glasses, big into theater.”

Wow. I didn’t know how to take that – the very core of who I am, or was, compressed into six highly descriptive words. When I shared my dismay, one of my friends referred me to a book that dealt with this very idea.

It’s called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.

Here are some excerpts from the book, which I’m quoting from Amazon.com:

Some writers tell their stories with humor and self-deprecation:

>> Woman Seeks Men–High Pain Threshold.
>> My first concert: Zappa. Explains everything.
>> Aging late bloomer yearns for do-over.

As you would expect, there are many bitter or bittersweet references to relationships gone bad:

>> Girlfriend is pregnant, my husband said.
>> Just in: boyfriend’s gay. Merry Christmas.
>> Let’s just be friends, she said.

Some lucky people sent memoirs that radiate contentment.

>> Alone at home, cat on lap.
>> Hope my obituary spells “debonair” correctly.
>> Wasn’t born a redhead; fixed that.

There is the contingent who describe themselves without judgment:

>> Gave commencement address, became sex columnist.
>> Mormon economist marries feminist. Worlds collide.
>> Still lost on road less traveled.

And last but not least, the philosophers who distill life experience into a greater truth:

>> Palindromic novels fall apart halfway through.
>> Cheese is the essence of life.
>> Wandering imagination opens doors to paradise.

I occurred to me that this would be a top-notch copywriting exercise. No, I won’t ask you to write about yourself. That’s just too hard. Instead, pick a product, any product, and try to describe it in exactly six words.

Here’s one for beer: “Low carbs. Makes date look great.”

You can do this on your own, but I’d really like to see what you come up with. Post your six-word masterpiece below.

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How to write the “classic direct mail package”

Advertising direct mail takes many forms: envelope packages, self-mailers, catalogs, magalogs, flyers, postcards, and more.

That’s one of the advantages of direct mail. You don’t have the format restrictions of magazine print ads, the time restrictions of radio or TV ads, or the technical restrictions of e-mail and Web site advertising.

As long as you comply with basic postal guidelines, you can send pretty much anything through the mail. This is good for products and services that require a lot of information to convince people to buy or try. But it can be a challenge for copywriters and designers without significant experience in creating ad mail.

direct mail package exampleLet’s take a quick look at how to write and design the granddaddy of all direct mail formats, the classic direct mail package.

The most important principle to understand is “divide and conquer.” That means that when you’re creating a direct mail package, you should understand the purpose of each element and allow that element to do its particular job.

Outer Envelope. This is the distinctive feature of the classic direct mail package: an envelope that carries all the other elements through the mail. It’s called the “outer envelope” or OE to distinguish it from the “reply envelope.”

The appearance of the OE can be anywhere on a scale from plain, with little or no copy or graphics, to bold, with lots of “teaser” copy and images. Plain or bold is a strategic choice based on what you believe will get the most people to open the envelope and read the contents. Read more

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3 predictions for the future of direct marketing

direct response billboardThere was a time not so long ago when direct marketing was the red-headed stepchild of the business world.

I remember just 15 or so years ago working for ad agencies who were just “discovering” direct marketing, calling it “interactive” marketing and lumping it in with Web site design, CD-ROMs, and other technology stuff. Direct response advertising was considered separate from all the “real” advertising, such as glitzy TV spots and splashy print ads.

Today, direct marketing is mainstream. People have finally realized the advantages of accountable advertising and the effectiveness of integrating direct marketing methods into the standard business model.

This is due in large part to the rapid growth of the Internet, which is well-suited to direct techniques. People have figured out how to both brand and sell on the Internet, and there is finally a realization that there doesn’t have to be a wall between these strategies. They can and should be integrated.

But what does the future hold? With all this change happening so rapidly, what will the marketing world look like 10 or 20 years from now? I have a few thoughts on that. Read more

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4 subject line tricks to boost e-mail open rates

Subject lines are to e-mail as teaser copy is to direct mail.

The subject line is the first thing people see when they receive your e-mail message. If it grabs their attention and creates curiosity, your message gets opened and read. Otherwise, your message gets deleted.

Everyone has their own ideas about what makes for good subject lines, but MarketingSherpa recently crunched the numbers on a year’s worth of newsletter data. The results produced four key strategies.

1. “Show value in the first two words”

You can’t be clever or mysterious. People get way too much e-mail to waste time on anything that doesn’t convey an immediate benefit. Take a look at the subject lines from Sherpa’s top 10 newsletter performers:

Top 12 Email Newsletter Mistakes
Simple Email Link Change Lifts Clicks
CAN-SPAM – Must-Know Updates
Best Time to Send Email: Test Results
6 Actions to Lift Clickthroughs: New Data
Your Copy of Annual Email Study Results Enclosed
HTML vs Text: Which Works Better?
Newsletter Design Exclusive Data
Email Audit PDF: How-to & Checklist
How to Conduct Email Surveys

I’m not sure where they get the idea that it’s specifically the first two words that make a difference, but it’s clear that all of the subject lines convey a benefit quickly and clearly, with relevant words near the beginning. Read more

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