Sharpen your creative skills. Hug a tree.

According to a study cited by Fast Company, urban living makes you stupid. But spending a little time in nature can give your brain a boost.

hug a treeNatural settings, it seems, apply less of a load on our cognitive processes, compared to the flurry of inputs and choices an urban environment – with all its people, traffic, technology and artificial shapes and sounds – makes. Somehow this has knock-on effects deep in our brains. Of course this study simply exposes the results, and an understanding of the mental mechanisms that drive this behavior is much more complex. But it’s clear that our brains developed as we evolved in a natural environment.

And at least the study found that the beneficial effects of a natural environment counteract the negative effects of an urban one–to sharpen up your brain, you simply need to go outside and find a park to stroll in.

I think this has some importance for writers, designers, and others who spend a lot of time sitting inside staring at a computer screen for hours at a time. You gotta give yourself a break now and then or your brain locks up.

Some people can just crank it out all day long. But I start to get fuzzy after two or three hours. So I look for excuses to change the scenery.

If it’s spring or summer, I’ll take a walk around my property and futz with my roses, kick mulch back into the landscaping beds, or prune a bush or two. If it’s fall or winter, I might rake leaves, shovel a little snow, or clean out a gutter. Fun, huh? Well, it’s more fun and refreshing than staring at my computer in a fog.

At the end of the day, regardless of weather, I walk or bike around my home town (which has done a good job of maintaining plenty of green space). This is a little tricky in the winter, but even now with six inches of snow, I get out and about. I’ve always known that time outside recharges my batters pretty fast. Five minutes can give me creative juice for a few more hours.

Writing is largely about managing your brain. The cure for fatigue or writer’s block is right outside your window.

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Vince the ShamWow guy is flawless DRTV

Given the “love him / hate him” response to my post on Billy Mays, the king of direct response TV, I can only imagine the response I’ll get from this piece on Vince the ShamWow guy.

If you think you see a lot of Vince the ShamWow guy now, buckle up. I recently saw Vince in a new spot selling a kitchen gadget called the SlapChop. His full name, appropriately enough, is Vince Offer. And I think you’ll be seeing a lot more of Vince.

Why? Because Vince has a natural gift for the pitch. He’s quirky, cocky, glib, and quick. While he might drive you nuts if you had to spend an hour with him, he’s perfect for short form TV ads.

Most importantly, you can’t take your eye off the guy. He grabs and holds your attention.

As I pointed out in my post on Billy Mays, it really doesn’t matter if you like the commercials. What matters is what works. And Vince the ShamWow guy works.

Okay, let me have it. I’m a fan of Vince. Are you?

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Content theft and other dastardly deeds

Everyone understands the idea of theft. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, it’s stealing. This includes intellectual property, such as written content. If you didn’t write it, it doesn’t belong to you and you can’t use it without permission.

Easy, right? Well, apparently, it’s not such a clear idea any longer.

The Internet has made content theft simple and pervasive.  From taking music and artwork to the wholesale heisting of entire Web sites, theft happens all the time.

One of the most common forms of content theft is the stealing of blog content through a technique known as “feed scraping.”

Every blog, including this one, publishes a “feed.” The idea behind feeds is to syndicate your content so that it gets wider circulation. You can, for example, subscribe to the Direct Creative feed here. When I publish a new item, you either get it e-mailed to you or it shows up in whatever feedreading program you choose, including many popular browsers.

But what some people do is take this feed and republish it on their own site, usually as a fast, easy way to add content that attracts traffic for their own ads and affiliate links.

Why am I talking about this? Because my content is stolen frequently. At least one site I’ve seen is made up of nothing but my articles and a bunch of Google AdSense ads. Recently, I found a site purportedly on direct mail that had republished about a dozen of my blog posts with no permission, no byline, and no links to my original posts. Read more

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Obama marketing mania means big bucks

Obama Chia headCapitalizing on current events has always been a good way to boost sales. Obama’s inauguration is the most recent example.

Everywhere you look there’s an Obama product. I’ve seen Obama coins selling on TV and Obama shirts on CafePress and other sites. I even saw a barber shop that changed its name to “Obama’s.” They claim the new name has dramatically boosted profits.

Advertising Age is reporting that Obama mania is “staggering.”

From the article:

Inaugural tchotchkes are a given, but the breadth and depth of Obama merchandise available is staggering. For infants, there are onesies. For the tech-savvy, there’s an iPhone case. Coming is a Barack Obama Chia Pet. And for those who want to size up the president-elect, there’s a life-size cutout.

But it doesn’t stop there. Retailers are also using the inauguration as an excuse to promote big-screen TVs, digital recorders and patriotic party favors. Amazon last week launched its first Inauguration Store, featuring “everything customers need to get ready to attend the event, host an inauguration party or watch from home.”

This shouldn’t come as any surprise. Americans are idol worshipers. They love to associate themselves with famous people. All it takes is for a rap star or sports icon to be seen with a particular pair of tennis shoes and sales will skyrocket.

If you’re jaded, you’ll see America as a nation of sheep. If you’re a marketer, you’ll see America as a nation of opportunity. Take your pick. Either way, there’s a marketing lesson here.

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U.S. Postal Service: Holidays by the Numbers

MailProThe economy has hit the United States Postal Service just like everyone else.

Postal volume is down. Thousands of USPS employees are being laid off. Huge financial losses have direct mailers worried about more postage increases.

But still, from an absolute numbers standpoint, the USPS racked up some impressive stats over the 2008 holiday season.

Here are some factoids courtesy of MailPro, the publication for true mail nerds:

232 – Number of years the U.S. Postal Service has been delivering holiday cheer.

19 billion – Number of cards, letters and packages to be delivered between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

3.4 billion – Number of letters mailed over the holidays.

82 million – Average daily number of First-Class Mail cards and letters mailed.

960 million – Number of pieces of mail processed on Dec. 15, the busiest mailing day of the year.

700 million – Average number of pieces of mail processed daily.

826 million – Average number of pieces of mail processed daily during the holidays.

20 million – In pounds, the amount of mail the Postal Service will process for overseas military installations, including war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

7,400 – Number of Post Offices with expanded hours.

214,500 – Number of vehicles used to transport holiday mail, including 188,336 half-ton trucks.

2.17 billion – Number of holiday stamps the Postal Service printed this year.

130 million – Number of customers who visit the Post Office during the holidays.

If you think these numbers are interesting, do me a favor and Stumble, Digg, or otherwise post it to your favorite social or bookmarking site. Or just e-mail it to a friend. Thanks.

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Fundraising: the “hardwired” formula that works

Nearly everything you’ll ever need to know about charitable fundraising you can learn from this video …

Okay, the video is silly. But it’s more on the mark than you might think.

Fundraising is a direct response specialty. Not many people can do it well because most think that it’s just about asking for money.

But it runs deeper than that. In fact, for charitable fundraising (the type of fundraising to support needy people), there is a formula you can tap into. This formula comes from an instinct to help that is hardwired into human beings.

I wrote an article on this fundraising formula a while back. Please read the whole article to understand the background of this idea. But here’s the gist of the formula: Read more

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11 appeals that make fundraising letters work

sad dogThe first rule of human behavior is that people make decisions emotionally, based on a feeling, need, or emotion.

This is important in all kinds of direct mail, but for fundraising letters, it is critical. Your letter must elicit an emotional response and channel it toward a donation.

A fundraising letter I received a few years ago from The Humane Society of the United States delivered so much emotional power, I still remember it to this day. It began bluntly:

I regret to inform you that The HSUS has conclusive evidence of the brutal murder of millions of dogs and cats…

…precious animals just like your own pet.

It’s the most deadly case of massive animal abuse ever in history. And I must warn you:

The sealed envelope I am sending you along with this letter contains graphic photographs of companion animals — dogs and cats — being slaughtered.

Please do not open this envelope unless you are prepared for the heartbreaking horror you will find inside.

Read more

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