Here’s an article I wrote a while back that infuriated agencies and award show supporters all over the country. It generated criticism, diatribes, tirades, personal attacks, verbal abuse … and quite a bit of praise. I guess it really hit home. So I’ve decided to share it with my loyal, savvy readers here.
If you’re the typical advertising type, you can get pretty fed up with all those direct response techniques.
How dare anyone suggest that your job is about something as crass as getting people to read a sales pitch or generating profit. After all, you’re a creative genius, right?
Besides, while you’re pretty sure that direct marketers know a thing or two about getting people to respond to ads, they don’t know squat about what’s really important. Winning awards!
I mean, sheesh! They’re so spastic. Always whipping out calculators and crunching numbers … as if numbers have anything to do with advertising!
Let’s take a quick look at a few sure ways to create ads that impress your colleagues, win pointy plastic prizes, and give you a well-deserved break from all that pesky response.
Morris Hite was a classic American advertising man, self-educated and self-made.
Yes, I know. You’ve probably never heard of him because he’s not as well-known as some Madison Avenue ad executives, but he had a powerful impact on the industry.
He was born in Oklahoma, migrated to Texas, and worked his way up to become head of the Tracy-Locke agency in Dallas, one of the country’s most successful agencies. And he did it by focusing on his clients’ growth rather than on producing clever ads.
He was also an innovator in the area of consumer research long before it became fashionable. And he always looked for the “big idea” to craft sales messages that would trigger consumer response on a gut level.
For me, Hite represents the ideal ad man: smart, down-to-earth, plain-spoken, and enthusiastic, with an indomitable can-do attitude and a laser-like focus on profits. Here’s what he had to say about the craft and business of advertising. Not everything here is about direct marketing, but there is plenty to learn from his wise words.
One of the worst mistakes copywriters make is to assume their job is about writing. It’s not.
Now I know that sounds a bit odd. After all, the word “writing” is in the word “copywriting.” So it’s understandable why you might misunderstand.
But writing and copywriting are two very different things.
When you write a novel or a poem, readers wants great words. They enjoy the rhythm, the imagery, the wordplay. People expect this kind of writing to deliver a certain art and beauty.
When you write websites, ads, white papers, or other business materials, readers simply want information. They don’t care about the artistry. They aren’t looking for beauty. They just want to find out how to solve a problem or meet a need.
This isn’t to say that copywriting can’t be well-crafted. It should be. But it should be crafted in such a way that the words disappear and the meaning shows through. I like to think of good copywriting as if it’s a toy store window, clean, polished, and invisible, providing a clear view of the wondrous goodies inside.
So when copywriters forget that their job is to convey meaning, to connect with needs, to influence and persuade, they focus on the words alone and create, well … crap. When you do this, it’s not that you’re stupid. It’s just that you’re ignorant.
Here are responses to some questions about creating effective direct mail and direct response advertising.
Q: We’ve tested self-mailers, but they never seem to work. What are we doing wrong?
A: As for what you’re doing wrong, I can’t possibly answer that question without seeing your self-mailers.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the format. I have created successful self-mailers for many clients, mostly for lead generation but also for direct sales. One of my clients uses self-mailers exclusively to sell books and videos to a business market.
A self-mailer works best when your audience is familiar with your company or your product category. The more you have to explain or the more credibility you have to build, the more likely a direct mail package will get a better response.
I’ve always been in love with print ads.
Like radio advertising, print ads are relatively easy to create and place. They offer a simple and elegant platform for selling. And with an endless array of niche publications, you can target prospects better than ever before.
But print advertising can also be expensive. You could buy a house for what you’ll pay for a one-page ad in an AARP publication.
Plus, you generally have to plan and place your ads months in advance. You can’t make last minute changes. So it pays to evaluate your ads carefully before you commit to an advertising schedule.
Here’s a 9-point checklist to help you make sure your ad is good-to-go:
Want to beat your direct mail or advertising control but don’t know where to begin?
Here’s a strategy I’ve developed over the years that can point you in the right direction.
Simply analyze your control and mentally toss it into one of three “buckets”: Excellent, Good, or Bad.
This will determine whether you should come up with a completely new idea, tinker with your existing control, or trash everything and start from scratch.
Beat an Excellent Control with a Revolutionary Approach
An excellent control is one that makes the right offer, uses the right format, and deftly employs all the right selling techniques. From a purely creative standpoint, it delivers a high-quality message. Most importantly, the numbers indicate it gets a superior response when mailed to the right lists or placed in the right media.
I have received many calls and messages informing me that an email is circulating with my web address on it. The email appears to be from the IRS.
This email is fraudulent and dangerous. Do not click on the link in the email. The link leads to a site that will attempt to install a virus on your computer.
Please note: The IRS never sends email. They communicate by mail and phone only.
Obviously, the email has nothing to do with me. I am not sending it and I cannot stop it. It appears that the spammer has simply linked to a graphic on my blog. I renamed the graphic to break the link and prevent the email from robbing my site of bandwidth. And now that the link is broken, my website is visible in the email.
I have reported this to my ISP, however they are unable to stop the email from being sent since it is coming from an unknown person at an unknown location.
I suggest that you delete the fraudulent email then empty your deleted email folder. If you are unsure if you’ve been infected, run a scan of your computer with whatever security software you use.
When I was asked to teach a copywriting class for a special program at The Ohio State University, I discovered that teaching writing is far more difficult than the writing itself. Many of the things I did naturally from experience or instinct were a complete mystery to my students.
So, in order to make the copywriting process a logical and painless operation, I devised a simple method for writing ad copy for novice writers. I called it POWER Copywriting, an acronym for the five steps in the copywriting process: Prepare, Organize, Write, Edit, and Review.
This represents years of copywriting experience boiled down to the basics. I won’t promise that this will help you create a masterpiece of copywriting brilliance. But it can help guide you toward better and more effective sales writing.
Step 1: PREPARE
Good ad copy begins with good information. And the best way to gather the information you need is with a thorough Q&A. Here are some basic questions that will help you prepare for just about any ad writing project.
If you’re a copywriter, consultant, business owner, or anyone involved in marketing, you’re also a reader.
In fact, if you’re like me, you probably spend a good portion of your day reading reports, email, creative briefs, proposals, and all manner of materials. So if you can read faster, you can be more productive.
The question is, can you really read at lightning speed and still comprehend and retain what you’re reading? This is a hotly debated question. Some swear they can read and remember a whole book in 5 minutes while others say speed reading is a bunch of baloney.
I think Woody Allen settled the matter when he said, “I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.”
White papers have been around for quite a while, but I’ve noticed that many businesses misuse the idea and get disappointing results.
I think the reason is that many people don’t understand the distinction between marketing literature and a true white paper.
Marketing literature, such as a brochure, is just what it sounds like. It’s literature intended to sell you something. It may be informative and interesting, but the purpose is clear. It works best when the person requesting the literature is curious about a specific product.
A properly-written white paper, however, is not simply sales literature in disguise. It is intended to be an authoritative report or a guide focused on an important, relevant issue. It seeks to educate readers and help them solve a problem or make a decision.
When you fail to make this distinction, you often end up with nothing but a wordy advertisement. There’s nothing wrong with long, editorial-style ads, but these are not white papers.