Even the newspapers got in on it.

Classic grad-in-a-conundrum Adam Pacitti drained his bank account to pay for this billboard. He was hoping to get a job through publicity. And publicity he got.

But would you hire someone based on his 'come and get me' job advertisement?

If you were Adam Pacitti, or anyone else in a similarly desperate state, wouldn't you make your ad more interesting?

And what interests people more than themselves?

Who Do You Want to Want You?
If I was Adam, I'd have decided WHO I wanted to want me.

Not just anyone and everyone - but the one I match well with. The right skills and motivation on my side; the right environment on their side.

Then I'd find out about that employer. It's unlikely that anyone (perhaps sadly) cares about Adam Pacitti or his last £500. In fact the comments section proves it, harshly.

However, he's a media studies grad. So he can research, write, analyse, and be personable. All the skills he needs to make a better billboard ad than the one he's blown his cash on.

Choose Market or Social Appeal
Now, he can go one of two ways on this billboard.

As Dan Ariely shows in the info-packed, readable Predictably Irrational, we operate in social norms or market norms. When the two mix, market norms (selfish, individualist, self-reliant) tend to dominate. And it only takes the mention of price or payment to trigger such thinking.

However, social norms (team/group-focused, giving) can create stronger bonds and, therefore, greater motivation.

Let's start with a market-norms rewrite of Adam's ad. One focused on the money.

Research into costs and earnings for production companies, theatres, studios, ad agencies - whichever media he wants to work in - would show what £500 is worth to them.

So how about this:

You're looking at my last £500. Hire me to write/research/whatever, and I'll help you make 5x/10x/15x that amount in one/two/three weeks.

It's specific. It shows what Adam can do. It shows he knows what the employer is interested in. It sounds like he's in control, rather than begging.

Importantly, this version relies on his original £500 bedrock. Once Adam mentions this sum, he can't rely on emotional appeal (social mode) to gain interest. The money figure triggers market norms, which mean 'me, me, me'. That's why he has to be specific about what he can actually do for the prospective employer.

But what about a social-norms rewrite?

Something like:

Look what a motivated grad with production experience, people savvy, and top references can do for your company.

No direct mention of money or market value. A touch of community spirit ('motivated', 'people-savvy'). Plus a hint at quality ('top references'). Of course, Adam's website needs to be easy to read on this one as it's what .

Post your versions in the Comments. (But keep them postable.)
 
 
Pets make good copy
Local character for interesting copy
Write like the client to interest the client
Written like a true resident (and client)
I picked up this two-sided flyer from an estate agent because it's a smart piece of personal copy. By 'smart' I mean cunning. And by 'personal' I mean it capitalises on character.

How many times have you seen an estate agent tagline that reads something like: We're All Local So We Know Best?

Whether you're gritting your teeth through the process of rental search or desperately trying to sell your flat, you probably feel that a 'local' agent will know more and so be better equipped to help you. But what do you mean by 'local'?

Do they only have to work locally? Or should all the agents live locally too? What's the chance of that being the case if your agency is a branch of a large company? And if you are an agent, how do you prove to potential clients that you really do know your stuff - even if you aren't actually 'local'?

Well, you can write copy that shows you are readily available and have something in common with your target clients. These two factors add up to this: you are interested enough in them to know about them. It's reassuring. Which is invaluable for a business that is about something as personal as people's homes.

Here is how the estate agent's flyer does reassurance in print:

1. Ask For Help

Drayton Bird says that open rates on emails that have 'Can You Help' in the subject line are measurably higher than on ones that don't. (Well, he did at EADIM 2012 in October, so I believe him.) People like to be seen as having the capacity (financial, mental, physical) to help others. They respond to such requests.

Sure enough, and I suspect the agency has tested different headers, the opening line on the flyer is PLEASE HELP!

2. Sound Like Your Client
If you're going to make a big deal of being local, then it implies you have something in common with the people you are selling to. So it makes sense to go further and explain what this is. You can do it through your vocabulary, writing style and what you talk about. Naturally, what you talk about should be them.

The body copy of the agency flyer starts: My dog Polo is well known to many Chelsea residents and is often seen watching the world go by from our Cadogan St. office...We are often out walking so I can easily pop in to value your home (with or without him) if you are thinking of selling...

Two points here.

First, the tone of voice is casual but not overly friendly. The agent's asking for help, after all, not inviting you to lunch. This is important as the residents in question want to feel the agent is local, but still serving them. It's also why he offers to do a valuation with or without his huge dog (see first image).

Second, the dog is a cunning lead-in. No pun intended. It uses a real character to create interest. Many locals have dogs and Polo creates a direct link between the estate agent and the residents. Who may become clients if they feel comfortable enough to take up the offer on the flyer (i.e. to have their home valued).

They walk their dogs. The estate agent walks his dog. Everyone knows the joys and troubles of dog ownership. Some residents may even have seen the agent and Polo on a walk. They already have something in common. The first barrier to letting someone into your home (I don't know you) is down.

Don't Fall Down on the Tagline
So far, so reassuring and personal. The flyer copy is straightforward and well targeted. It is built on knowledge of the local market, and shows off this knowledge without boasting. Much better than the usual impersonal letter in the post that begs to be allowed to do a valuation.

I do have a problem with the agent's tagline.

Which is 'Refreshingly different estate agents'. But more on taglines in another post.

 
 
Target the headline at a captive audience
Drive-by shooting? There's a lawyer for that
It's Friday. Late afternoon, and you've finally finished your customer research dossier. You know where they live. What they do for a living. Whether or not they have free time and what they do with it. And what they wish they did with it instead. Which movies they pay to see and which websites they waste time on. Now what?

Targeting Turns Research into Fireworks
It's targeting time.

That means finding the right attention-grabbing headline. Turning your labour-heavy, info-rich research into the brightest, most sparkly benefit you can write. As long as you write it clearly.

And making sure the right (interested) customers see it.

I've got two examples here from a recent trip to New Mexico. They may not be sophisticated. At all. But they are raw examples of targeted advertising. Why?

I'll give you three reasons.

Location, Location, Location
Let's start with context. Each of these two examples is, as I said, from New Mexico. With a population of just under 2 million people, NM is a mountain desert covering 121,958 square miles. Temperatures range from -10C in winter to 40C in summer. Why is this important?

Because it means people drive a lot. Extreme distance + extreme temperatures = lots of time spent on the road.

So streetside and billboard advertising is a good idea. As is advertising at gas (petrol) stations. From the few times I've visited, I estimate 2 out of 3 cars is a pick-up. People use a lot of petrol.

The billboard ad above is for a law firm specialising in 'Crimes Using Cars' and 'Drive-By Shootings'. It sits at a main crossroads, just where a large highway enters the largest town, Albuquerque. Half the people in the state live in that city.

So plenty of people will see this billboard advertisement. And they'll be in cars while they read it. No, they certainly aren't all criminals, but I'll explain more in my third pointer.

The second ad (well, more of a notice) is part of a petrol station board. It's for Jack Daniels whiskey. And I should mention that it went up on the weekend. Party time. Because people have to buy petrol regularly to keep their motors, and thus their daily lives, running, this ad also gets seen a lot.

On to pointer two.

Simplicity Sells
These two streetside advertisements are as bare-bones as can be. Which makes sense because most people reading them will only have a couple of seconds to do so. Unless they are stopped at a red light.

'Hurt? Call Bert' is plain but cunning on two fronts. It rhymes, so it's memorable. Not much analysis required.

And second, it's got the attention-grabbing factor in one syllable. 'Hurt' means pain. We all relate to the word automatically. It's like 'Attention' or 'Stop'. A warning signal. It means 'Pay attention'.

The Jack Daniels notice is even more basic. Just the brand name and the price. But it's on a panel in a contrasting colour. So it gets attention, which draws eyes in to read the text. If you're picking up petrol on Friday night, you may well pick up a bottle of JD and be done with it.
Selling to the interested = sales
Only $18.99? That's less than half a tank
The Right Audience is Captive
So there are thousands of people streaming in and out of Albuquerque every day. How many of them need a violent car-crime lawyer?

Just enough.

The point is that a lot of the people who do need one will see that ad at some point. It's on the junction with the main highway in and out of town. In a state with the third highest general poverty levels in the US (after Washington D.C. and Mississippi). And which, because of its border with Mexico and vast, sparsely populated areas, is the main entry point for heroin, and a major transit point for cocaine and marijuana. (See Counterpunch, NYT, Huffington Post and Borderland Beat.)

There is a lot of violent crime in Albuquerque. And many people who need a criminal injury lawyer will see this billboard ad. 'Bert' doesn't care about the rest.

What about Jack Daniels?

In a state and city where people have to drive to get anywhere, and drive cars that make petrol stops necessarily frequent, the petrol station is as important as the supermarket.

That means people are as likely to buy stuff from the petrol station as they are from the food store. Often more likely, because they have to stop there anyway. Sticking up a sign for a well-priced bottle of Jack, at a time of the week when people are thinking of free time, is wise marketing by the petrol station manager.

Location, simplicity of message, and a ready audience are the three factors that make these advertisements work. The ads I chose make it look almost stupidly simple to get those three pieces right. That's why I chose them. But it's rarely that easy... as anyone who's worked on getting that great headline knows.
 
 
Gordon's plays on Britishness in ads
As British as self-parody and secret gold-medal hopes

The streets are like an open frying pan these days. And as you're tackling them, the sight of an ad for an icy clear drink, on the side of a London bus, is more than welcome.

Whoever writes for Gordon's Gin has found themselves in a perfect storm of weather, event and advertising strapline.

The Slow Strapline
The company already had 'Shall We G&T Started' as their strap. And it hits the target market squarely on the chin.

A G&T (gin and tonic) is the default drink for anyone not ordering a pint as soon as they catch the bartender's eye. It's also branded in class-conscious Britain as the preserve of a specific type. Just as JD&Coke is the preserve of another type. And Asahi beer another. Though there are plenty of Asahis who are secret G&Ters.

Anyway, on to the tone of voice. It's pitch perfect. Gordon's has been around since 1769, and is therefore part of the British drinking establishment. But it's also a company that uses its heritage to appeal to new generations of gin drinkers. In this example, via self-parody.

The slightly old-fashioned 'shall' leading gently into what everyone really wants. To get started with a drink, chop-chop, I'm parched. Just too polite to reach behind the bar and help myself.

But that one word, 'shall', is more than a lead-in. It is self-aware. And making fun of oneself is as 'British' as a gin and tonic.

Which leads me to...

The Big Event
What the Gordon's bus advertisement does to the 'quintessentially British' strap is tag on one word at the end: London.

Yes, it's a prime play on the Olympics 2012 advertising open season. Just like Marmite's 'Ma'amite' twist was on the Diamond Jubilee.

With a difference.

The Gordon's ad is speaking to a crowd that is both 'proud to be British' and acutely aware of the old-fashioned overtones of such a statement. It is not something to be said out loud. This crowd is not simply too polite - they're too modern and mobile.

But the writer can get away with a hint of emotion, of the possibility of the UK ditching underdog status, when everyone is going a bit mental. Like right now, in London, for the Olympics.

Because if there is a time to get excited about a massive circus, it's summertime. And if there is a crowd that does throw themselves into national circuses, even if reluctantly, it's the G&T crowd. Best of all, they can afford to quaff plenty of their favourite cold drink while doing so.

So that one word 'London' is an outlet. It shifts the strapline message ever so slightly, from garden party to party party. It adds excitement and action that the original firmly avoids. Just for these few Olympic and Paralympic weeks, a classic goes from sloe and steady to slightly buzzed.
 
 
Write a comfy selling environment
Selling environment - not just the cherry on top
What's your favourite part of going somewhere new? I love getting lost and finding stuff I would never have seen if I knew where I was. My brother likes the contrasts he finds in everyday places like food shops. And some people simply hate new places. But they're not reading this so I'll ask you another question.

If you don't like the people in the place you visit, how does that affect your sense of it?

I bet you want to leave quick. You don't feel comfortable.

Tea and a good selling environment
Well, think about what triggers those feelings when you put together an advertisement or any sales materials. Because no one stays around if they feel uncomfortable.

But people will spend a fair amount of time - and much more money - in an environment they like.

Which is something the Japanese have developed into an art form. And I'm not talking about the terrifyingly-expensive-gift tradition - I saw Valentine's Day bowls of cherries for £200.

No, the simplest way of putting people at ease is with a 'hello'. And every small shop does just that. Some of them go a step further and offer green tea. It's a very familiar gesture that resonates with customers - and it's cheap.

Writing the selling environment
Sadly, you can't offer cups of tea with every web page. But it doesn't have to cost a lot to create a good selling environment. Online or on paper. All it needs is attention to detail when thinking about the customer. And that requires patience.

What environment will make them feel at home (and therefore not pressured)? What images and words do they relate to right away, without thinking? The answers to these questions provide the base for the copy layout. And flag up which words to include that will make the customer absorb your message quickly and easily.

The idea is to make reading the copy (and buying the message) so easy that they don't have a reason to stop.

However, if your copy style doesn't fit with the publication it's in, or your brochure looks too flashy, no one will read past the headline. The layout, the tone of voice, and the words used have to make people feel they are listening to someone they would speak to by choice. In other words, the writing has to make them feel comfortable.

A reader of Private Eye will accept dry humour in copy and expect precise English. Someone browsing Daily Candy online will click with trend words like 'commitmentphobe'. If the environment you create contains familiar things, then the customer will sink into it.

And be more receptive to the brand message or sales pitch.


 
 
Japanese ads love English
Enjoy your life! Enjoy your socks style!
I spent the past two weeks in Japan, visiting family and learning shedloads. Not least about writing and listening.

In fact, it'll take me a couple of posts to cover the best bits. So stay tuned.

Take the ad on the left. It's one of literally hundreds of examples of a very Japanese phenomenon. A fascination with the English language combined with a total disregard for meaning.

It seems out of keeping with the Japanese attention to detail and concern for good form.

But it says a lot about how people all over the world value the way words sound.

Do words have to mean something to be useful?
Based on my experiences in the Land of the Rising Sun, I would say No. They just have to sound good. English, or Japlish, is used on hoardings, buses, magazine ads and TV ads. Most of it is plain wrong to a native speaker. So it seems that the word sound is more important than the meaning.

At least, it is when the words are meaningless in the first place (being foreign) and their main value is in sound. But I'd guess there's a lot of play on kanji characters and meaning in the Japanese copy.

The same way that English copy works based on our native word associations.

The pitter-patter of good copy
Words hold meaning on several levels. There's the dictionary definition of a word. Then there are the associations you hang on a word. 'Enjoy', for example, makes me think of flavours, shopping, and service. 'Farmer' triggers thoughts of honesty, hard work, and nature.

There's also the contextual meaning of a word. What does it mean in the specific sentence you are reading?

And last but not least, there is the way a word sounds. Does it fit well in the sentence? Does your ear like it or does it sound wrong?

Successful witty copy often plays on sound to bring out meaning. The packaging copy for No Added Sugar Alpen makes fun of the length of the product name using our love of word games and tongue twisters. 'We also know you know that No Added Sugar Alpen...' (Read it aloud, trust me.)

And some of the best straplines use made-up words or phrases that sound 'right' even though they don't mean much by themselves. It's the sound that makes them memorable. Snap! Crackle! Pop!

Do the voices
Kids love it when you 'do the voices' when reading a story. Because sound is vital to understanding and memory.

That is why copywriters use rhyme, alliteration and onomatopoeia. To get readers into the groove, so to speak, of their message. All these traditional literary techniques help understanding and aid memory. They do this by making text easier to read. Which makes people more likely to finish and absorb your message.

So when a copywriter finishes the first draft - and the last draft - she'll read the whole thing aloud. Maybe doing the voices. Just to hear how the words sound together, and if they flow well or get stuck at key points. Like the end of a paragraph.

Indeed, it may seem a bit luvvie, but listening to what you've written makes for better copy. Better because it sounds 'right' to your readers. If it slips off the tongue, it hits minds harder.

 
 
Well, maybe not as annoying as a pneumatic drill at 8am on a Saturday. But the whole point of writing is to get your message across. Which is difficult to do when readers are picking up thousands of bits of information throughout the day. The good news is that most messages aren't direct, so the ones that are stand out. Direct messages are written so they drill into readers' brains.

And one of the best ways to drill is through repetition.

If you say it once, no one will listen
Repeat, repeat, and then repeat one for the road at the end of your sales letter, flyer, or web page. People need to focus on your particular call to action above all the other information they are receiving. Or else they will not do what you want them to do. Goodbye sale.

Repeat the message in different ways
Top copywriters make calls to action both obvious and subtle. This method catches readers who have different attention spans and amounts of time in which to absorb the message.

For example, a landing page will have large text at the top and bottom, asking a visitor to sign up to a newsletter or buy a product. The body copy, meanwhile, plays on the visitor's anxiety over losing out on a competitive advantage if she doesn't follow the call.

The call to action is thus repeated and backed up within the body copy, but more subtly than in the text at the top and bottom of the landing page. If a website visitor is reading quickly, she will pick up on the large text calls even if she doesn't bother reading the persuasive body copy. But a visitor who is interested enough to read the body copy should be informed of why she should to follow the call to action.

Repeat for clarity
On a two-sided flyer, the call to action should appear on both sides and stand out visually. This may require smaller graphics or shorter body copy, but in a limited space the focus needs to be on getting readers to go to wherever they can find out more. Whether that place is a website, a shop, or a person in a call centre.

So make it easy for readers to understand and follow up on calls to action. Repeat the call, and make it highly visible and easy to follow.
 
 
Ever wonder why lingerie advertisements are so white-bread boring? Not just dull, but uninformative and targeted at the wrong market. I suspect it's down to laziness. But let's be clear about one thing.

Who's Buying the Product Anyway?
Women buy more underwear than men. They even, in some cases, buy their men's underwear. But seriously, there aren't many products that can beat lingerie as a great thing to sell. For the wearer, it's both necessary and decorative; functional and symbolic. She wants quite a bit from her underwear: comfort, lift without creasing, lift without the Michelin Man effect, durability, invisible seams and cups, and no disappointed boyfriend at the end of the night.

It's not just about larger breasts, which is the focus of yet another recent campaign. Can you guess the particular one I'm talking about?

Push-Up Press Coverage
Yes, it's the Hema push-up bra campaign featuring the lovely Andrej Pejic. Pejic is a male model who has made the most of his androgynous look (wisely) by working both sides of it. Hema featured him in their bra campaign and made PR hay. As one wise man tweeted, they couldn't have paid for the coverage that arose. A quick look at the comments online showed up a lot of 'If it does that for a man, I'm buying one,' which sounds, frankly, like in-house work. But my question stands.

Why couldn't Hema have gone out on a limb and made advertisements that addressed what women really want from a push-up? They could have still used Pejic, but made ads that were targeted at specifics that real buyers want from the product.

Not just the first benefit that sprang to mind.
 
 
Use photos of kids in your mailshot if you want to grab attention
Eye contact makes the message hit home
Digital marketers talk about making websites sticky - capturing visitors' interest so they don't bounce in a snap second. Well, as anyone who has received direct mail (when you really wanted a birthday card) knows, stickiness needs to apply to mailers too. Especially around Christmas, when there is more direct marketing competition. So I thought I'd share this great example of a charity mailer with you. It's got all the key elements: guilt factor, feel-good factor, personal tone, eye-contact images, and ease of response. The writing is precise and psychologically acute. And it is actually sticky. Really.

This mailer is not just attention-grabbing. It makes response as easy as 1-2-3. But more on that in point 4.

1. Let's start with the envelope. It's a 10.3 x 10.3 square, with 'Merry Christmas from the children at Great Ormond Street Hospital' printed on the front. The message is that you are receiving something good. And it's from children. In the bottom left hand corner is 'Hand delivered by Royal Mail', which adds a personal touch without the letter having to be hand addressed. The paper quality is average, so it doesn't look as though the charity is wasting money. That's important, because Great Ormond St. is seen as one of the wealthier health charities.

2. Next, the return envelope. People always check to see if they need to 'pay to donate', i.e. use a stamp. The stamp spot here reads 'This is a FREEPOST envelope - but if you kindly stick a stamp here it will save us money. Thank you.' I love the 'kindly'. It's a cunningly worded exercise in gentle guilt-tripping. Plus I quite like the balance of intent to get money with soothing politeness and the implication that supporters are kind.

3. Now we come to the colour insert: an 8-sided folding pamphlet. As you may have guessed, there are 3 sides of cute children being treated in the hospital (see above). They are face to camera, except one who is looking at her mum. The focus of the brochure text is a sum of money: £3. And there is not even an option to donate more. Great Ormond St. only wants £3 from you this Christmas. The message is hand addressed and signed (which works well because it makes readers feel more important). It briefly explains the three areas where supporters' donations will help, and how. And it includes a P.S. about Gift Aid. That's all the basic direct mail ingredients covered. But where, you ask, is the 'really sticky' bit?

4. Here. There's a cardboard plaquette to return in the envelope. It reads 'Please give £3 and help sick children.' Cut into the plaquette are three round holes backed with sticky paper for you to stick three 1-pound coins into. On the flipside is space for contact details and an opt-out of further communications. Every effort has been made to make this the easiest donation you will make this Christmas. No stamp required (if you want to be mean), you know where your money is going, a fixed sum is asked for, and there's no need for cheques, bank transfers or Post Office visits. There's not much excuse for saying No. That's sticky.

Smart charity direct mail
Very sticky direct mail
 
 
It's one thing to entice a customer with a great offer the first time. And another thing to keep them buying your services. This is where branding comes in. When I ask if it's ok to let the message (buy from us) sink in the medium (video, banner ad, TV ad, etc.), I mean 'are there some customers whose loyalty feeds on the media advertisers give them?' Doesn't branding work best when customers don't feel they are viewing advertisements, but entertainment?

Hooking the customer with entertainment
Take Immersive Media.

They are 'the leading world provider of 360˚, full motion, interactive videos'. As you'd expect, most of their clients are in travel, sport, and TV or music video production. Because the Immersive Media service is ideal for young and/or tech-savvy customers looking for 'experiences'. In a flat-screen world, '360˚, full motion, interactive' appears more attuned to customer desires for information and sensation. But is it?

Sensation vs information
My decision to go to a bar is probably based on its proximity to my workplace or home, the prices charged, and whether my friends will go too. My decision whether to go to a surf location will be based on how much it costs to get there, how long it takes to get there, how much it costs to stay there, and who else goes.  None of these is answered by a 360˚, full motion, interactive video. Except, perhaps, the last.

For certain customers, fitting in with a look or style is an important message. Immersive Media is playing on the medium being that message. It helps brands like MTV and Red Bull to establish their brand images via entertainment. Drive a taxi through NYC, be at a New Guinean tribal ceremony, or walk onto the field at an NFL game - with all the chaos and excitement these experiences hold. Plus your ability to control the view with your mouse. You're hooked, right?

The only problem is that entertainment value does not last long. And while a night-surfing video may go viral, 5 million views doesn't necessarily mean 5 million people will remember who sponsored the event. Unless they are already fans of the sponsor.

When the customer is happy to be caught
Branding is not just about giving a company or product a particular image. It's about reinforcing the customer's self image.

Take a college cyclist, if she fancies herself as a street devil during the week and a trail biking-fiend on the weekends, she's going to go for a brand that looks tough and is recognized by her fellow serious biking fans. A brand that suits the idea of herself that she tries to live up to.

This isn't about someone making that last decision to pay up.

But it is directly connected to people's emotions, and their tendency to prefer Brand X over Brand Y for the simple reason that they feel Brand X makes them look good. Getting lost in the medium is part of that emotional connection.