Archive for April, 2014

Richard’s 10 Rules for Totally Great Copy: #4

Friday, April 25th, 2014

This post isn't very visual, so here's a pic of me on my motorcycle.

This post isn’t very visual, so here’s a pic of me on my motorcycle.

#4: Great Copy is Conversational

All prospects want to believe whoever’s doing the talking knows them, their worlds, tools and needs.

It’s about addressing their concerns. Copy that reads like a colleague would speak. That treats them like a person.

So by conversational, I mean copy that speaks in straightforward, accessible and casual terms. Unless it’s done with clear intent to make a bigger point, you can’t brag—it’s off-putting. Or preach—it’s annoying. Or instruct—it’s insulting. Or backpedal—it’s pathetic.

Today my focus is on technology advertising. It’s easy to humanize M&Ms or the sexy new Fiat [see the Original, the Italians, the Mirage]. It’s much harder to humanize SaaS.

Here are a couple examples.

I was assigned a demand-generation email about database cloning. For anyone whose heart didn’t skip a beat with excitement at that, it’s a process for creating working-but-secure copies of entire databases for development and testing.

Here’s the copy I got from the technology stakeholders—with the note that they’d be comfortable using it as-is:

Database administrators face the challenge of efficiently duplicating their large mission critical databases to support demands for application development and testing, a challenge compounded by the fact that multiple copies are often required for each production database to support the many development, test, training, QA, and such, as well as FC/SAN arrays that lack feature/functionality to create these environments. Absent an efficient solution for cloning production databases, enterprises are saddled with substantial administrative burden that diverts attention away from more time critical support functions along with increased storage consumption and high cost.

The problem isn’t the copy itself, but that it isn’t written to read. Here’s my edit:

Cloning your databases can be time-consuming, expensive, and a security hazard.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Both pieces of copy say the same thing. Of course, we had to back it up with detail, but that stayed chatty as well. Professional. Technical and thorough. But easy.

Here’s another one:

With the plethora of new social channels amplifying the customer’s voice, peers now have greater influence over the buying decisions than traditional marketing. While marketing’s objectives—attract more, retain more, achieve more—have remained fundamentally the same, organizations must quickly adapt their approach and techniques to succeed in this more complex world.

Learn how leading brands are using Oracle’s marketing solutions to harness big data to better understand their customers, extend their marketing reach into social channels, and retain their high value customers through more rewarding customer experiences.

And my edit:

Today’s customers know and expect more than ever. And they expect a great customer experience.

That means you must deliver a consistent, relevant, and engaging presence everywhere they go: in-store and online, on mobile devices, social networks, and kiosks. Each fulfills customers’ needs. And each reinforces your brand promise.

Fortunately, Oracle has the tools for you to bring it all together.

The copy recognizes that it’s people who are reading it. And people who make the decision to act.

Somebody said the only job of an ad is to be read.

In my world, that’s really the case, because nobody is buying Oracle products based on an ad or email. Around here, a sale can be tens of millions of dollars (or more) and sales cycles can last years. It’s the aggregated messages, meetings and info a prospect receives that drives a sale. All I need to do is ask someone to click through and maybe request more info.

 Is it so hard to ask nicely?

 Great copy does just that.

Richard’s 10 Rules for Totally Great Copy: #3

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

#3: Great copy is present and active

While developing a voice for my sister’s company Claudette, we reviewed dozens of lingerie brands, campaigns and ads. The classic Maidenform campaign kept floating to the top: I dreamed I was [something] in my Maidenform bra.

It’s a genre of advertising I generally don’t like. But the women in our groups liked the ads a lot, and it’s clear why: they showcase the product in an interesting way.

Made me think.

Present means arresting.

You have to deliver a message that shatters the reluctance to be engaged. It should sustain the brand voice and push forward brand values.

The Altoids ad by Leo Burnett tells their whole story in a quick and charming way: Get a really strong mint.


This Porsche ad by Goodby Silverstein & Partners tells the story: Get a really fast car.

Active means compelling.

Great copy delivers meaningful information in an irresistible way. I chose these—both by Fallon Worldwide—because they’re headline-driven, emotional, funny and entirely unexpected.

It takes great thinking.

It’s not about copy, per se. It’s about an underlying idea and how that’s expressed.

 [Richard on soapbox]

A concept is very different than an idea. An idea is just something that comes to mind. An ad concept is a relationship between elements. Copy and visuals work together to create a message that is greater than the sum of its parts. Ideas are easy to come by. Concepts are not.

A concept involves your reader/user at multiple levels. Your audience is present because you are: you involve them in the moment. They’re active because you are: your idea comes to life in their imagination.

 Here are a few more examples.


“Fat/Fit” was a school project by art director Lauren Hom. It may look easy and obvious, but I’m willing to bet it took hours of work. It’s very skillful ad concepting.


Comedy Central, done by Grey Advertising in Argentina, reinforces their brand explicitly and implicitly.


The ad for Prince pasta sauce by Fallon Worldwide is a classic. Mona Lisa communicates Italian authenticity. The whole thing elevates the message out of ingredients and freshness and into an attitude of enjoying good food.

You don’t have to think about these things, nothing requires explanation. They work completely in that precious moment you get to engage your audience.

Again, setting the bar impossibly high …

Here are a few of my own ads that I’ve always liked for their quick read and clear relevance.

CAPS rents high-tech shipping containers. The industry was accustomed to buying and trashing single-use containers. This was art directed by Candice Kollar for Kirshenbaum Communications.



 The Oracle security ad makes it clear what security means and illustrates how it works, without technical metrics or jargon. Glen Abrahams was the art director.



This JB Hunt recruitment ad I did with TMP Worldwide ran very successfully in military media for many years. It flatters the veterans JB Hunt likes to hire and positions truck-driving as an honorable, meaningful job. This was art directed by Dennis Mancini.

Present and active.

To me that means the relationship with the reader/user is happening in real time, while they’re engaged with your advertising. Copy can be long or short. It can be serious or funny. Copy heavy or visual.

But it’s engaging. It draws someone into your ad then releases them having learned something.

It’s what makes great copy great.

Richard’s 10 Rules for Totally Great Copy: #2

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

#2: Great copy is relevant and unexpected.

Mike Koelker was CD at FCB during a creative peak in the 80’s. He championed campaigns like The California Raisins and Levi’s 501 Blues. Sadly, he passed in 1995.

He said great advertising is “relevant and unexpected.” I believed it then and still do. It’s my mantra. A recipe for advertising alchemy.

So, props in order, here’s my point:

When people are exposed to advertising that’s pointless, self-serving or hackneyed they ignore it. You have to demand, compel, seduce and amuse the world into noticing you.

Great copy is relevant.

Most copy isn’t.

Here are a few of the worst offenders:

  • Borrowed interest: Skiing sure is great and so are Floovidor hard drives.
  • The contrived definition: Floovidor, n: What you think of when you think of super-cool hard drives.
  • The non-claim: Floovidor—Tough as our name!
  • The non-logic: When it comes to Floovidor, there’s just no denying it.
  • The forced celebration: Floovidorosity!!! [image: happy people, usually a group of mixed-race gladhands who would never under any other circumstance be together]
  • The sexy model: Not that I mind a sexy model, but what does she have to do with Floovidor?
  • The false promise: Floovidor is Tomorrow!

Good communications is directly relevant to the prospect. It speaks to their needs and desires.

Here’s a model called the Bullshit Cluster. It’s a map of how we interact with advertising. My theory is that we create filters based on a lifetime of learning to ignore all the countless irrelevant messages we confront daily.

The Bullshit Cluster: How we learn to filter irrelevant messages.

Great copy is unexpected.

Apple’s 1984 commercial is generally considered the best commercial ever made. Whether it is or not, it certainly broke through because it was unexpected in the category (computers), the tone (sci-fi noir) and the promise it made (1984 won’t be like 1984).

Another favorite example is this Yamaha motorcycle commercial. There’s an unexpected surprise and one clear message: it’s fast. Yeah, there’s a babe for babe’s sake. At least she’s doing something.

More examples:

Here are a few more commercials that I love. Note all of these commercials, including 1984 and Yamaha, were made by TBWA\Chiat\Day under the direction of Lee Clow. He’s my hero.

So, with the bar set impossibly high …

As Oracle ramps up for Oracle OpenWorld, we are tasked with creating a series of banner ads. Usually, those ads say “Register Now and Save.” Relevant, sure. Unexpected? Hardly.

So I’m pitching this:

expanding brain man banner
It’s relevant and unexpected.

The slider makes his brain expand and so by direct demonstration Oracle OpenWorld makes his brain expand. The user gets to play with it and watch the guy’s head expand and contract, which is fun and silly. BTW, this is just a comp.

The whole ad is basically just a bunch of copy points. In fact, there is more info here than in most banners. But instead of being talked at, users are talked with.

It’s relevant, because it tells the prospect exactly what they’ll experience at the event. It’s unexpected because the message is delivered in an unconventional way.

It doesn’t take that much to make something interesting.

And I think that’s what great copy should do.

Richard’s 10 Rules for Totally Great Copy

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

1. Great copy is always about the reader and never, ever about you.

To all my advertising friends, I know this is preaching to the choir. And I doubt you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve repeated this idea to a roomful of people who have never thought that way.

The toughest sell are engineers, for whom the best message is absolutely direct: Our Widget is 25% Faster Than Their Widget. I’ve had success turning that around a little, like: Work 25% Faster with Our Widget. Yeah, it’s a benefit rather than a feature. But it wastes an opportunity to create and refine the company voice. It doesn’t show vision. It lacks humanity.

And frankly, sometimes that’s OK.

I once got called on the carpet by The Ad Contrarian who stumbled across some highly technical demand generation copy I wrote. In a post called “Triumph Of The Anti-Language” he snarked, “All I can say is, if you’ve never virtualized your enterprise application environment, dude it’s awesome.”

To the IT guys who read that email, it was. The event sold out.

But AC called it “bullshit … jargon and obfuscation.” And that’s where I got to call him out. Because it wasn’t BS. It was highly technical and specific.  I wrote back: “… it may lack charm and humanity. But that’s not what we’re selling.”

But I’m here to say you can tell a highly-specific story and still have some charm. It can still be about the reader. Here’s a fun example of an ad that ran in air show event guides. Mostly, sponsorship ads say, “Proud Sponsor of …” But I got this through:

Oracle air show ad

It is possible to be highly relevant to the reader even when the subject matter isn't.

Just to explain the obvious, nobody at any air show has their mind on software, even for a second. It’s a little gag and they’re in on it. So in fact we got their minds onto software without them even knowing. The copy reads:

Try and get your mind off software for a second.

We know when you see him up there, pushing 10 Gs and challenging the limits of physics—and sanity—you can’t help but think, “I bet it’s Oracle’s Complex Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul software that keeps him up there.”

And you’d be right.

But for now, let’s just watch something amazing.

We flatter the reader—even share a moment. Put Oracle at the air show in a relevant way and teach folks a little about what the company does.

I love ads that do that. Love copy that does that. It’s all about the reader, while working hard on behalf of the client.