Archive for May, 2014

Richard’s 10 Rules for Totally Great Copy: #8

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

#8: Great copy transports the reader.

An ad that can transport you is very special thing. It requires creating hope and imagination that your life could be different—better—because you use a certain product or service.

You have to be picked up where you are now. Acknowledged that you don’t live a fantasy, don’t care about the advertiser and their effing ad or whatever it is they’re selling, and you don’t want to go anywhere with them. And in spite of that, still be transported.

You can’t trick someone into it.

You have to seduce them. Take them by surprise. Sneak into their awareness then set your hook.

The classic, if ham fisted, example is “Calgon, take me away!” Of course, it’s very literal and promises more than the ad itself actually delivers.

But that said, I’m guessing you knew just the campaign I was referring to. And judging by all the memes based on a 40-plus-year-old ad campaign, being taken away is a powerful desire.


You got Calgon cats


Calgon scribbles


Calgon fashion ;^)


And Calgon Commanders-in-Chief


And then there was Paco.

This campaign for Paco Rabanne men’s fragrance came out in the mid-80s. It seems so tame compared to what we see today. But at the time, it caused quite a controversy. Better still, it transported the reader.

He gets a call from his eager and satisfied lover who says she stole his cologne and plans to rub it on herself tonight when she’s alone. Yow.


He gets a call from his eager and satisfied lover who says her mother would never approve of what he and his cologne did to her. Woof!

No headline. No product description. Just the smoldering afterglow of a passionate evening.


I wanted to be that guy. I wanted to have that conversation. I bought the fragrance.

BTW, I can’t find who actually created those ads. If you know, please comment.

The shimmering icon of transporting your audience is from Mad Men. It’s Don Draper’s amazing  “Carousel” presentation to Kodak.

Back to reality

Here’s a campaign we did for Hill & Co., a San Francisco real estate broker who sold the highest-value residential properties in the City. Their clients were the wealthiest. Their inventory the most prestigious. Many of their agents were the scions of wealthy SF families.

Research revealed that elite buyers want their own bit of the City. And, of course, to be recognized for their power and influence and treated accordingly.

So the sell wasn’t about the nuts and bolts of real estate transactions or saving a few bucks. It was about knowing every inch of San Francisco. About helping you get your multi-million-dollar slice of SF with a glass of champagne on signing.


Contrary to popular opinion, there is only one hill in San Francisco.

Geography. That’s not what we’re talking about. Not a map of the City. It’s the map of your heart. The one that shows the way home, wherever that may be. There are lots of neighborhoods. Lots of houses. Lots of places to live. But when it comes down to it, to any San Franciscan, there is only one hill. A private hill. Your hill. And we’re here to help you find it.


Lots of houses speak for themselves. None sell themselves.

Ever hear that a home just spoke to someone? Ever had one speak to you? Did it say, “Haven’t you (ungh) outgrown it here …” or “C’mon … you can afford me …” We’re not here to confirm or deny the phenomenon. Just to comment that all the compelling chatter happens in a place distinctly different from the one where pricing, open houses and contract negotiations occur. That’s a place where only a highly qualified real estate agent can help you. So the next time you strike up a conversation with some residential property, remember, you don’t need a therapist. You need us.


Your house may be a lot of things. A realtor isn’t one of them.

As everyone who has sold or bought a house can attest, the house itself is what makes the sale. (Is it the closets? The kitchen?) But there are a few things even the best house can’t do. Like price itself. Or market itself. Or negotiate a contract. Or share perspective earned over 40 years of working with San Francisco’s most prestigious residential properties. Which is fine, because that’s what we do. Call us, and we’ll do it for you.


The campaign was designed so beautifully by Candice Kollar and shot by Thea Schrack. It was meant to be a bit poetic and flatter the reader.

What it did was cause a major eruption in the local real estate ad market. Everyone noticed. Everyone called Hill & Co. All of a sudden, every brokerage had to have a dreamy ad. We were interviewed by the local media and won several awards. The campaign bumped Hill & Co.’s lower-cost homes and rental business even more than the prestige business.

Why? Because the ads were knowledgeable and honest. We met the reader where they were then took them where they wanted to go. The ads transported readers to a place a bit more special than usual, but accessible enough to relate.

Which is what I think great copy should do.

Richard’s 10 Rules for Totally Great Copy: #7

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

#7: Great Copy Flatters the Reader

All advertising should say what it wants from me—or has for me—and how that’s going to help. But great advertising should elevate me. Involve and fascinate me. Flatter me.

 We once did an event for Cisco and the invitation did exactly that. We told the CTOs of top telcos they are the “Modern Masters of Technology.”

 The copy reads:

Their medium was paint.
Their palette was color.
They were the Modern Masters.
They saw what everyone else saw … in a whole new way.
Your medium is the network.
Your palette is information.
You are among the Modern Masters of Technology.
Come see internetworking technology in a whole new way.

Flattery will get you everywhere. It was spectacularly successful—100 percent participation—and won a bunch of design awards. It didn’t hurt that each invitation was hand-delivered and that we gave away Paul Klee artwork. Every hotel room had a modern art goodie-bag including a Picasso tile puzzle. I love that puzzle.

Hypocrisy 101

In general I do not like ads that tell me who I am or what I think. “You’re the kind of guy who …” or “You must be thinking …” Ugh. Just tell me what you have to say. So I guess it’s OK to speak to me collectively as long as it’s with the best and brightest ;^)

Involvement Is Flattering

Here are the top 10 of what some consider the most influential taglines of the last 70 years. The first six are focused on the customer or their experience. Only the last four are about the product. And I could argue “We try harder” really reads “We try harder to serve you.” And “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” is about your experience.

  1. Got milk? (1993)—California Milk Processor Board
  2. Don’t leave home without it. (1975)—American Express
  3. Just do it. (1988)—Nike
  4. Where’s the beef? (1984)—Wendy’s
  5. You’re in good hands with Allstate. (1956)—Allstate Insurance
  6. Think different. (1998)—Apple Computer
  7. We try harder. (1962)—Avis
  8. Tastes great, less filling. (1974)—Miller Lite
  9. Melts in your mouth, not in your hands. (1954)—M&M Candies
  10. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (1956)—Timex

None of these say, “hey, you’re the smartest guy in the room …” or “damn, you’re blowing it …” or even “we’re #1.” In one way or another, they all say, “your life can improve.”

That’s pretty flattering.

Here are a few of my own examples …


Cambridge Technology Partners needed uniquely skilled, extremely high-level engineers and analysts. Research revealed their best prospects responded to games and puzzles. So we based the whole campaign on brain teasers. The tone both challenged and flattered the prospect. This was a multiple-award-winning campaign that generated excellent response plus international media attention. And yeah, we did this long before Google. For TMP Worldwide, art-directed and designed by Russell Miyaki. Scott Kim created all the puzzles.



TiVo asked us to raise awareness of the service while promoting their online magazine. Rather than dwelling on the technology or magazine content, we focused on the #1 reason anyone would ever use TiVo: To see what they want on TV. It instantly lifts both message and reader above commerce and into understanding customers’ needs and wants. This was art directed and designed by Russell Miyaki.



Failure Analysis (now Exponent) is a company that specializes in forensic disaster research. It’s a company run and staffed by Ph.D.-level engineers and physicists. What do say to someone like that? You can’t tell them how smart they are … you have to be that smart or a little smarter. This series of ads—which were extremely cheap to produce—generated tremendous response. For TMP Worldwide.

In each case, the prospect is elevated, as if they’re among a very special group of people who get it. And each time, they’re rewarded with a fun, twisted little bit of logic. In just a few words, these ads create a relationship that’s based on admiration and respect.

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


Richard’s 10 Rules for Totally Great Copy: #6

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

#6: Great Copy Makes a Clear Point

 The job of an ad—or any marketing message—is to persuade or inform.

Ads in highly competitive categories like beer, fast food and cars try to do so by entertaining. They want to leave a lasting impression, because buyers often make emotional or impulsive decisions. Technical white papers are there to provide highly detailed information to those who presumably make very rational decisions.

But no matter how the message is delivered, it better be delivered. It has to make a clear point.

It is really tempting to start listing all the examples that don’t. Advertising crimes against logic are epic. But, since I’ve committed a few of those myself, maybe it’d be better to focus on what works.

The best examples are taglines.

Here is a list of the best taglines ever, according to Forbes. I picked a few just to illustrate what I’m talking about:

BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine

The point is clear. Behind it is nuance and subtext that makes the line work. Because it’s not just about performance, luxury, status or economy. It’s all those things. The ultimate. By Ammirati & Puris.

California Milk Processor Board: got milk?

Here’s where research, planning and creative add up. Research revealed that the single most important thing about milk was having it when you want it. Planning revealed how important it is that shoppers think about it before they leave for the grocery store. Creative tied a ribbon around the obvious. By Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

Avis: We try harder.

Remember this began as “We’re #2 so We Try Harder.” Why? Because they want to be #1. Who wins? The customer, and the customers figured that out. By Leo Burnett.

Nike: Just Do It

What else are you going to say to someone thinking about sports or getting into shape? By Wieden+Kennedy.

It’s not all about brevity.

Here’s a long ad. It’s not about the content, it’s about the idea behind the content. What happens during a car accident:

I’ve been looking at this ad a long time. I’ve never read all the copy. I will, because it feels a little silly to post something I haven’t read; but before now, never.

The thing is, you don’t have to. In about the same half-second the ad suggests, you get it. The point is clear. I couldn’t find who did this. If you know, please tell me.

Setting the bar impossibly high …

Here are two examples from my own portfolio:

IBM Nth Degree: Take Us There

IBM was having a terrible time recruiting on campus; their reputation was stodgy and conservative, even though the actual workplace was pretty exciting. Research revealed that a student’s greatest fear was leaving the wide-open spaces of campus only to be trapped in a cube and left there. So the campaign showed students that the opposite was true, that they could be their best selves and help IBM be its best.

The program delivered 130% to their recruiting goal. But better still, IBM computer sales in bookstores went up 300%, this program being the only variable.

This was designed by Dennis Mancini and art directed by Robert Gray.

Oracle: Go Green


I think most green messaging is preachy and tiresome. So when we were asked to create a global green awareness campaign for Oracle, we tried to avoid the clichés and offer a way for people to project themselves into the message. In informal surveys, employees responded that they immediately saw themselves as the one on the bike and doing the recycling. Designed by Sloan Schwartz.

So it’s not about clear copy, really. It’s about clear thinking. Rigorous concepts. That’s what gets your prospects past the words and pictures and into the idea.

Which is what great copy should do.

Richard’s 10 Rules for Totally Great Copy: #5

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

#5: Great Copy Is Simple

Simplicity isn’t the same as being simple. A very simple idea can result in a very complex execution, and vice-versa. I mean that great copy makes its point clearly and easily.

Great copy—in the best sense—should motivate and excite. At the very least, create interest, inquiry and desire.

We once did a project for a company called PowerSim. They make process-modeling software so complex that only Ph.D.-level analysts can use it.

It was promoted through academic white papers and articles in heady journals.

Which was fine, except they wanted to grow, and the C-level executives who pay for it weren’t willing to spend that kind of money on something they couldn’t understand. Or worse, that took some lab-coated brainiac to explain.

To complete a 12-page brochure, I was given about 600 pages of technical documentation and conducted 25 interviews with aforementioned brainiacs.

It took a several weeks to do all the interviews  and absorb the info, then a couple more to contextualize it. My first headlines were long, convoluted affairs that didn’t really add value, but rather just sort of explained the thing.

But I kept boiling it down, cutting, editing, shifting around thoughts and ideas. Simplifying.

Eventually (sometime after midnight, as I recall) it became clear that PowerSim simply provides a living, dynamic mirror of the business. Tweak a variable, see the outcome. As if the business itself tells you how to run it.


The headline: Your business is telling you 1000 different ways to succeed. [inside] Isn’t it time you listened. This was art directed and designed by Gary Buck.


It’s an extreme example, but relevant. And, it got their phone to ring.

As a copywriter, I’m constantly asked to take complex technology and explain it succinctly and simply. But I don’t think it’s any easier to write about Levi’s or HELOCs or job opportunities. Somewhere there are hundreds of pages of background that you have to figure out.

And frankly, there’s gold in all that. Maybe your ad is about how Levi’s are made or how HELOCs are structured. Doesn’t matter, except that the message—the benefit—is clear.

Of course the most succinct, most simple ad executions are billboards. I haven’t done many, but I have a lot of favorites. Here are a few:

Simple: DHL gets you from point A to point B. Ogilvy, Amsterdam, Netherlands


 Simple: iPod + iTunes mean lots of music. TBWA\Media Arts Lab


Simple: The Economist makes you smarter. BBDO


Simple: Wonderbra will make everyone look at your boobs. TBWA


Simple: California Cooler is the beach in a bottle. TBWA\Chiat\Day


Notice that each one communicates much more than the words explain. That’s the concept. The words and image create a message that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Also notice that each one holds a single, clear message.

Setting the bar impossibly high …

Here are a few samples of my own:

Here are a couple post cards I did for the Aikido Institute.


This was art directed by Paul Corcino, TMP Worldwide.


It’s all about communicating a lot while saying a little. The less you say, the more opportunity the reader has to come along with you, to insert their own thoughts and desires into your message.

Which is what I think great copy should do.