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.

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