I was half-dozing through a Google Adwords tutorial the other day when something woke me up: the instructor’s advice that you can improve results by putting all the words in your ad, but especially your keywords, In Initial Caps Like This.
David Ogilvy must be spinning in his grave as if on a rotisserie. He railed against ALL CAPS in Ogilvy on Advertising because they deconstruct a word and turn it into a bunch of separate letters which the reader must look at one by one in order to make sense of it. Readers don’t do this. If there is any impediment to readability, they move on.
I have always assumed that Capitalizing The First Letter Of Each Word presents a similar problem, and I thought Ogilvy wrote about it, although I can’t find the source right now. But it’s the same issue of comprehension. Inappropriate use of initial caps means the reader sees individual words, not phrases, so it’s that much more trouble to seamlessly absorb the message. What’s more, overuse of initial caps gives your advertising a kind of stilted, affected, 19th century look. It’s certainly not what you want if you are selling a product or service which is closely attuned to the needs of 21st century consumers or businesses.
For these reasons I’ve always advised my clients against unnecessary initial caps, and often changed their copy if I get my hands on it. That’s why the Google “tip” is so demoralizing. Have people stopped reading copy completely, so they no longer have the mental acuity to focus on more than a single word or at most a keyword phrase?
Please, tell me it ain’t so. If you have testing experience with standard capitalization (what Microsoft Word calls “Sentence case”) vs initial caps, I’d love to hear the results. If initial caps are indeed the wave of the future, I’ll accept that. But I Won’t Like It.
Lincoln Ad. Click on the image to enlarge, then click again to read.
I am surely in the demo for the reimaged Lincoln, for the day after I saw the WSJ ad I ran across this in the New Yorker. It’s so dramatically superior to the “Hello. Again.” ad that the two could be compared as a copywriting clinic. Again, I’ve reproduced the actual ad since I can’t find the full text online and am too lazy to retype it. Let’s see what is better this time around.
1. There is a clear narrative. This is the story of Edsel Ford and how he had a dream, built great if eccentric cars, and now we are back presenting this new vehicle in his spirit. So much better than the “Hello. Again.” ad that darted back and forth between the past and the present, then swerved into the service commitment and ultimately made me carsick.
2. The proof points are big and dramatic. Instead of a sunroof, this new Lincoln has an entire “panoramic glass roof” that makes driving it like driving a convertible. And they have a hybrid model, getting an impressive 45 MPG, that costs not a penny more than the standard version.
One wonders how the copywriter for the other ad missed such clear differentiators and instead focused on the push button gearshift. Which makes an appearance here, by the way, but it’s tied to a benefit: “And what if we want to hold our spouse’s hand once in a while? Enter the push-button shift.” I do wish they’d chosen a more adventurous word such as “seat mate” or “companion” though… we Lincoln prospects are not totally moribund.
3. The voice of the copy is clear and consistent. There is a sure hand on the tiller this time, different from the preening narrator of “Hello. Again.” who kept distracting himself from self-important statements with news about the car. The story is told cleanly and well, up until a closing paragraph which is aspirational yet tight: “Call it luxury. Call it engineered humanity. [WTF?] We’re calling it the Lincoln Motor Company. A completely reinvented wheel, with you at the center.”
So why am I not now in my aging Packard or Escalade, headed for my Lincoln dealer (wherever that is)? Unfortunately, the “Hello. Again.” ad ran AFTER the Edsel ad per the marketing strategy, not before. If this Benjamin Button regression of copywriting smarts continues, pretty soon I will be test driving a Hupmobile. Or Maxwell, even.
Click on the image to see larger size then click again to read
As a technologically savvy consumer who’s not excited by the current crop of luxury cars, I should be the perfect target for the reimaged Lincoln. Yet the full page ad in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal had me scratching my head. (I haven’t been able to find the full text anywhere online so I’ll shoot it at hopefully high enough resolution that you can read it for yourself.)
As a copywriter, I love long copy ads that succeed and hate long copy ads that make skeptics say “long copy doesn’t work”. This ad, unfortunately, is in the latter camp. Let’s examine why:
1. Lincoln assumes a coziness which is not likely to exist between ad and reader. Sadly, today’s consumer is not enamored with our silken prose and is more likely to turn the page than to read the copy. Witness the headline which, out of all the infinite possibilities, says “Hello. Again.” And a first paragraph that says, “It takes a special type of ego to presume the world needs another luxury car. (In fact, it’s a bit like the kind that interrupts your otherwise meaningful pursuit of current events with a full-page ode to our intentions.)” Lincoln, we could care less about your ego.
2. The ad has a tin ear. Here’s an aspirational statement in the second paragraph: “True trailblazers follow their inner light. You’ve got to be pretty confident to create what has never been done before. It’s true in history, invention, art, you name it. Even automotive design.” Pretty high-minded and soul-stirring.
But here’s their proof point in the very next paragraph: “If the traditional gearshift consumes too much space between the front seats, you break the rules. You break new ground. You place a redesigned push-button shifter next to the steering wheel.” Not only is that a terrible letdown from the aspirational high, it’s not even new. I had such a shifter in my 1963 Rambler.
3. Lincoln steps on his own coat tails in attempting to be all things to all consumers. The brand wants to be “what has never been done” as noted above. But they also want to build on their heritage, as the ad progresses. Past Lincolns are presented as “different… truth be told, not everyone liked them” and the “selfless” (sic) ego of Edsel Ford is brought forward as the kind of pure design fire that burned brightly. (When people think “Edsel” they think of the car, of course, with all its quirks, not the man.)
If you are brand new, then you’ve broken away from any history you have. Instead they’ve chosen to bring up the history, then belittle it or suggest that Lincoln has been misunderstood. I don’t think you can have it both ways. And there is also the television advertising to deal with, presenting the Lincoln as the “car of presidents” (as in presidential limo) which makes it seem like a mainstream choice and not an eccentric outlier. More discontinuity.
Finally, at the end of the ad, we’re told what lies in store for us: “elevating our owner service to be on par with the world’s most exclusive concierges… we’ll treat you as a ‘client,’ not as a customer… simply, our goal is to be everything for a certain few.” Here I know what is happening because I did some work for Lexus in the early 90s, when they were eating Infiniti’s lunch. The two new luxury brands were launched at the same time. Infiniti then, like Lincoln today, came forth with dreamy high-minded metaphors and poetic-sounding prose. Lexus simply said, we’re going to pamper you like you’ve never been pampered before.
So Lincoln is going to be both Infiniti and Lexus in the same body. We’re dreamers and unabashed egoists, but when push comes to serve we’ll open the door for you and give you a free carwash with your oil change. Actually, according to Yahoo! News, the promotional plans include a “date night” in which consumers get a free dinner for two when they take a test drive. Now that might get my attention. As long is it’s not Olive Garden or TGIF Friday.
Dr. Robert Cialdini is a psychology professor at Arizona State University who has conducted some interesting research studies with the help of his students. In the “hotel towel test”, he changed the language on signs in hotel rooms urging guests to reuse their towels. Compared to no sign, adding a standard message about “have concern for the environment” increased reuse 30%. But when the wording was revised to “three-quarters of the guests staying in this hotel reuse their towels” reuse increased to 44%. And when it was revised to “three-quarters of the guests staying in this room reuse their towels” reuse increased to nearly 50%.
In an interview with the American Psychological Association, Cialdini attributed these results to social proof: “If this is what people around you have decided is a good choice, it’s a great shortcut for you to determine what’s a good choice.” He cites a study by a Beijing restaurant in which a restaurant put on the menu, “these are our most popular items” and the items immediately became 17-20% more popular.
I thought about these results while working on a project in a new field for me, making requests for donations from college alumni. For the typical school well under half the alumni make gifts, so it’s fair to assume the ones who do give were happy with their experience or at least felt it was worthwhile. Thus the formula is to generate a mental picture of those halcyon college years for the reader, then tell them they can make the same thing possible for someone through their gift. You and your classmates were fortunate, therefore you should allow a new or current student to be fortunate.
Cialdini has another study in which the results backfired from what was desired, while upholding the principle of social proof. He distributed bits of petrified wood in the Petrified Forest Natural Park and tested signs admonishing visitors not to remove them. In situations where there was no sign at all, 2.92% of the pieces disappeared.
When a sign was added with a picture of several visitors taking wood and the caption “many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest”, theft actually increased to 7.92%. As copywriters we know this flabby third-party syntax is unlikely to persuade anybody, but what it does is introduce the concept of stealing wood to somebody who had not previously thought about it. And the social proof is that “many” visitors do this, so you should too.
A third sign showed a single visitor with a “no” symbol over his hand and the caption “please don’t remove the petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest”. This reduced theft modestly, to 1.67% vs 2.92% for the control with no sign at all. It’s a direct request and clearly shows what not to do, but it’s not really social proof but a one-to-one message. What if the sign had said, “97 out of 100 visitors enjoy the park without disturbing its beauty. Thank you for preserving the natural state of the Petrified Forest”?
Cialdini summed up in an interview on NPR: “When we are uncertain about whether to be altruistic or pro-social or environmentally conscious, we look around us for the answer. We don’t look inside ourselves. We are all swept by the power of the crowd.”
Ask me who I’m going to vote for in the Presidential election and you’ll get one data point, which might be a lie. Ask me who I think is going to win and you’ll get a far more reliable predictor. First, because I’m no longer on the spot for answering about my own vote. Second, because my answer will encompass my conversation with friends about how they’re voting, plus what I’ve heard and read and seen in the media and on people’s bumpers and in their yards. In essence, I’m speaking as a social network of one.
The above isn’t a hypothesis. The New York Times cites an academic paper by David Rothschild and Justin Wolfers that compares the predictive power of voters’ intentions (how they will vote) and their expectations (who they think will win). In the majority of presidential elections since 1952, expectations were the winner. According to Wolfers, a professor of economics at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, that’s because the expectations question taps into additional knowledge beyond the personal voting question, and of course “more information produces better results.”
In fact, the authors estimate that each expectation answer is equivalent to ten “how will you vote” answers, thus solving a problem that I didn’t realize existed: people today are much less responsive to polls. A few years ago, 40% of people polled would respond. Today it’s down to 10%, according to Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center. Think about the number of polling calls you’ve likely received during this election and you can guess why that is. We’re oversaturated with polls.
As a marketer, I’ve often used polls as an involvement device. You can gather valuable useful audience information and then offer the finished poll to participants as an incentive to answer. As copywriters, we would never ask personal questions that make readers uncomfortable; rather we’ll be looking for ways to make them interested and eager to respond. We’ll automatically go for the “expectation” vs “intention” question, in other words.
You can also use polls to get people thinking about the benefits of your product by asking questions that show it in the best possible light. For example, one of my favorite controls is a package I wrote for Intuit for a new tax preparation product that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. I asked people what they’d like to see in a tax prep product, with multiple-choice answers that touched on existing and planned product features. The involvement made them invested in the product’s development and they were more likely to buy it as a result; this package remained the control during the entire lifecycle of the product.
But back to presidential polling, you’re probably wondering who is picked to win next Tuesday according to the “expectation” method. Read the Times article for that answer. Then come back at midnight on November 6 to see if they were right.
Here’s a preview of the KISS panel we’re presenting at the Direct Marketing Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas. Come see us next Wednesday, October 17 at 9 am to get the full story!
When you’re selling complex products and services, that often have a high price tag, it’s easy to overcomplicate your marketing message. A copywriter might think, it’s hard to know which of the technical specs is most important so I better include all of them. Or, this buyer will need a lot of information in order to justify the cost. The problem is that ultimately you’re still selling to people. And we can only absorb so much information, especially when we may not have asked for that information in the first place.
The solution is to keep it simple—tell your complicated story in basic human terms that boil down to easily understood story lines and personal benefits. Because even if we’re the chief technology office of a large company, we’re also a human being and we will evaluate rationally but ultimately make an emotional decision.
For example, here are the “Six Universal Buying Motives” as described by Roy Chitwood at Max Sacks International. A powerful appeal may speak to more than one of these emotions. And if you are appealing to none of them you’re going to have a lot harder time making the sale.
1. Desire for gain (usually financial)
2. Fear of loss (again, usually financial)
3. Comfort and convenience
4. Security and protection
5. Pride of ownership
6. Satisfaction of emotion
Now, let’s look at how these might translate into a technology workplace environment:
1. Desire for gain (usually financial)
=career advancement, better performance reviews.
2. Fear of loss (again, usually financial)
=job security, avoidance of unpleasant surprises.
3. Comfort and convenience
=less late hours, fewer angry users/bosses.
4. Security and protection
=systems work as they are supposed to do.
5. Pride of ownership
=taking credit for a new and better solution.
6. Satisfaction of emotion
=elegant systems that make the enterprise work better
The moral: people are still people, even when they’re on the job and deciding which technical products to buy. At the end of the day they want to be praised for their good work, have a comfortable lifestyle because they’ve been promoted, and go home at a reasonable hour instead of having to solve headaches. And you can tell them how your product helps them do this.
There’s lots more KISS (keep it simple) creative on tap from Dawn Wolf, Philip Reynolds and me. Come see us at 9 am on Wednesday, October 17 at the DMA in Las Vegas!
Pursuing writing as a successful means of making ends meet is not an easy task, but it can be among the most rewarding of careers once you have overcome the initial hurdles. The following five tips should help you develop your skills and make you a better writer:
1. Read widely
To become a good writer, you need to become an avid and vociferous reader; if you aren’t already! Seek out and read as wide a range of books and articles as you can. Don’t restrict yourself merely to reading the books that you instinctively like. Expose yourself to as many authors and different writing genres as possible. Some books you will love, others you will hate, but you will learn from all of them – and it will all help you develop your own unique style.
2. Live your life
The most successful writers use their words as a mirror of their experiences in everyday life, and in this sense all writing is autobiographical. Leading a full life gives you inspiration and fires the imagination, as well as giving you first- hand experience of the deep and varied richness of human emotions. Take on a variety of jobs, travel the world, try new activities, have your heart broken – and if possible, keep a journal of your thoughts, ambitions and experiences along the way.
3. Write regularly
It is a cliché that ‘practice makes perfect’, but with writing this is very close to the truth. To develop your skills as writer you need to write regularly. This is an especially important habit to cultivate, because ‘writer’s block’ is a demon that affects even the best writers. Writing regularly – about everything and nothing, even if it is only a few hundred words a day, will train you to hone your style and give you the confidence to plough through the hard times when they arrive.
4. Don’t Pigeonhole yourself
As your style develops you will find a favourite genre in which you excel. This may be through accident or by design. For instance, much of my work is marketing literature, and I have become very good at it through years of practice. However, don’t pigeonhole yourself by being afraid to stray out of your comfort zone. The hallmark of a good wordsmith is their ability to be able to write convincingly on any subject, from romantic fiction to academic reports!
5. Don’t Give Up
There is a lot of competition in the world of writing and success will not necessarily come overnight. Writing is as much a vocation and a way of life as it is a ‘job’ or a ‘career’. Follow your passion, keep believing in yourself; and never, ever give up
For young writers the biggest challenge is often to know where to start; what to write about, where to seek publication, how to stand out from the competition. The answer is to take your writing career one step at a time; to take the long term view and aim for your words to reflect an interesting an enjoyable life. Most importantly, remember that nothing you write is ever a waste of time, and that the process of reaching to your goal is as important – and can be as much fun – as the end result itself!
Direct marketing watchdog Denny Hatch had his knickers in a twist about the online ad shown here. And with good reason. It’s simply a long copy direct mail letter turned into a PowerPoint video and it runs 77 minutes (I am taking that part on faith since I lasted about 4 minutes) with no pause button and no call to action until the very end. The sell is for an investment newsletter which allegedly has 241,700 active subscribers, which I presume are the same as the 241,700 people currently viewing Otisregrets.
Stansberry’s “don’t leave” interrupter screen
Hatch waited all the way to the end; I didn’t and clicked the close button, bringing up the frantic “WAIT!” alert usually reserved for adult content sites. I clicked the “stay on page” button … and was rewarded with the opportunity to read the same copy, but in its original mega-letter format. (And badly reproduced, too. Hope that Stansberry picks up a few subscribers so he can afford a new imaging drum for his scanner.) Even so there is no call to action until the very, very end of the letter where we find a single “subscribe” button.
Of course this is NOT evidence that long copy is a bad idea. Rather, it’s a great way to experience good direct marketing by its absence. When asked how long a man’s legs should be, Lincoln allegedly replied “long enough to reach the ground.” It’s the same with sales letters. They can be one page, or 32 pages (my personal record), or hundreds of pages like the Stansberry effort… just as long as the copy is permeated with calls to action so the reader can stop reading and give you the order as soon as they are convinced.
Hatch’s article had a great quote from old school copywriter Claude Hopkins, which talks about “print” but applies equally well to electronic media:
“People are hurried. The average person worth cultivating has too much to read. They skip three-fourths of the reading matter, which they pay to get. They are not going to read your business talk unless you make it worth their while and let the headline show it.
People will not be bored in print. They may listen politely at a dinner table to boasts and personalities, life history etc. But in print they choose their own companions, their own subjects. They want to be amused or benefited. They want economy, beauty, labor savings, good things to eat and wear.”
Getting back to the format of Stansberry’s online ad, Hatch closes (as will I) with this zinger from “Visual Display of Quantitative Information” author Edward Tufte: “Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”
I was back in San Francisco this week and paid a visit to the Musee Mechanique. This is a warehouse full of old arcade games that are restored and maintained by a private owner in return for your plunking in many quarters for a chance to experience a thrill from yesteryear that probably cost a penny back in the day.
There are early video games, tests of strength, and machines that tell your fortune along with your weight. But the really charming exhibits are boxed dioramas which come to life to show a man trying to calm a crying baby (whose jaw is repaired with what looks like silly putty), the horrors of an opium den, or the flatulence that results from eating too many beans on the prairie in the example below.
O for the good old days, in which consumers could be amused by simple thrills like this and marketers could get them to read long copy ads like John Caples’ “They laughed when I sat down to play the piano” or the Charles Atlas ads. Today they demand amped-up computer graphics, and they wouldn’t have the patience to watch to watch the full two minutes of “The Inquest”, a large exhibit in which buffalo shuffle their heads while investigating the body of an Indian warrior who has frozen to death in the snow. Today’s consumers also lack the generous acceptance of our wiles that made advertising a welcome, entertaining part of daily life.
Our job is a lot harder, which makes it more interesting I guess. Happy Labor Day.
An article in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle offered textbook examples of what to do, and NOT to do, if your company gets involved in damage control. I’ve never seen a contrast so clear-cut.
Here’s the backstory: an animal welfare group named Compassion over Killing shot a video of cattle allegedly being brutally mistreated at Central Valley Meat, a slaughterhouse in California. The video was turned over the USDA who immediately sent inspectors out. Finding conditions just as bad as depicted on the video, they shut the operation down.
In-N-Out Burgers was, it turns out, a customer of Central Valley Meat, and quickly severed the relationship. Quoting from the article: “Mark Taylor, chief operating officer, said Tuesday the company acted immediately upon becoming aware of it. ‘In-N-Out Burger would never condone the inhumane treatment of animals and all of our suppliers must agree to abide by our strict standards for the humane treatment of cattle,’ Taylor said to The Associated Press in a written statement.”
Reaction was instant and decisive… absolutely no question as to where In-N-Out stands on this. They defused a nasty situation as soon as they were associated with it. That’s the good example of damage control.
But here’s the bad: instead of making themselves available to the press, the owners of the plant (who are identified by name in the article) declined to comment, explaining they had not seen the video. They then hired a PR firm, which issued the following statement: “Central Valley Meat takes these issues very seriously and is now developing a plan of action to present to (the Food Safety Inspection Service) to remedy any potential violations of USDA guidelines,” the statement said. “Based on our own investigation and 30 years of producing safe, high-quality US beef, we are confident these concerns pose no food safety issues.”
Maybe that’s true, but it’s hard to believe in the context of the USDA’s shutting them down. They first ran from the issue, then stuck their heads in the sand. And shame on the unnamed PR agency, which was apparently hired in the middle of a crisis and responded by issuing a hard-to-believe press release. You couldn’t find a worse example of crisis management.