Tuesday, 17 November 2009
The latter was a particularly big client and we produced all of the literature for their Debenhams Homemaker Charge card – DL leaflets, statement stuffers and so on.
The Marketing Director at Debenhams Finance was a hard-nosed, senior marketing pro called Malcolm Findlay who was a stern taskmaster and had everyone at the agency running around after him. He also seemed to be constantly changing copy and making pointless amendments. Malcolm had a very close relationship with our own MD, a charismatic copywriter called Keith Barnes who had set up the agency.
One afternoon when I didn't have very much to do, I decided for some reason it would be a good idea to add some extra copy to a printed Debenhams Finance Homemaker Charge card leaflet which was lying on my desk.
Among the reams of copy extolling the virtues of getting massively into debt and paying exorbitant interest rates for the privilege of shopping at Debenhams was a Summary of Benefits panel:
Ten good reasons why you should open a Debenhams Homemaker Account today!
You know the kind of thing. Pounds of extra spending power! Invitations to exclusive shopping evenings! Spread your repayments to suit yourself! Blah, blah, blah...
Without even knowing why (perhaps Malcolm had been particularly savage to a piece of my copy) I absent-mindedly wrote on the leaflet in biro just below the tenth benefit:
11. If you don’t, Malcolm Findlay will break your legs.
Laughing to myself at my wit and brilliance, I closed the leaflet and put it back on my desk.
Some time later, we had a major strategy meeting with Debenhams Finance. Malcolm Findlay and two or three of his chronies came up to Nottingham to discuss their marketing plans for the coming 12 months.
Everyone in the agency was on their best behaviour, desks were tidied and even the toilet had a new air freshener – it was going to be a big, important meeting.
We were all keeping our heads down and looking as professional, dedicated and hardworking as we could. (A big ask.)
From time to time, Keith would pop his head out of the boardroom and shout to someone to bring in something the Debenhams team needed to see – a piece of artwork, a competitor’s ad or leaflet, a print quote and so on.
At some point during the afternoon, the door opened and Keith boomed out,
“Jamie, have you got the latest Homemaker leaflet – can you bring it in?”
I quickly looked around my desk, saw it, picked it up and took it into the meeting. I went back to my desk and forgot all about it.
The meeting broke up. Malcolm and his team got the train back to London and we all relaxed. I was around in the studio chatting to a few of the artworkers when Keith appeared around the corner.
“Hudson, you spotty little twat. What’s this?”
“What’s what Keith?”
This didn’t sound good. Keith had previously given me my first job at a large and very good above-the-line agency when he was Creative Director. He had trained me up from nothing to being a promising junior copywriter.
He was a brilliant writer – perhaps the best I’ve ever worked with. If you did something good, he praised you and you felt fantastic.
If you did something bad, or simply hadn’t thought something through, you were in for an almighty bollocking, which would make you want to run away and become a dustbinman.
I knew that tone of voice....
“If you don’t take out a Debenhams Homemaker card, Malcolm Findlay will break your legs.”
Reddening very quickly and feeling my stomach churning and my bottom tightening, I suddenly remembered. The only thing I could think was, ‘Oh, fuck.’
Thankfully, after what seemed like a lifetime, the spotlight was taken away from me by the sound of the studio spontaneously bursting into laughter.
“Luckily for you, he saw the funny side of it.”
“But don’t do it again, you little worm. And I’ll tell you why. I did something similar when I was a junior writer. I once wrote a brochure for a ladder company. I thought it would be funny to drop in a little joke as I was typing out the copy. So I said that their products were endorsed by the Dutch Olympic mountain climbing team.”
We all fell about laughing.
“It went to print.”
I never, ever did it again.
Friday, 6 November 2009
When I started out in advertising just after the Ice Age, I began my career at a large above the line agency in Nottingham.
One of their clients was Cavendish Woodhouse (you probably don’t remember them). They sold three-piece suites, corner units, bedroom fitments, storage units and so on in the style of MFI. And like MFI they went bust when we all decided we actually preferred Swedish three-piece suites, corner units, bedroom fitments, storage units and so on.
Cavendish Woodhouse had a massive database of existing customers who they mailed regularly with sale previews, special offers, new product launches and general news.
Now this was great for me. I could cut my teeth on the agency’s glamorous above the line accounts. (Well, the occasional trade ad.) And I could also have a go at writing DM letters. Which would be another string to my bow.
I hadn’t been there long when I got my first chance to write a sale preview letter to the Cavendish Woodhouse database.
I drafted it out and proudly took it into the Creative Director, who was a brilliant DM writer. It came back covered in red ink and the kind of naughty words you only hear at football matches.
I felt like packing it all in and becoming a dustbinman. But he said it wasn’t bad for a very first attempt. And he also gave me a little magazine cutting which he said I should keep forever. He said it was the secret formula for writing great DM letters for any client, any product or service, to any market.
It works. So I’ve kept it forever and pull it out whenever I’m writing a DM letter. Of course, you sometimes need to tweak it or change the structure or keep it very brief if it’s a short letter.
Here it is. I won’t expand on any of the points because they’re pretty self-explanatory:
1. Promise a benefit in the headline and opening paragraph – the most important benefit to the reader.
2. Immediately enlarge upon the most important benefit.
3. Tell the reader exactly what he or she will get.
4. Back up any statements with proofs, endorsements and testimonials.
5. Tell the reader what he or she might lose if he doesn’t act.
6. Rephrase the most important benefits in the closing offer.
7. Incite action NOW and give a close date.
P.S. Include a P.S. (which is the second most-read part of any letter) which restates the offer and includes another call to action.
But is it guaranteed to work?
It all depends on the skill of the copywriter of course. Pulling out the benefits. Linking them to the psychological and emotional triggers that drive everyone. Demonstrating how this product or service can satisfy these psychological and emotional triggers. And whipping up the kind of urgency and desire that makes the reader want to respond right now, if not sooner.
If you want a letter like this, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll use the formula of course. But the rest is down to me.
Monday, 7 September 2009
The 2009 model has a 220-horsepower V8 engine, anti-lock brakes, traction control, automatic safety restraint system and both front and side-impact airbags.
Or how about this?
This ring features a 1.4 carat, pear-shaped cut white diamond with an SI1 clarity grade and an H color rating.
They’re pretty impressive aren’t they? Or are they? They’re just lists of features which actually mean next to nothing to the man and woman in the street. Unless of course, you’re a total petrolhead or diamond expert.
The problem is, lists of features like these don’t make people buy, which is what we’re all trying to do.
Benefits make people buy. Or to put it another way:
Features tell, but benefits sell.
But what is truly incredible is that you see and hear lists of features like these all the time – in ads, in brochures, on websites, on TV commercials.
Very few advertisers even talk about benefits, much less make the effort to get really good at translating features into benefits.
And yet power-packed words describing benefits are what trigger the emotions that make us spend our money, time or energy.
People all over the world of every single nationality, class, colour, race and religion buy because of these emotions.
So let’s look at those two lists of features again. They should read something like:
This car has a smooth, powerful engine, something you’ll appreciate when you pull out to overtake. The extra power will also help you avoid obstacles and quickly get you and your family out of harm's way, while the extra safety features ensure you're all safe and secure. And it's great fun to drive!
Imagine gently slipping this ring onto her finger and staring intensely into her eyes. They glisten as she sees this symbol of your undying devotion, this token of your lifelong commitment to her and your life together. An adoring smile spreads across her face as she looks you in the eye and whispers ‘Yes’…
Turning features into benefits
There’s another term to throw into the mix. Advantages. Simply put, they turn features into benefits.
Here’s how you can compile a list of features and turn them into advantages and benefits for any product or service.
Features are what products have. For example, ‘This pushchair has a durable, lightweight aluminium chassis.’
Advantages are what features do. For example, ‘The durable, lightweight aluminium chassis makes the XYZ strong and yet easy to push.’
Benefits are what features mean. For example,’This means that you can take baby for long, relaxing, sleep-inducing walks without tiring. And the XYZ will give you years of trouble-free service, so it could be taking your children’s children for long walks too.’
So, to summarise, you need to interrogate your product or service and write down as many features as you can. But don’t stop there. Work out what the advantages of all these features are. Then turn these advantages into benefits and hammer them home in every single piece of advertising you do.
If you get a great brief, there’s no excuse for not doing a great job. If you get a rubbish brief or no brief at all, you’re up against it. You’ll have to use every ounce of your experience and advertising nous to produce a professional finished result.
I’ve taken hundreds of briefs in my time and I’ve found that they usually fall into three categories.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a full written brief that includes absolutely everything you need to know. Brilliant - you can get going straight away.
Or you’ll get a sketchy brief. Or you’ll get no brief at all, or it will consist of someone talking at you for half an hour while you frantically scribble down some notes. The result: three or four pages of scrawl that you have to decipher when you sit down to start the job.
With scenarios two and three, you’ll have to flesh out the ‘brief’ or even write your own by doing research, and throwing in your own insights and gut feeling for what’s required.
Frustrating and time-consuming, and all too often, the client isn’t prepared to pay for this.
In short, if you get a bad brief, it will be a case of **** in, **** out and guess who’ll get the blame for that.
This is why it’s so important to get the best brief you possibly can.
This checklist gives you 14 questions that you need to ask when you start every single job.
Ask your client all of these questions and write down the answers. Because it’s amazing how often you begin work on a new project and find that there’s some essential piece of information that they haven’t give you, or you haven’t asked for.
- What’s the objective? Do they want to beat the control by X percent? Generate one-step sales or qualified leads? Strengthen relationships? Introduce a new product? Increase average order size? Direct traffic to their website? Test media, offers or other DM elements?
- What’s the brand personality? Is it upbeat and innovative or classic and conservative? Is it straight and established or quirky and left-field? Is there an established copy voice, tone and vocabulary? If so, you need to have copies of these.
- Who’s the audience? Is it customers or prospects? What is their average age, household income, educational background, likes and dislikes? You need to have a clear image in your mind of one of these individuals, rather than a mass of nameless, faceless people.
- What’s the product or service? You need the features and corresponding benefits. Are there are truly unique features and benefits? Price? Is it new? Improved? A best-seller? Back by popular demand? Are there any competitive advantages and disadvantages?
- What’s the offer? This is what generates response, so you need to understand all the elements of the offer and why they are included - discounts, deadlines, guarantees, premiums, other incentives, delivery and payment options.
- What are the top three buying objections? Ask why people don’t buy this product or service. You need to deal with these objections - either directly or indirectly.
- What’s the call to action? Do they want people to respond by phone, mail, email, online, clickthrough to a website, in-store or at an event? You also need to find out what will happen after a prospect raises his or her hand as a qualified lead.
- What’s the format? For space advertising, is it a full or half-page ad, front cover, back cover or ROP? For DM, is it a postcard, solo pack, self-mailer, box, tube or other format? For email, is it text or HTML? Does it link to an existing web page or is a new landing page required?
- What’s the media? DM lists, email lists, TV, radio, space advertising, online.
- What are they testing? Copy? Creative? Formats? Lists? List segments? Offers? Timing? Other DM elements?
- Is any other background info available? Interviews with customers, salespeople, customer service staff, product managers and developers? Are company brochures, newsletters or annual reports available? Get as much information as you possibly can, because you never know where you’re going to find a real nugget you can use. And it could even form the basis of your whole campaign or creative approach.
- Can I try the product? Ask for a product sample. Go onto the company’s website. You need to try what you are writing about because it gives you first-hand experience of the product or service’s benefits – or otherwise.
- What am I trying to beat? Ask for a sample of the control pack, email or space ad you’re trying to beat. It will show you what you’re up against and stop you repeating what they’re already doing, which is a waste of your time and the client’s money.
- What’s the budget? Perhaps most important of all, how much is the client going to pay you to do this job? If it’s enough, fine. If it’s not, then either ask for more, which you might not get. Or make it clear to the client what you can do for the budget available. This avoids misundertandings further down the line, particularly when it comes to paying your invoice.
And finally, good luck and happy writing!
Friday, 24 July 2009
It can sometimes be soul-destroying then to see my finished copy on the ad, brochure, mail pack or web page. It’s not inviting. It doesn’t look visually interesting. The benefits aren’t pulled out. The copy is just another element in the design that’s there to be looked at, not read and acted on.
In short, it’s a waste of my skill, time and effort. And the client’s money.
And yet, as with any other discipline, there are rules that can be followed, and broken, when there’s a good reason.
After being in the business for over 30 years, I’ve picked up a few of these tips on type and layout. But it’s not my area of expertise and so I’d never claim to be an expert.
But Colin Wheildon is. He’s carried out controlled, scientific readership studies to identify exactly what works. This isn’t just guesswork or opinion or hunches. Colin has conducted experiments to find out what people find easy to read, and hard to read.
His findings are all brought together in a book called, ‘Type and Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes?’ If you’re a designer working in any kind of media which involves people reading things – good old-fashioned print or the sexy world of online – it’s probably worth getting hold of a copy.
But don’t just take my word for it. Here's what David Ogilvy, one of the best copywriters and admen our industry has ever seen, had to say:
"Hitherto, designers have had to rely on their guesses as to what works best in choosing the typography and layout. All too often they guess wrong. Thanks to Colin Wheildon, they no longer have to guess. No guesswork here. Only facts."
So what does Colin Wheildon’s research tell us? Here are just eight key findings.
It doesn't matter whether you're putting together a full-page ad, a brochure, an email or a web page, you and your client want your headline to be easy to read and work as quickly as possible. If it doesn’t work fast, you lose the reader fast. Here’s what Colin’s research discovered – some of these might seem obvious, other less so.
1. Headlines set in capital letters are significantly less legible than those set in lower case.
2. The darker the headline, the greater the comprehension level. Black headlines are understood by nearly four times as many readers as brightly coloured headlines.
3. Slightly condensing headline type makes it easier to read. Settings between 70 per cent and 90 per cent of natural width appear to be optimal.
4. Using full stops at the end of headlines may have a detrimental effect on readers' comprehension.
On body copy
This means that readability is extremely important. People won't stick with you and keep reading if your art director or designer makes things difficult. Here are a few more of Colin Wheildon's findings that work:
5. Body copy must be set in serif type if the designer wants it to be read and understood. More than five times as many readers are likely to show good comprehension when a serif body type is used instead of a sans serif font.
6. Copy must be printed in black. Even copy set in deep colors is substantially more difficult for readers to understand. Seven times as many people in the study showed good comprehension when the copy was black, as opposed to either muted or high intensity colors.
7. Black text printed on a light tint has high comprehensibility.
8. With no descenders helping the eye to identify words quickly, COPY SET IN CAPITALS IS DIFFICULT TO READ!
For more invaluable help and advice on writing, marketing and advertising, go to www.jamiehudson.com
Friday, 19 June 2009
An eleven-point checklist for better creative work
Whether you’re doing creative work, or overseeing it or judging work that’s been presented to you, these tips will help you decide if it’s as good as it could be.
What’s the budget?
What's the objective?
When is it wanted?
Who are your prospects?
What’s the benefit?
What’s the offer?
Have you thought of everything?
The same with copy. If you’re faced with a blank screen, just start typing. In the middle, at the end, anywhere and you’ll soon get into a flow. Then cut it down to the right length. It’s always easier to make long copy short than the opposite.
Are you being precise?
Is your copy easy to read?
Do people understand?
When you’re halfway through the job, or perhaps gone off in the wrong direction, check the brief. And when you’ve finished, check again, and if you’ve answered the brief, go and tell the suits to sell it hard. Better still, go to the client and sell it hard yourself.
For more invaluable help and advice on writing, marketing and advertising, go to www.jamiehudson.com
Thursday, 18 June 2009
Everyone needs to be able to write well.
It will help in every area of your life, professionally and personally. It will help you to recognise good writing in your own advertising and marketing communications. And spot bad writing which is harming your brand, proposition and offer.
It will help you to communicate more effectively with your colleagues, business partners and outside suppliers. Use these guidelines and you’ll be able to write better creative briefs, internal documents, proposals, complaint letters, even love letters to your partner.
The ability to write well is vitally important for all of us. After all, if you can’t say what you mean, how can you mean what you say?
These seven tips can be applied to any kind of writing. They will give you a set of guidelines you can refer to, whether you’re sitting down to write a marketing strategy. Or reading through ad, brochure or website copy that’s been presented to you by your agency. Or writing a letter of complaint or a note to someone you love (which could be the same thing).
1. Never, ever try to be clever
Don’t forget that you are communicating your thoughts and feelings, your views and opinions as simply and clearly as possible. You are not trying to show everyone how clever you are.
If you come up with a word or phrase that you are particularly proud of, cut it out immediately. As author William Faulkner used to say, ‘Kill your darlings.’
And Samuel Johnson had similar advice, “Read over your compositions and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”
Any piece of writing should make the reader think, ‘Great, I want that product now,’ or ‘That strategy is spot on – let’s do it’, or ‘That’s a cracking brief’ or even, ‘Take me to bed now’.
Not, ‘Wow, that’s really clever.’
2. Read it out loud
It’s easy to see if any piece of writing is readable. Just read it out loud to yourself. You’ll see if it flows nicely and leads smoothly from one point to the next. You’ll also quickly discover any passages which hold up the flow and need cutting or rewriting.
When you read it out, it should sound like someone talking. Friendly, relaxed and with a logical argument or pitch that draws you in.
Reading your writing out loud will also help you with punctuation. You’ll soon see where it needs a pause in the form of a comma. Or where you need a bigger pause – a full stop. Or where a new thought comes in – a new paragraph.
And remember, a piece of advertising copy shouldn’t sound like advertising copy. If it does, rewrite it. Take out the words and phrases that are advertising cliches. Use quirky and original words. Find new ways to say the same thing.
3. Give us a KISS
It’s a much-used mnemonic, but one of my favourites: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Use short, simple words, not long, complicated ones. Use short sentences. Did you know that the easiest to read sentence is eight words long? While sentences of more than 32 words are very difficult for most people to take in.
Use short paragraphs with only one thought per paragraph. In particular, try to ensure that the first paragraph is no longer than one sentence.
While we’re talking about simplicity, lots of writers think that if they’re writing about complicated subjects, they have to use complicated language.
Not so. The Wall Street Journal is written in a language that’s understandable to a 17-year old. But not the front cover. That’s meant to be understood by a 15-year old.
As Aristotle always used to say, “Style to be good must be clear. Clearness is secured by using words that are current and ordinary.”
More recently, Winston Churchill, who knew a thing or two about communicating with a mass audience, said, "Use simple words everyone knows, then everyone will understand."
4. Mind your language
OK. So what are these simple words? In almost every type of writing, you should use words that ordinary people use every day. Sit on the bus or tube and listen to people talking. Hear the kind of words that they use.
You should then apply a test to everything you hear, read, see – or most important of all, write. Would the man or woman in the street use this word or phrase?
People don’t undertake things. They carry them out. Or better still, do them.
People don’t access services. They use them.
People don’t acquire a loaf of bread. They get one or buy one.
People don’t participate. They take part.
Which leads nicely onto jargon and technical terms.
I received this email recently which began:
Have you ever wished you had email marketing capabilities that extended beyond the ‘out-of-the-box’ functionality of your current in-house application or marketing technology provider?
I think they mean, ‘Have you ever wished your email marketing package let you do more?’
Jargon like, ‘out-of-the-box functionality’ should be avoided like the plague. The writer assumes that I know what this means. I don’t. Explain it in simple English. It should be something like ‘standard features’.
Technical terms are slightly different. Of course, you will sometimes be writing to an audience that uses technical language all the time. In this case, you can use the terms they are familiar with – as long as you understand what they mean, don’t just throw them in!
But to a general audience, assume that they don’t know what any of these technical terms mean. Put them all in plain English.
5. Don’t use that tone of voice with me
Which leads me onto tone of voice. When it’s right, you don’t notice it and you take in the message. When it’s wrong, it’s irritating and you feel either talked down to, or up to which is just as bad.
By and large, the ‘default’ setting for anything you write should be clear and simple, warm and friendly, easy and conversational. Remember, even if you are writing an advertising message for thousands of people, you are writing to them individually. There are just two people involved – you and the reader.
From your ‘default’ style of writing you can then adopt different tones of voice. The one you choose will depend on who you are writing as, and who you are writing to.
For instance, if you’re the chairman communicating with employees, you should come across as a slightly formal but warm and friendly adviser. If you’re writing to another chairman, write as an equal. If you’re selling a financial product or service to a C2DE market, you need to act as a guide, being helpful but not patronising. Make your style even simpler. Think of ‘The Sun.’ If you’re writing to doctors, keep it short, to the point and benefit-driven. They won’t have the time to appreciate your conversational flourishes. .
Above all, always try to write in the language of the person you’re writing to. The language they themselves will use every day.
6. Your most powerful word
So what’s the most powerful word in any kind of writing? Suppose you’re inspiring your colleagues, selling a product online, writing a DM pack or wooing a lover – what’s the one word they want to hear more than any other?
Free is good.
So are Save and Save money.
Even New will attract attention.
But the best word you can use is You. Along with Yours and Your.
You are what you are most interested in. You want to hear about good news for you. About products that give benefits to you. About services that make your life easier. About lovely things that can be yours. About a new company incentive scheme that’s going to give you more money.
(As an example, take that email I mentioned earlier asking about my email marketing capabilities. I rewrote it to read, ‘Have you ever wished your email marketing package let you do more?’)
You certainly don’t want to hear about the company that’s trying to sell to you or make you work harder. You switch off as soon as you read, we this and we that, and our philosophy and our mission and our core values.
It’s just like life. Isn’t it boring listening to someone who alway talks about themselves?
And you’d never get very far trying to win someone’s heart if you’re always writing about me, me, me instead of you, you, you.
So, in anything you write or read through, particularly advertising and selling copy, make sure there are more you’s than we’s.
It will be more interesting, more readable and people are more likely to act on what you’ve written.
7. Give it to me
If you haven’t got time to do any of this, or the people you normally use to do your writing are busy, give me call on 07966 197 706. Or email email@example.com.
I’ll do all of the above and much more to make sure that you get the results you want from whatever you want writiing.
For more invaluable help and advice on writing, marketing and advertising, go to http://www.jamiehudson.com/