Archive for June, 2017

Beware the boob tube

June 23rd, 2017 by Bob Bly

We were invited to a backyard barbecue a few weeks ago by our
friend AE and her husband JE.

Whenever we get together, JE starts recommending to me TV shows
he has become hooked on and finds interesting — and thinks I will
also like.

I always explain politely, every time we are together, thanks but
no thanks — I have no interest and will never take a look at any
of these shows.

One reason is the increasing popularity of shows that are
episodic, such as Lost was and The Walking Dead is, requiring you
to watch every week — or save them up and binge-watch multiple
episodes in one sitting.

I avoid the shows he recommends because (a) I fear I might indeed
get hooked and (b) watching TV shows are a time-suck that, more
often than not, (c) rots your brain.

Neuroscientists who took MRI scans of 290 children ages 5 to 18
found that anatomical changes inside the youngster’s brains after
prolonged TV viewing actually lowered IQ.

In effect, watching too much TV has now scientifically been
proven to make people stupider.

“Well, if you don’t watch TV then what do you do?” JE asks me,
genuinely puzzled.

I explain that the two activities I substitute for TV are reading
and writing.

Writing is mainly my vocation. Though I love it so much, I can
hardly call it “work.”

To paraphrase Les Paul, if you do what you love for a living,
than it isn’t really work.

Reading is my favorite spare time activity.

I read widely, both fiction and nonfiction books of all types.

But this too is part of work, in that reading (a) provides grist
for the copywriting mill, enabling me to acquire all sorts of
knowledge that invariably finds its way into my promotions.

And (b) reading and writing are the two best ways to become a
better writer — so reading is in essence my ongoing continuing
education as a copywriter and book author.

Avoiding lots of TV allows me to spend more time writing and
reading, two activities that are much more active and beneficial
than TV, which is passive and mind-numbing.

I do sometimes turn on the TV when I am tired and just want to
veg out, but I rarely watch more than an hour a day.

What do I watch? We have cable, so I flip until I find a movie
that looks interesting and watch part of it, and only rarely do I
find it just as the film is beginning.

I have to confess that there are certain movies that I will watch
repeatedly when I stumble across them on TV; I do not buy movies
on DVD.

They include The Book of Eli, Galaxy Quest, Water World, The
Postman, Robocop, Dracula Untold, and any movie with Wolverine in
it.

If you think my taste is abysmal, then watch what you like and
don’t worry about what I like.

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Avoid writing boring copy or being a bored copywriter

June 20th, 2017 by Bob Bly

“There are a lot of sins in life,” Senator Lindsey Graham was
quoted as saying in New York magazine (3/5/17, p. 24). “But the
one that’s intolerable is being bored. I hate boring.”

The problem with saying that something is “boring,” however, is
that the statement is meaningless unless you ask: “Boring to
WHOM?”

For instance, I recently had the assignment of writing, for a
chemical company, a white paper on “clean agent fire suppression
systems for data centers.”

While this topic would put the majority of copywriters I know
into a coma, for me, being a chemical engineer and former
chemistry major, it was absolutely fascinating — and pure joy.

Especially in sales copy, being boring is an absolute sin and a
sure road to lack of interest and dismal response rates.

As David Ogilvy once observed, “You cannot sell the consumer by
boring her to death.”

So … how do you avoid being bored with your copywriting projects
as well as boring prospects with the copy you write?

Making sure the copy you write is not boring is a five-step
process:

>> Step one is to, as much as is humanly possible, only take on
assignments that — if they don’t absolutely fascinate you — at
least are interesting to you.

That way, you don’t have to fake enthusiasm, because you will
enjoy learning about that product and selling it to others.

>> Step two is to dig into the topic to find the area of it with
the greatest interest to the reader.

One high-tech copywriter told me, “The most fascinating thing
about technology is that people invented it.”

Joseph Kelly, a former speechwriter for Eisenhower, said: “There
is a kernel of interest in everything man or God made.”

Your job is to find that kernel. In copy, it must either arouse
curiosity, lure the prospect into reading the copy, or make her
want to own the product being advertised.

>> Step three is to do the hard work of research.

Most copywriters I know enjoy learning, so the research is often
fun and intellectually stimulating.

Research is important because, in copy, specifics sell.
Generalities bore the reader and cause her to quickly lose
interest and click away.

But wait. There are two additional steps that can help ensure you
are never bored as a copywriter….

>> Step four: Always have multiple writing projects.

Isaac Asimov said the secret to his great writing productivity
was having many projects, so when he got bored or tired or just
felt he could not go further with his book that day…

…he switched to his columns and articles on other topics, which
kept him fresh and interested.

>> Step five: Write things other than copy.

My 80/20 rule for copywriters is to spend 80% of your time
writing copy for clients.

This is the key to a six-figure annual income year after year.

But to vary things up, spend 20% of your time with non-copy
writing projects that are purely yours.

Mark Ford writes poetry, short stories, and movie scripts.

The late Herschell Gordon Lewis wrote and produced grade B horror
movies.

I write short stories and had a book of them come out from Quill
Driver Books last year:

http://amzn.to/2r7qtyd

I have had a blast on writing nonfiction books on everything
from sex and Star Trek, to careers and satire.

I also did cartoons and wrote the occasional newspaper or
magazine article, published in periodicals ranging from
Cosmopolitan to the Baltimore City Paper.

This keeps me fresh and ensures I am virtually never bored, except
by paperwork, which I loathe.

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Is hawking big-ticket info products to newbies a sin?

June 16th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Ben Settle sent out an email last month that precisely expressed,
more articulately than I have…

…my own sentiments about what’s wrong with selling outrageously
expensive coaching and training programs online to newbies:

“I’m not a big fan of high ticket coaching and masterminds that
are targeted to people who are newbies, desperate, or don’t have
the money, experience, or the knowledge to put the info into
context.

“Even with my own products, I tell people not to buy if they have
to go into debt over it. They should get their financial houses
in order first.”

I applaud Ben’s ethical and sensible stance here. He explains
that his objection mirrors his own experience as an info products
buyer when he was a newbie:

“I simply didn’t have the money to afford all the high-priced
stuff. I started with low-priced books like Dan Kennedy’s
Ultimate Sales Letter, for example, which was like $8.

“Then, when I was able to afford it (using money earned from
applying what I learned in the first book), started spending
money on the more expensive stuff.”

On the other hand, my friend HK points out that some people have
spent their last dime to attend training on a money-making
venture they really wanted to pursue, learned it, applied the
learning — and became spectacularly successful at it.

I know this is true, as several of my readers and students have
achieved precisely this kind of success.

The problem is, they are outliers. As for the rest, most of the
people who spend $5,000 for a training never recover a fraction
of the investment, if any.

If you are interested in a topic and a guru, here’s the order in
which you should acquire his or her knowledge:

>> First, read and get all the free stuff only — their
e-newsletter, free ebooks, free special reports, online articles,
blog, free webinars.

>> Second, most gurus have one or more conventional paperbound
books, usually selling for around $15 new, a few bucks used on
Amazon, or available free at your local library. These books have
much the same content as their $200 multimedia home study course
or even their $1,000 coaching.

>> Third, when and only when you have exhausted the free and
low-cost supply of the guru’s content, then move up to one of his
more costly paid products — but just one to start. And always
make sure there is an unconditional money-back guarantee with a
30 to 90-day return window.

Do not fool yourself, like many students at Ivy League
universities do, into thinking that a higher price automatically
means better content, better learning, and better results.

It’s like Matt Damon’s character explains in Good Will Hunting to
an obnoxious Harvard grad student: “You’re spending $50,000 for
an education you could have gotten for a dollar-fifty in late
fees at the public library.”

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Avoid “brag and boast” marketing

June 13th, 2017 by Bob Bly

A few weeks ago I got a press release from ad agency Imbue
Creative.

The headline: “Imbue Creative Wins Three Communicator Awards from
the Academy of Interactive Visual Arts in Logo, Packaging, and
Non-Profit Brochure Categories.”

You can imagine how interested I was in this important, timely,
and useful news.

(Yes, that’s meant sarcastically.)

It’s typical when you win an award to send out a press release
about it. And I am not saying you shouldn’t – although I certainly
don’t do it myself.

After all, some of your industry trade publications and local
media outlets may pick it up and give you a quick mention, which
certainly doesn’t hurt.

And you may indeed get inquiries or even business as a result of
the award announcement.

However, I wouldn’t get too excited about creative awards …
because the number of award-winning ad campaigns that absolutely
failed to produce positive results is legend.

For instance, the communications director of the now-defunct
Outpost.com bragged about one of their TV spots winning all kinds
of awards including several Clios.

And predictably, the advertising, marketing, and creative
communities ate it up.

But she followed up by admitting that the commercial “generated
no increase in sales. And it pissed off the shareholders.”

Advertising Age magazine wrote that while the commercial won
those Clios, it did not make clear to consumers what Outpost
actually sold online, which was computer products.

Despite the cache awards may give ad agencies and even their
clients within the industry, consumers often view these honors
with great indifference.

In your PR, your time and energy is better spent creating and
disseminating content of real value — from tips and surveys, to
how-to e-books and white papers — than this type of “brag and
boast” PR.

A more grievous offense, at least to me as a direct response
marketer, is the quote that appears later in the release from
Imbue VP Michael Piperno.

He says, “We are delighted to be recognized for creative
excellence by The Communicators Awards in the different
categories.”

Marketers who know what they are doing value response and
measured results — including leads, sales, and profits — over
“creative excellence” all day long.

“Creative” agencies have long made handsome livings preying on
foolish businesspeople who value creativity over sales.

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In praise of the good old days

June 2nd, 2017 by Bob Bly

Yes, today the world is filled with modern marvels that make life
better, easier, safer, healthier, and more profitable.

Examples include personal computers, smart phones, the internet,
e-mail, self-driving cars, drones, and new medical treatments for
everything from arthritis to cancer.

But, as much as I like and embrace many innovations, I do
sometimes long for the good old days.

In particular, here are a few of the things I miss from way back
when, illogical as some items on the list may seem:

1– My IBM Selectric typewriter.

Ever since getting my first PC in 1982, computers have helped my
freelance writing income skyrocket.

That being said, I loved the feel of the Selectric keyboard … the
freedom from worrying about malware and other computer glitches …
and the experience of seeing my words immediately appear on paper
as I typed them.

2–Vinyl records.

Vinyl records are making a comeback. The main advantage of
records is that the large album covers had plenty of room for
extensive liner notes.

CDs have these notes printed on separate insert booklets, which
quickly become lost. And somehow they are not as fun to read.

My kids love iPods and digital music. But I don’t want to own yet
another device, and I have no need to carry 950 songs with me.

3–Newspapers.

When I was young my ambition was to be a newspaper reporter,
which was considered one of the coolest jobs for writers on the
planet. After all, Superman was a reporter!

The millennials seem not to read the newspaper anymore. And
today, a newspaper reporter is ranked as one of the least desirable
jobs.

4–Easy air travel.

I have never liked travel of any kind.

But air travel in the 70s was an order of magnitude better than
it is today — for three reasons.

First, planes were often half-empty. Now, they are almost always
full. An ancillary benefit was that there was always room to
store your luggage in the overhead.

Second, there was more legroom. Today, there is so little, it
even bothers me … and I’m a short guy.

Third, pre-911, security was so much laxer, because it didn’t
seem to need to be otherwise.

You didn’t have to take off your shoes, jacket, and belt, which
to me is a pain in the rear.

5–The ability to unplug.

In some ways, smart phones and other mobile devices are a
blessing.

For instance, I worry about my kids less, because I can always
reach them on their cell phones.

On the other hand, wireless connectivity has created a society in
which we are continually connected and available to our boss,
coworkers, and customers round the clock. Putting us under even
more stress.

6–Chocolate milk shakes.

The greater awareness of nutrition today keeps us healthier and
may even extend our lives, and that’s a wonderful thing.

On the other hand, in the 60s we mostly ate stuff that tasted
good, either blissfully unaware or not caring whether it was good
for us.

In particular, I miss regularly consuming chocolate milk shakes …
barbecue ribs … salami sandwiches … Coke … and even the
occasional Ring Ding.

7–Safe sex.

I got married before AIDS reared its ugly head, so I dodged a
bullet — not that I was promiscuous anyway.

But back then, casual hookups and active dating were not
potentially life-ending activities.

I can’t imagine that single people who are sexually active today
with multiple partners aren’t constantly worried about getting
HIV.

8–The Beatles, Sinatra, and Elvis.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t understand how people enjoy
songs when you cannot understand the lyrics being sung or rapped.

Some people say Will Smith is a terrible rapper. But he is one of
the clearest, most articulate rappers out there (Eminem is, too).

9–Classic cars.

I liked the way cars looked and drove back in the day better than
today’s modern tin cans.

My dream car is a fully restored 1957 Pontiac Chieftain.

My mother bought one used in the 60s for $100.

It still pains me enormously that my parents sold it to a guy who
totaled the car soon after he bought it.

What a putz he was to destroy that treasure!

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