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Monday, 12 July 2010

Why are your energy bills so outrageously high?

I got off the plane from New York this morning, took the tube to the office- and was infuriated by an ad in the paper before I even got there.

It was a full page with no picture and maybe 100 or so words of copy.

The headline was “Be an ingredient.” Really. “Be an ingredient.”

Can you guess what that was about? Can you detect the slightest speck of the one thing that makes people read ads: news of a benefit? Can you imagine what kind of clueless drones wrote it – or approved it?

More to the point, can you surmise what the ad was selling? Or who paid for it? Or why I was outraged?

I was outraged because I helped pay for it. It was run by EDF, the French energy firm that gouges money out of me every month, the grasping rogues.

Why didn’t they say “Be a warthog”? It would have made as much sense.

Compare that with what Dave Newton wrote to me about this morning. In his very first copywriting job in Johannesburg one of his first projects was for Rank Xerox.

Let him tell the story.

“I thought, wow!! ... This is going to be a big account, and maybe an ostrich feather in my cap.

When I got to the account manager’s office, I was eagerly awaiting the wheeling out of the new super duper photocopier for us to promote. Instead, he handed me a piece of white paper.

OK, I thought, he wants me to take notes. But then he told me this WAS the product!

What they wanted was a direct mail campaign to promote their new copy paper.

Back in those ‘dark ages’, photocopies broke down with monotonous regularity. This amazing new paper had a new weave, so that the fibres wouldn’t curl in hot and humid conditions.

Well, as any good Ogilvy-Hopkins-Watkins-Caples-Reeves et al trained copywriter would be, I got really excited at the potential for this piece of white paper.

I wrote a direct mailing piece that went out to all buyers of stationery across South Africa. The letterhead we used was this special type of bond paper.

Can you guess the opening sentences on my letter? It said,

“Hello ... Right now, is anybody watching you? Because I want you to do something very unusual.

I want you to LICK the corner of this page.

Did you see what happened?

That’s right. Nothing! ...

You see ...
(which then went on to extol the virtues of this new breakthrough paper).

Happily for me, the campaign was a roaring success. And one I’ve had an enormous amount of fun with talking about in seminars over the years since. Although these days, we get so caught up in the electronic media, some of the foundational examples get lost. Or forgotten.”

Good copy, if at all possible, quickly demonstrates the benefit of the product, rather than squandering the money of the customers who, ultimately, fund the advertising. (EDF also run a great many fatuous TV ads, too - all on money people like me work damn hard to earn).

Oddly enough, Dave’s story reminds me of a mailing I wrote around the same time to sell a flame-proofing product which asked people to set fire to a letter. That did so well the client then ran it as a magazine insert.

And just to boast, we just heard from a client that they are “flooded with phone calls.” So the aged quill has not lost its cunning ... yet.

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