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Friday, 25 May 2012

How we all got screwed – and who did the screwing

For some time I had heard people say Robert Peston of the BBC was an extremely irritating individual.

He did a programme early this week about the great European catastrophe, and I can  see what they meant.

As he strode about the ruins of Rome in an ill-fitting overcoat (why can't these buggers keep still?) he gave out a sort of spurious enthusiasm which did jar a lot. He combined this with the common habit among TV presenters of emphasising certain words for no good reason. But the strong temptation to switch off was more than offset by what he revealed about the mess we're in.

Many people have pointed out the flaws in the European experiment - that a common currency is a straight-jacket; that the various countries are almost uniquely ill-suited to be yoked together; that economic union can't work without political union and so on.

But for the first time he showed in simple language how the politicians deliberately sidelined the safeguards originally built into the Euro experiment.

To get more nations involved and make things look better than they were they relaxed or even removed the good housekeeping requirements. Countries were allowed to get into more debt than they should have; they were deluged with cheap money.

And who connived at concealing what was going on? The banks. They invented derivatives that enabled countries to hide how deeply in debt they were by delaying the need for payment - in effect taking the rubbish off the books for a few years.

Well, here we are. In the shit. The culprits are exactly who you thought they were.

The people who will pay are exactly who you thought they were. too. You and me.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

This will get you better results - but don't throw the baby out ...

Years ago I did a banner ad to promote racehorse ownership which had a horse galloping across the screen pulling a message. Worked like a charm.

Anyone who knows anything about online advertising is aware that ads with things happening tend to work better than ads where nothing happens.

Large corporate clients tend to hate this sort of thing. Too vulgar. But I recall simply making the prices flash for a posh wine merchant boosted sales over 10%

Here is some more detailed research about the subject.


However, one bit of that article got my goat a little.

"The days of solely measuring online campaign success on a cost per click or lead-generation basis are fading, with these measures indicating engagement with the ad itself rather than its success in improving brand metrics."

All attempts to stamp out phrases like "brand metrics" are to be vigorously encouraged, because they usually indicate an attempt by an agency to avoid being measured on anything more concrete.

At the start of that magnificent all-purpose door-stop, "Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing" I quoted David Ogilvy's mentor (yes, he had one).

"The only purpose of advertising is to sell. It has no other function worth mentioning" - Raymond Rubicam.

I once did a talk to the Marketing Society called, "The research said it would sell. So how come we went broke?"

So I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. Whilst measuring on pay per click is a waste of time, measuring on cost of leads, whilst not as good as measuring on cost per sale is better than things like "engagement with the ad". This nauseating expression should be swept into outer darkness, along with brand metrics, core values, mission, vision and almost any phrase including the word strategic - especially if it is a job title. If that title also incorporates the word officer, sudden death should occur.

P.S. If you want to know why ads don't work and how to create ones that do, I still have space at my copy seminar in Bristol a week from today.

I will start with an analysis of 21 ads and posters I saw yesterday. Only one was any good. The rest varied between vaguely OK, useless and pathetic. Many were incomprehensible, most were wasteful, in many the layout actively discouraged readership.

I cannot think of any industry in which so few people are utterly clueless about what they should be doing.

What an opportunity for anyone who does!

And judging by what's happening in Europe, this is a wise time to start doing better. A lot better.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

My lost pornographic career. A little bouquet of obscenities - and what have I done with my life?

I just wrote to a friend asking why she seems to be forever having holidays in exotic places.

She replied with three words. “I have tits”.

Years ago when I was young and – relatively – handsome, I was asked to pose for pornographic photographs.

If the thought leaves you torn between nausea and disbelief, I quite understand. Read no further.

I had no objection to the idea in principle – I was quite flattered. But I felt I could never rise to the occasion and refused.

Which leads me to ask: have you been following the big debate about barring porn on the internet?

I bet this would be about as effective as banning prostitution, alcohol or drugs – i.e. create a wonderful new playground for criminals. Mexico is a good example of what happens.

The only research I have seen on the effects of porn suggested that it led to fewer sexual crimes. I can’t find the research - don’t think I downloaded it. But doesn’t it make sense? Porn is a substitute.

However, moodily reflecting on this lost career opportunity, I started listing matters far more obscene.

Children in one part of India starve whilst food is left to rot in another after a bumper harvest. The Children of the Lord in Africa run amok raping and slaughtering their own parents and it takes years and millions to bring the culprit to book. An Italian father jumps off a balcony with his two children – in despair.

On a lesser scale the man who led Aviva down and down is rewarded - with £1.75 million just to leave. And so on.

Yesterday I went through two magazines tearing out examples of appalling advertising to comment on.

How can I possibly be enraged by lousy ads? I have no sense of proportion.

What have I done with my life?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

"Stupid is as stupid does"

My colleagues often chide me for announcing stuff, asking people to pay for it, then being astoundingly coy about what they will get in return.

Quite unforgiveable - which reminds me of the headline above.

I saw it in a full page ad which also showed a child's face.

Have you any idea what the headline could be about?

I have yet to read the copy, which is carefully reversed-out to make it hard to read.

But this is one of the many examples I shall be discussing, with barely controlled fury, on my copy day in Bristol.

I shall analyse all kinds of copy in all media and try to explain what makes it work (or not).

In the case of "Stupid is as stupid does" what makes it not work, I imagine, is a total disinterest in what makes good headlines.

My friend Steve Harrison and I will also work with you in your copy for an hour and a half.

And he will be talking with his usual dry wit about the genius Madison Avenue never got hold of - who was fifty years ahead of his time.

You can bring stuff in for comment if you like, and we will be helpful - as we have for many of the world's biggest (and smallest) brands.

Between us I hope we can keep you entertained - and do a pretty good job for you.

In times like these, people tend to batten down the hatches and hope the storm will pass.

It won't, for years. We can help you get more out of your copy.

Friday, 18 May 2012

How to write better in under 8 hilarious minutes - it frightened me to death. Plus a rueful smile for the weekend

I know a lot of you read this because you write, and want to write better.

Go and have a look at this: http://tinyurl.com/bqz5zw8.

John, the speaker, is one of the best writers I know. David Ogilvy thought very highly of him.

I shall be doing seminars with John in October in Australia, all being well. He is so damn good I am downright frightened at being compared to him.

If you either a) are unlikely to be in Oz then or b) can't wait that long to write better - well, here's a suggestion.

David Ogilvy also thought highly of two other writers who are running a copy seminar in Bristol in a couple of weeks.

I think I may have mentioned that before.

On the day I shall be analysing all kinds of copy and trying to explain - maybe not as well as John - what makes it work (or not).

And Steve and I will work with you in your copy for an hour and half.

You can bring stuff in for comment if you like.

Between us I hope we can do a pretty good job for you. It will certainly do you a lot more good than the Jubilee which follows immediately afterwards.

Just click here.


Meanwhile, Paul Dooley sent me this. It is called the Dead Horse Theory. I'd seen it before, but a surprising amount of the content reminded me of the current Euro chaos.

The Dead Horse Theory

The tribal wisdom of the Plains Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that "When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount."

However, in government more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Getting a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.

5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

9. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse's performance.

10. Employing consultants to do a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.

11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

And, of course...

13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position

Friday, 4 May 2012

Half a conversation: The difference between talking about it and doing it; why I nearly fell off my chair - and a few little freebies

A friend manages a business that turns over a few billion, and is the leader in its field.

They do it by charging less, delivering better service and marketing a lot more than their competitors.

The other day he had a phone call.

I have no idea what the caller said so I can only tell you his end of the very short conversation.

Caller: ?

My friend: No, we don't use management consultants.

Caller: ?

My friend: No. We just get on with it.

Over the years I have noticed that the larger the organisation the worse they tend to be at getting on with it.

Also, the people who get to the top become less and less interested in reality.

Don't imagine that the recession changes things.

I just discovered that a client for many years has been paying an agency £750,000 a year in fees to give "strategic and planning advice" and do their advertising and direct marketing.

I nearly fell off my chair. We used to do their direct marketing for under £100,000 a year - and we were never beaten in tests over a seven year period.

The media planning is done elsewhere. So is the digital stuff. They produce one TV ad a year. The direct marketing results are way down, because they can't write letters.

But they are very good at playing golf.

The Marketing Director (a fine golfer) has left for leafier climes; the Managing Director (still working on his swing) has departed.

The reason? Not enough profit.

Anyhow, to depart from these high strategic realms, I just found a 15 minute video of money-making ideas on my computer.

I actually made it immediately after last year's EADIM (that's the little business school I run every year). The picture quality is shocking - but there aren't any pictures anyhow, and why would you want to look at my wrinkled face?

You can have an audio version - free.

By the way, if you want to see someone who can even make people laugh in Greece, check out my latest email.

You'll also get the results of two tests, one of which would ruin me if I didn't stop it.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What is the difference between public “service” and private enterprise? With a gloriously funny letter.

Once upon a time people used to write letters to each other, and some of the finest writing I have ever read resulted.

The email has put a stop to a lot of that.

But to stamp out any lingering inclination to do so, the Royal Mail has put the price of a stamp up to a vertiginous 60p for first class (first class means it will probably get there the next day) and 50p for second, which means it certainly won't.

60p equals about 90 cents US and compares with 44 cents for first class in the U.S.

So, as is so often the case, while private enterprise seeks to do more and more for less and less, public service does the opposite.

To make the point, here is wonderful letter apparently sent to the U.K. passport office, whose "services" are - as you will see - not only useless but bloody expensive.

Dear Sirs,

I'm in the process of renewing my passport, and still cannot believe this.

How is it that Sky Television has my address and telephone number and knows that I bought a bleeding satellite dish from them back in 1977, and yet, the Government is still asking me where I was bloody born and on what date.

For Christ sakes, do you guys do this by hand? My birth date you have on my pension book, and it is on all the income tax forms I've filed for the past 30 years. It is on my National Health card, my driving license, my car insurance, and on the last eight damn passports I've had and on all those stupid customs declaration forms I've had to fill out before being allowed off the plane over the last 30 years, and all those insufferable census forms.

Would somebody please take note, once and for all, that my mother's name is Mary Anne, my father's name is Robert and I'd be absolutely astounded if that ever changed between now and when I die!!!!!!

I apologise, I'm really pissed off this morning. Between you an' me, I've had enough of this bullshit! You post the application to my house, THEN you ask me for my bloody address!!!!

What is going on?? Do you have a gang of Neanderthals workin' there?

Look at my damn picture. Do I look like Bin Laden? I don't want to dig up Yasser Arafat, for Christ sakes.

I just want to go and park my arse on some sandy beach somewhere.

And would someone please tell me, why would you give a toss whether I plan on visiting a farm in the next 15 days? If I ever got the urge to do something weird to a chicken or a goat, believe you me, you'd be the last people I'd want to tell!

Well, I have to go now, 'cause I have to go to the other end of the poxy city to get another bloody copy of my birth certificate, to the tune of £30.

Would it be so complicated to have all the services in the same spot to assist in the issuance of a new passport the same day??

Nooooooooooooo, that'd be too damn easy and maybe make sense. You'd rather have us running all over the sodden place like chickens with our heads cut off.

Then I have to find some idiot to confirm that it's really me on the damn picture - you know, the one where we're not allowed to smile?! (bureaucratic morons).

Hey, do you know why we couldn't smile if we wanted to? Because we're totally pissed off!


An Irate Citizen.

P.S. Remember what I said above about the picture and getting someone to confirm that it's me? Well, my family has been in this country since 1776 ...... I have served in the military for over 30 years and have had full security clearances over 25 of those years enabling me to undertake highly secretive missions all over the world. However, I have to get someone 'important' to verify who I am - you know, someone like my doctor -


Thanks you David Looke for sending me that. Even if it is made up I can confirm its truth as I just renewed my passport.

In this country public servants get better pay on average than those of us who toil to pay their salaries.

On top of this, many are planning to strike this year because the government wants to bring their pensions (which are far greater than those in the private sector) down a little - but not as low as ours.

I wouldn't mind, but the buggers don't even put in the hours. Yesterday I had to go and pick up a package from the Royal Mail here in Bristol. They close at 12 noon - and that's it. Why?

While I'm on the subject, one of the chief reasons for the problems in Greece and Italy is their colossally bloated and dysfunctional public sectors. Though we mustn't forget that the Greeks are the fourth highest arms buyers in the world - most being sold by Germany and France.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Unfair to Men! And can even one of the world’s best copywriters get better? This was a surprise for me

My correspondent Andrew Gadsden who flogs tea to the discerning regularly sends me droll stuff.

For example today he emailed me saying that in his LinkedIn updates he found that:

"Someone has joined a ladies' group. This is how it's described:

Damsels in Success is where magic happens. It's where amazing, passionate, like-minded women get together to learn, laugh and grow."

To be honest those two sentences make me want to throw up violently, but never mind that. As Andrew observed:

"For goodness's sake.

One day I will start up a club just for men. No, hang on, they used to have them, but they were forced to admit women..."

Well, I guess that will lose me a few readers.

Meanwhile my day was brightened by an e-mail from David Garfinkel, who - as I have mentioned before - is running an event in California this week.

I have never met David. I think the only thing we have in common besides scribbling for a living is that I think, like me, he used to work at Ogilvy & Mather.

He is one of the best copywriters in the U.S., though. He wrote one letter for a firm called Abacus that pulled in $40 million. And like all good people he studies. I follow his stuff, and he follows mine.

The question is, can someone who is among the best get better?

David seems to think so, because today he wrote this to me:

"You taught me how to write a completely new kind of email... and I just sent this to my list."

Then he attached this:

I used to love stories my parents told me when I was a kid.

One day my dad told me a story I've never heard before and never heard since.

It was mid-summer in humid Maryland, the fireflies were out.

I asked him why they lit up the way they did.

Always trying to provoke me to think, he said,

"David, why do you think garden slugs don't light up at night?"

My dad loved cars. He grew up in Detroit, and he used to invent big, vacuum-tube computers to time drag-racers and even once, they used one of his machines at the Daytona 500.

I told him I didn't know.

"It's because," he said with a slight grin, "the fireflies move so fast, and the slugs barely move at all.

"So as a reward, the fireflies got built-in tail-lights so they could zoom around at night."

And then, the knockout punch:

"If you learn to be really fast, David, then maybe some day you will have lights of your own."

I never quite knew what Dad meant... was I going to grow light bulbs out of my body?... but I did get the message, that getting things done faster could make a difference in your life.

Now it turns out that we still have a few seats left at our High Speed Copywriting workshop this weekend.

Brian McLeod and I will walk you through my method to create a full sales letter... or sales video... or magazine ad... in two days or less.

Craig Eubanks will share with you how he writes irresistible emails in 25 minutes.

Is this something you should attend?


Firefly or slug?