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Friday, 29 June 2012

How to sell a car - or not, as the case may be - plus short-term retail profits

All eyes chez Bird are on Italy's progress in the football, but we did buy a second-hand car last weekend.  

I can't drive anyhow, but She Who Is Far Better Organised Than I Am had a plan, as usual. 

"I (that means we) shall go to the VW and Mercedes dealers and tell them both I am definitely buying a car this weekend and whoever gives me the best deal will get my business."

Good thinking. The car people must be pretty desperate; we were bound to get a good deal, right?

Not if you go by the man at VW in Bristol.

He gave us some nonsense about only having £2-300 margin to play with, and no deals. His patronising attitude alone lost the sale

Then it started raining and we ended up at the Nissan place. The man there gave us a coffee - and was quite charming. So much so he nearly sold us something we never planned to get.

The best exchange of the day:

"What's good about this car?"

"Well, for a start it's not Italian."

"If it was it'd be better looking."  

He was the right salesmen with the wrong car.

Next day at Mercedes they did everything right. Good coffee, pleasant salesman, no wasted time, a good deal. Sold! And when he delivered the car he brought a bunch of flowers.

People buy from people. But what if there are no people?

My daughter in law here in New York works in high end fashion. She was telling me hardly anyone in the shops knows how to sell. 

I remarked that it's almost impossible to find a sales person in any of the big stores. She says the reason is they've fired people to cut costs - the sales figures are actually ghastly.

You can't build a sound business on cost-cutting. That's one of the many ways the banks went wrong.

The  best store in the U.S. is Nordstrom - famous for their service - and they are finally going to open in New York. Those other bozos had better watch out.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Your money and the liars in charge - and a little example of why everything is going wrong: the triumph of drivel

If at some time in the next few years you wonder why you are working like a maniac just to stand still (unless you just throw up your hands and give in) here is a little edited explanation from a clever man: 

If you look at our coalition government, the one good thing they have done is somehow convince the markets that they are deficit reducers. In fact, there is virtually no evidence for it whatsoever.

“If you add in the cost of RBS and Lloyds, we have a debt to GDP ratio of 140%. We look absolutely terrible. You would have to put through £25 billion worth of cuts every year for the foreseeable future just to control the deficit”

That is Stewart Cowley of Old Mutual speaking on www.hl.co.uk/hltv three days ago. There is no sign of any such thing happening.

It is just one example of the broken promises made by the current set of pantomime horses. The one that galls me most is where they said they would sweep away all the useless committees to provide jobs for the boys and girls. No signs of that, either.

Of course the same thing applies to the U.S. but perhaps for a different reason.

The president's job is, I think,  utterly impossible. The country is governed by lobbyists - be they villains like Conagra which managed to get pizza classed as a vegetable, or the armed forces or the senator of this or that state who wants some pork-barrel deal. Keeping all these people happy requires an limitless flow of steadily depreciating $$$.

At the start of that excellent doorstop Commonsense Direct & Digital Marketing, which I see has been  in print for 30 years and is absurdly cheap on Amazon I quote Confucius:

"If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion."

Here is what I saw on a wall in Clifton Down station the other day next to some indifferently drawn but colourful pictures:

"Promoting sustainability through public transport the artworks provide a strong visual link for commuters between the station and Bristol Zoo."

I cannot complain about the drawings. After all, the Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy - an old bike called Tracey Emin - cannot draw, and the pictures were by school-kids.

 But can someone tell me what the hell the message meant?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ah! The gentle swish of creative masturbation. But why should you care?

This piece of half-baked lunacy appeared in a magazine on Sunday.

Doctor Johnson suggested, with regard to writing "Read through your composition and whenever you see something that seems to you particularly good, strike it out."

Davbid Ogilvy referred unkindly to people "skidding about helplessly on the slippery surface of irrelevant creative brilliance" - a fine piece of onomatopoeia.

I don't think we can say the above example is particularly good or brilliant. It is a particularly fatuous and round-about way of boasting - a bad habit in advertising as in personal life.

But why should you care?

Well, it is because there is a gap worth thinking about.

Although a small army of people who want to write copy that gets results has sprung up, they almost all fall into two camps.

They are either devoted to online media, as a result of the ability to measure what works and what doesn't online, or are rusting old relics of the palmy days of direct marketing - like me.

Meanwhile, there is a yawning chasm.

Ignorance is bliss in the big advertising agencies. Showing off is confused with selling. The golden price is an award, not a sale. Countless thousands of otherwise harmless young people are inextricably marooned up their own pink little posteriors.

I predict that as we all find ourselves working away to pay for the greed and folly of the bankers, speculators and politicians a new interest in advertising that gets measurable results will arise. I hope so.

Not before time.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Anatomy of a communications failure. What is a SharePoint architect? Why is an English translation necessary?

I got this email this morning. It is an unimpeachable example of total business bollocks.

Note the gripping heading. That'll have them foaming at the mouth for more.

SharePoint 2010 Implementation and Upgrade Super-7 

I have recently been working extensively with our key clients who undertaken SharePoint implementations and upgrades in a range of organisation of varying sizes within both the private and public sector. The overwhelming feedback I have received from the hiring managers has been that historically they have found it extremely difficult to find the necessary expertise to fulfil their business objectives. In response to this I have compiled a team of SharePoint 2010 experts who are available and willing to help you maximise the benefit from your SharePoint system. Whether you are looking at implementation, upgrade or maintaining your system – we can provide the expertise to meet your requirements. 

 I am currently working with experienced contract SharePoint Project Managers, Architects, Consultants, Developers, System Administrators, and Test Analysts and below are a selection of the screened and referenced candidates I am currently exploring new opportunities with. To book an interview with any of these candidates, contact me on 01628 771 811 – if you have another requirement that we can assist with, call me for a frank discussion as to how Ninesharp can help you deliver on your business objectives. 

Ok, after I wrote that, I went online to see if I could find out.

And, lo and behold, there is an explanation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s12Jb5Z2xaE.

This was given 11 years after the thing was first launched. A bit late.

I commend it to you not because it explains what SharePoint is, nor because of the astonishingly irritating voice used, but because of the very funny comments about the sexuality of the protagonist, an androgynous creature called Monique.

SharePoint is a Microsoft thingy, which may explain a lot - starting with the confusing name (I thought it was some sort of incentive programme).

But these comments illuminate the vast chasm between the people who make and sell these things - which are generally called "solutions" and the normal human beings they try to sell them to.

Having said that, here is a serious point.

If people fail to explain what they sell in plain English, they will either fail or do far less well than they deserve. A lot of very good ideas - this seems one - get buried alive beneath a suffocating mountain of linguistic garbage.

I cannot leave this subject without directing you (YAWN) to  http://draytonbirdcommonsense.com/b2b-letter-webinar - the free seminar I put up yesterday for anyone who is interested in how to sell complex stuff to business people.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

I love my cleaning lady, who is called Anya. She is Polish. Before her we had Kasia, also Polish. But here is a hilarious message to a cleaning lady who lacked their skills

This was sent to me by Richard Hanrahan in April on Facebook. I only just saw it.

That's because no matter how "social" Facebook fondly thinks it is, I read messages sent me directly every day - not ones sent indirectly, which I look at once every three months. It is a message from Werner Herzog to his cleaner.

I doubt if she appreciated it, but I do. And so will you if you like good writing. Though I think the second sentence in the last paragraph but one is a mess.

Rosalina. Woman.

You constantly revile me with your singular lack of vision. Be aware, there is an essential truth and beauty in all things. From the death throes of a speared gazelle to the damaged smile of a freeway homeless. But that does not mean that the invisibility of something implies its lack of being. Though simpleton babies foolishly believe the person before them vanishes when they cover their eyes during a hateful game of peek-a-boo, this is a fallacy. And so it is that the unseen dusty build up that accumulates behind the DVD shelves in the rumpus room exists also. This is unacceptable.

I will tell you this Rosalina, not as a taunt or a threat but as an evocation of joy. The joy of nothingness, the joy of the real. I want you to be real in everything you do. If you cannot be real, then a semblance of reality must be maintained. A real semblance of the fake real, or "real". I have conquered volcanoes and visited the bitter depths of the earth's oceans. Nothing I have witnessed, from lava to crustacean, assailed me liked the caked debris haunting that small plastic soap hammock in the smaller of the bathrooms. Nausea is not a sufficient word. In this regard, you are not being real.

Now we must turn to the horrors of nature. I am afraid this is inevitable. Nature is not something to be coddled and accepted and held to your bosom like a wounded snake. Tell me, what was there before you were born? What do you remember? That is nature. Nature is a void. An emptiness. A vacuum. And speaking of vacuum, I am not sure you're using the retractable nozzle correctly or applying the 'full weft' setting when attending to the lush carpets of the den. I found some dander there.

I have only listened to two songs in my entire life. One was an aria by Wagner that I played compulsively from the ages of 19 to 27 at least 60 times a day until the local townsfolk drove me from my dwelling using rudimentary pitchforks and blazing torches. The other was Dido. Both appalled me to the point of paralysis. Every quaver was like a brickbat against my soul. Music is futile and malicious. So please, if you require entertainment while organizing the recycling, refrain from the 'pop radio' I was affronted by recently. May I recommend the recitation of some sharp verse. Perhaps by Goethe. Or Schiller. Or Shel Silverstein at a push.

The situation regarding spoons remains unchanged. If I see one, I will kill it.

That is all. Do not fail to think that you are not the finest woman I have ever met. You are. And I am including on this list my mother and the wife of Brad Dourif (the second wife, not the one with the lip thing). Thank you for listening and sorry if parts of this note were smudged. I have been weeping.

Your money is under the guillotine.



From the sublimely droll to the boringly practical:

Tomorrow, all being well (which it may not be as I am off to London for some frolics) I shall put up a free 25 minute webinar on copywriting to sell to businesses.

You may find it helpful.

But then again, you may not.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

They don't make them like this any more; a flotilla of freebies; and some eager beavers

My friend Andy Owen sent me this. This man had the car for 82 years, and died at 102.

Something to aim for.

Andy said “They certainly don't make them like that any more.”

I heartily concur. I had a Rolls for about ten years. It was bloody useless. Now BMW owns the firm, I think. I am sure the cars are reliable but God, what great big ugly things they are!

That car has 1,070,000 miles on it, still runs like a Swiss watch, is dead silent at any speed and is in perfect cosmetic condition.

I wish I could say the same.

It is now in a museum. I have no desire to end up like that.


But enough of this frivolity. I am putting together a series of free seminars or webinars or whatever you like to call them.

At the weekend I recorded one about copy for business to business, which people keep asking me about.

I didn't like the way it was edited: made me look even more like a Galapagos tortoise than usual, so Chloe is re-doing it.

That will be up next week, and I have two more lined up. One on copywriting for charity, and one I found lurking on my computer called "The 10 best ads of the last 10 years."

But tonight at 2000hrs (UK Time - GMT+1) I shall be interviewing Daniel Levis, who is one of the best copywriters I know, and one of the few whose stuff I read.

He has made some very sweeping claims about the power of storytelling. Can it really overcome people's reluctance to pay you decent money? Will it really strengthen the bond between you and your customers? Does it really "vaporize buyer resistance"?

He makes one very interesting point: 

Doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling your profit margins actually has nothing to do with your product at all.

It's not about products. It's not what your products do that makes people value them.

Does a Rolex watch tell time 150 times better than a Timex? 

Well, you can join us if you follow this link.


Now that we've mentioned tortoises, how about beavers? 

Yesterday a kind reader bought me lunch. He said, "I know I can't afford your fees".

I replied, "I have a suggestion. I have three copywriters I have been training. If you like I will give one of them the job, and I will supervise, edit, rewrite and so on. I am quite good at that."

Those are the eager beavers.

The truth is, they usually come with ideas I never would have thought of. The youngest is incredibly fast. The oldest is very experienced - he's worked successfully as marketing director of a firm.

So there you are. 

Bird on the cheap. 

Kindly note that I resisted any puns at that point.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

I guess you could run a worse ad - but it would be hard

You might think that if there were one kind of advertiser really concerned about not wasting money it would be those involved with money.

But if ever I want to marvel at the largest possible quantity of bad, clueless, ugly advertising in one place I turn to "Money Week".

There, without fail you will see God alone knows how many thousands pissed away by people who should know better.

I featured this ad as a typical example in my recent Bristol copy day.

Nobody in the audience commented, nor did I notice, that the man leaping up is Jose Mourinho.

So here we have  case of stupidity redoubled.

Not just a bad ad with a silly headline and copy carefully reversed out to be hard to read.  It's a  silly picture, too.

Amazingly, when people see football being played they think an ad must be about football. But to compound the folly, can you imagine how much these witless squanderbugs must have paid to get The Special One?

I know he makes a lot of money. But ask yourself, even if the ad were not so bad: is a football manager an investment expert?

For that matter I have long wondered what tortuous logic led somebody at Santander to portray Lewis Hamilton as your best guide to where to bank.

But I always wonder how many millions of investors' good money is frittered away on this kind of bilge.

Is it entirely beyond the realms of reason for those who commission it, those who create it and those who approve it to acquaint themselves, however slightly, with the kindergarten basics of advertising?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Pushing water uphill:: the Portas delusion; why everything "they" tell you is wrong; and the Gospel of Less

Mark Twain said the principal task of each new administration is to make the last one look good.

But that's enough about Mr. Cameron. Let us turn instead - if we can without laughing  - to his shopping "Czar" Mary Portas. She is the woman who calls herself the Queen of Shops - the one who's going to "regenerate the high street", remember?

Since this is impossible she has written a report. Like all these wretched people she has a vision. The vision will not help, because she cannot wave a wand and make three things vanish. They are the Internet, shopping malls and supermarkets.

I too have a vision, part of which came to me yesterday when I was walking down School Road - the high street in Sale, Manchester where I lived as a child. I remember walking down there on a sunny day, holding my mother's hand. I must have been about five. 

Just past the station the road becomes Northenden Road - and 30 yards on there's a Wetherspoon's pub, the J. P. Joule. If you ever want to see a heart-warming selection of eager strumpets go there on a Thursday night. But I digress, because in the pub are old photographs showing Sale before it was decreed that shopping is good for you.

You'd never believe it, but there were far fewer shops. People used to live in houses on each side of these streets, and there was a rather agreeable serenity as a result. I do not think it will be a national disaster if this happens again.

Nor do I think it will be a disaster if people decide there is something better in life than working harder and harder in boring jobs to make more money to buy stuff you can probably manage without.

If I were a preacher I would preach the Gospel of Less.

I think we need fewer laws - the ones we have had for centuries if carefully applied will do just fine. I think we need less government and fewer ministers with silly titles like Minister for Sport and Minister for Culture. Shakespeare, Dickens and Stanley Matthews did just fine without some ass presiding.

We need fewer enquiries, committees, consultants and money wasted by government. Which reminds me: we would get by with fewer broken promises from people like Cameron - sorry to mention him again, but he is such fraud.

I am sure we need less tax and lower top rates. But equally sure that my old boss Martin Sorrell doesn't really need over £16 million a year to rub along.

I also keep thinking it must be possible to reorganise one thing that seems insane. One part of the nation is working like mad in what they used to call private enterprise to pay the other half who work in what they call the public sector.

Many of these people hate their jobs. Many of the jobs involve managing all the other needless stuff that's been foisted on us. Take our tax system. Did you know it's the most complicated in the world? An entire department is devoted to explaining it. Can working at something so stupid be satisfying in any way?

Maybe people trapped in such ghastly jobs would like to migrate to our side of the fence. There would be fewer of them to pay and more doing useful stuff - so we would all have to work far less.

It makes sense to me, but there you are.

Who first said "less is more"?

To my surprise I see the poet Browning wrote it in a poem about the painter Andrea del Sarto.

But I bet someone in Greece said it earlier.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Excuse me, are you taking the ****? Or are you a genius?

She who is a damn sight smarter than me is a great fan of Harvey Nichols, so this postcard came to her yesterday.

It made me laugh out loud.

The line runs "Try to contain your excitement". Very clever.

I imagine it was put together by some young thing just dying to be creative and win an award from people who give each other awards for just that.

I then had a brief discussion with the radiant Chloe. "Do you think this is in extremely bad taste - or very good?"

We agreed that it is probably both, but she didn't have the benefit of actually seeing it.

When the aforementioned She who is a damn sight smarter saw it she said this, more or less:

"Harvey Nichols have a lot of  older customers maybe in their 40's who want to be on trend but are really quite conventional. They will hate this."

I'd add to that something just as important: the older customers are the ones with the money.

Chloe is only 23, and not rich (stick with me, kid) and it is almost impossible to shock me, so we don't really represent the audience.

The model is dreadfully thin, poor thing. And where has her derrière slipped to, I wonder?

Nevertheless I would be quite pleased to have come up with the joke. But wiser people than me - like John Caples - have commented on the dangers of humour.

What is really interesting is that no paper would run this ad, and the hypocrites who make millions from porn on the internet would never run it.

But that's another subject.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you” - 21 simple, stupid and amazingly popular ways to screw up your business

Do you do any public speaking? It's a nightmare, and it doesn't get that much better with practice, but I rarely refuse.

About six weeks ago  I was asked to do a talk for the Royal Mail. 

The money was nothing special, but the chap who asked me was an old Ogilvy colleague, and I thought, why not? And they agreed to do a video of the whole thing.

Then they moved the date forward and panic ensued - on my part anyhow. They whacked out a couple of emails and 150 or so creative people said they would come. I think this was largely because it was free, to be honest.

Most people tell you what to do, but I suspect that telling people what not to do may be more help. So I made a list of 20 dumb things I see a lot.

More panic. That wasn't nearly enough to fill the time. In the end I managed 149. My partner Marta said, "Why so many? Ninety nine would have been enough."

"The number just  popped into my head," I said. Idiot.

Anyhow, here are the first 21 that came to me.
  1. Ignore the lessons of the past.  Why do people assume they didn’t know as much 100 years ago? Education was certainly more demanding.
  2. Think you can pick it up as you go along. Marketing is infested with amateurs. Hardly anyone studies enough. Crazy.
  3. Try to be “creative”. It is almost certainly fatal to assume that what you think is wonderful will sell. You are not your customer.
  4. Have too many meetings. They are almost all a waste of time, there for idle people to fill up their time.
  5. Not try being a customer. As Jack Welch remarked, most people have their heads facing the chairman and their asses facing the customers.
  6. Hire a Marketing Director without looking at his past record. This is why so many are duds.
  7. Fall for the latest fad. Marketers are suckers for the silver bullet. CRM, SEO, PPC, SMS, Social media - they always think some new thing will substitute for the need to think.
  8. Believe human nature is altered by media or changing times. Human nature has not changed since men started walking upright.
  9. Assume business decisions are made logically. They're not. People are rules by their emotions, in every area of life.
  10. Get up your own arse over brand guidelines. This is especially true of typefaces which are rarely suited for letter, to take one example.
  11. Talk like a marketing person. You will bore and confuse everybody, including yourself.
  12. Try to make it perfect. You have to do it as well as you can in the time available, then let go.
  13. Believe anyone who says they can make you rich. They are almost all liars - especially on the internet.
  14. Assume your prospect is intelligent. Very few are; and even they are not thinking when exposed to marketing messages.
  15. Assume your prospect is stupid. They may not be brilliant, but they are not halfwits either, and resent being patronised.
  16. Read about nothing but marketing. It is a very dull, narrow subject and will limit your imagination.
  17. Fail to test. Perhaps the biggest and most common mistake around. Nobody has any idea what will work. Why guess when you can know?
  18. Imagine everything will be OK. Assume something will go wrong; it usually does. 
  19. Spend more energy imagination and money on prospects than customers. Madness. Your best source of profit is the customer you've got, not the one you want.
  20. Assume anything is always, or never the case. There are exceptions to all rules; circumstances alter cases, as the legal maxim goes.
  21. Fail to invest in your staff. They are the only ones who can make it happen for you. Train them. Be nice to them.
Well, there you are. I managed 149 in about 90 minutes. Here's a clip from the video. My faithful right hand, the radiant Chloe says it is very funny. You decide:


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

If a matter of life and death is "dull", where does that leave everything else?

Two kinds of charity raise money in this country no matter how inept they may be. Those devoted to cancer, and those devoted to animals.

I wonder how this will do? I think it is appalling. What about you? If a writer cannot find anything to say that is even vaguely involving about saving lives, what hope is there for people selling ordinary stuff?

And on that topic, in the weird and wacky world inhabited by those who give each other awards for things like Best Fart of the Week, I see that Tesco's Finest Pizza is winner of Manufactured Pizza Product of the Year - Indulgent Category.

Mankind cannot aspire much higher than that.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

I just love this picture

I have two problems this weekend.

First I have to edit some stuff about horses.

Second, being forgetful and busy I haven't got round to it. So I asked a colleague to remind me.

He sent me the picture.

Friday, 1 June 2012

And the award for the most witless, moronic, embarrassing, up-its-own-arse e-mail goes to ...., well, try a firm that's gone broke

It would seem that there is a new marketing magic abroad.

It is called Depersonalisation.

There is an example at the top.

Let me explain.

Quite rightly nobody but me, my close relatives, friends and a few kindly folk in Help the Aged gives a hoot that in April I got another Lifetime Achievement Award - this time at the Caples in New York.

But anyone who marvels at the manifold stupidities of large corporations will enjoy the email that the Xerox company just sent me about this.

They never bothered to de-duplicate those who had won. But to experience the full richness of this appalling message you have to experience it.

Phoney, agency drivel to the last degree, right down to the politically correct black guy - yet they have a good offering. No wonder they just went broke.

Come to think of it, this email may be up for an award, because (incredibly) the Caples Awards - despite being named after the man who developed the art of testing to see what works are about "creativity" not results.

You have to click through to see the most ghastly, phoney part.