Analogies Gone Wild

brainpain1I love a good analogy.

But, like the people who send marriage proposals to jailed serial killers, I sometimes fall in love with a bad one. A bad analogy, that is. Not serial killers. Point being, analogies can be a powerful tool when used well. But they can sabotage your message when they’re bad.

Below, you’ll find yet more of some of the most widely circulated and worst analogies proferred by our young American progeny. Read ’em and weep…

On Experience: “He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience,like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.”

On The Power of Pavement: McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.”

On the Alternative Universe: “From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie,surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and “Jeopardy” comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.”

On Detail: “He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.”

On Greater Detail: “Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.”

On Too Much Detail: “Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.”

On The Obscure: “The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.”

On Teeth: “They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.”

On Theater: “The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.”

On Confusion: “His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.”

On Imagination: “The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.”

Okay, that’s it. I’m now officially fresh out of analogies; like, you might say, a trayful of chocolate frosted doughnuts that didn’t survive the Policemen’s picnic.

(Oh boy, I think I need some aspirin.)

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Are You Creative?

bulbfishThere is no “Creativity Quotient” (C.Q.) test that measures how creative you are.

But the same Scientific American research found that creative people often have similar character traits.

Do any of these apply to you?

Ideational Fluency – Someone gives you a word. The more sentences, ideas, and associations you can match to that word, the more likely it is you’re a “creative type.”

Variety and Flexibility – Someone gives you an object, say a garden hose. How many different things can you do with it? The more you can think of, the better.

Original Problem Solving – Someone presents you with a puzzle or a problem. Beyond the conventional solution, how many other workable but uncommon solutions can you come up with?

Elaboration – How far can you carry an idea? That is, once you have it, can you build on it until you can actually carry it out in application?

Problem Sensitivity – When someone presents you with a problem, how many challenges related to that problem can you identify? More importantly, can you zero in on the core or most important challenge?

Redefinition – Take a look at the same problem. Can you find a way to look at it in a completely different light?

By the way, if you want to see how someone brilliantly applies very left-brained ideas to finding right-brained solutions, check out “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”

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The Boomer’s NEXT Marketing Mega-Wave

Sponsor: How to Collect $200,000 per Year in Retirement Income

 

Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.” – Billie Burke

 

Kathleen Casey-Kirschling is living it up. She and her husband have a 42-foot trawler. She and her husband live in a river front home in Maryland. And they have a villa in Florida. And they’ve earned it too, she as a seventh-grade school teacher and he as a University professor.

One other thing.

When Kathleen retired recently, it was national news. Why? Precisely because, at the moment I write this, Kathleen is exactly 62 years, one month, 25 days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes old. 

That in itself, at any other time in history, might seem pretty insignificant. But rolling backward, that makes Kathleen the absolute very first born of… I’m sure you’ve guessed it… the demographic phenomenon we’ve all called the “Baby Boomers,” for about as long as most of us can remember.

The Boomers, of course, have shaped the world.

Simply by existing in it.

Absolutely, they’ve shaped the fate of marketers. For decades in the past. And most likely, for decades to come.

Gerber baby food boomed in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, thanks to this wave of hungry little tykes. Music, cars, food chains. Shopping malls, education trends, politics. Property booms and stock market spikes. Many forces have driven them all, but rarely were the boomers not somewhere behind the scenes, if not directly in the spotlight.

No question, whatever is coming next is a marketing story you’ll need to pay attention to, even if some of our politicians and a few of the Boomers themselves are not.

That’s just one of the reasons (the other being jet lag and a full schedule) I’ve opted to dip into the archives and revisit a CR from 2005 that’s just as relevant — if not more so — today.

Hope you enjoy!

The Silver Tsunami Heading For America

I’m reading a terrifying book. Not a thriller novel, but “The Coming Generational Storm” by Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns. It’s terrifying because it’s about a subject I’m sure we’ve all read about but that has a gravity most of us don’t fully comprehend. 

Yet.

I’m talking about the mind-boggling tide of Baby Boomers headed past 50. We all knew it was coming.

Now it’s almost here.

And the tectonic shift it’s about to levy upon us is unlike anything ever experienced before in history. It’s the Boomers greatest and farthest impact yet.

I’ll let you read the book if you’re interested in the gory details. Meanwhile, there’s another, lighter aspect of this phenomenon. One that anybody in our line of work can’t help thinking about. That is, how to turn this demographically gut-wrenching phenomenon into yet another opportunity to make a buck!

(Such carpet-baggers, aren’t we?)

So in this week’s CR, let’s spend a little time reviewing the new implications of this same trend, with a special eye o marketing opportunities (okay, plus a little of the nasty details too)…

A Boomer In Full

  • You’re officially a boomer, in case you’ve always wondered but were afraid you would look too dumb to ask, if you were born between 1946 and 1964 — or about 41 to 59 years old today.
  • You’re a “leading edge” boomer if you were born before 1955 and a “trailing edge” boomer if born after that.
  • One out of every three adults over 21 in the U.S. is a Boomer. Now that’s shocking. Here’s something even more shocking: Every eight seconds, another boomer turns 50.
  • According to expert Brent Green, writing for the Direct Marketing Association, about 38% of the US population is already over 50. By 2020, that number should be more like 50%.
  • Boomers spend as much as $2 trillion a year on goods and services. And will outspend the younger generation by 2010 by over $1 trillion
  • Boomers have about $28 trillion in disposable income. That’s just in the U.S. No wonder all those middle-aged guys buy sports cars.
  • Most boomers did not grow up in rich homes. Nor did they all have white-collar jobs in the ’80s and ’90s. Some 25 million boomers, in fact, are flat broke.
  • In fact, half of American homes have less than $1,000 in financial assets. Ouch. Among Boomers, only 36% are sure they’ll have enough money to fund a comfortable retirement.
  • Forget the granola, ex-hipster, oat-eating cliché. Nearly 75% of the time a boomer goes to a “restaurant” for dinner, it’s a fast food meal they’re buying.
  • Right now, senior citizens are only 13% of the population. But they use 30% of all prescription drugs sold. And that’s how it is now, pre-Boomer.
  • More than 5 million Boomers already have diabetes. More have growing high-blood pressure and heart problems. And the majority struggle at some level with gaining weight.
  • Boomers are also, however, a heck of a lot more active than any other prior generation entering this age range.
  • If you get to 50 without any serious major ailments, the chances — these days — of you getting to 100 are much higher than ever before in history.
  • Most retirement plans consider 4% inflation, but not higher. And few plans take in the true future costs of health care.
  • Less than half as many companies as 1988 offer health benefits to retirees. And that number is falling. Medicare and Social Security are looking ever more strained and desperate too.
  • As the kids move out of the house, the top priority for Boomers will shift to getting out of debt.
  • Vitamins, medical care, weight and exercise, insurance, preventative medicine… anything related to health can be an ever-pressing issue with someone over 50.
  • Stocks and real estate, life and property insurance, collectibles, second careers, extra income and anything else related to socking away money becomes even more important too.
  • 55% of Boomers say they’ll move when they retire. At least 36% say they’ll pack up once the kids are out of the house.
  • Having “stuff” isn’t enough anymore. The older you get, the more meaning you want out of life. And the more complexity you seek in the things you do with your time or buy with your money.
  • The older you get, the less old you want to feel. Or look. And the less you appreciate marketing that panders to the clichés of aging.
  • A heck of a lot of boomers will hit retirement age around 2010. Which might mean a radical shift in all kinds of markets, from Wall Street to resort real estate.
  • But a lot of them won’t stay retired long. Look for a wave of “boomerang retirees” to leap back into the workforce.
  • Pity the poor sap who runs for the White House in 2008. Boomers are already skeptical of authority, and grow more skeptical of government promises by the day.
  • Suddenly, age 70 is the new 50. And 90 is the new 80. 100? Okay, well, 100 is still 100. But let’s talk again about that a few decades from now. (We’re looking at more than TEN times the number of centenarians in America alone by 2030).
  • More than 55% of boomers use the Internet, by the way. And more than 85% own mobile phones. And this from the group for who television was still coming of age in their youth.

 If you run a business or market for a business, let’s stop and think…

What, specifically, will you do to target this over-50 market in the years ahead? It’s all well and good to court the next generation, but this is where the future lies. Heck, it’s where the current market is too. Now and for at least the next three decades.

One hopes you’re ready for it, yah?

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CR #485: Which Promises Work Best?

pinkies.pngSponsor: How to Start Selling Yourself as a Copy Expert

Sponsor: 17 Ways to Make $17,000 From Your Desk Chair

“That’s right – it filets, it chops, it dices and
slices. It never stops. It lasts a lifetime, mows
your lawn, and it picks up the kids from school.
It plays a mean rhythm. It makes excuses for
lipstick on your collar. And it’s only a dollar,
only a dollar, only a dollar.”

Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”

This week, I share the raw copy from a draft of a version of a sketch of a preliminary manifestation of a chapter that’s supposed to go in the book I mentioned.

Did I mention? It’s raw.

And actually, I only have space here to include an excerpt. But I thought you might like it just the same (if not, your money back… how can you beat that, right?)

So without further ado…

“Cash if You Die, Cash If You Don’t”

According to famous copywriter Drayton Bird, that subhead I just gave you above was once one of the most successful headlines in the insurance industry.

Why?

“Your safest opening,” says Drayton, who has written copy since 1957 and for clients like Ford, American Express, and Proctor & Gamble, “… is your prime benefit and offer… an instant statement, instantly comprehensible.”

About 100 years ago, copy legend John Kennedy told his boss pretty much the same thing. And then wrote it up in a book called Reason Why Advertising, “To strike the responsive chord with the reader… is to multiply the selling power of every reason-why given…”

In today’s terms, a promise your reader cares about is the single best way to grab him by the lapels. To get him to hear your message out, he first needs a reason to listen.

In the 1960s and ’70s, adman David Ogilvy used a list he’d written, called “How to Create Advertising That Sells,” to bring in new clients for his agency. What did he say inside?

“It pays to promise a benefit which is unique and competitive, and the product must deliver the benefit your promise. Most advertising promises nothing. It is doomed to fail in the marketplace… Headlines that promise to benefit sell more than those that don’t.”

Then you’ve got our friend and fellow copywriter, Clayton Makepeace, who recently told readers of his Total Package blog:

“The only reason any rational human being ever purchases anything is to derive a benefit from it! That means …any scrap of sales copy that fails to clearly, dramatically, emphatically, credibly and repeatedly present the benefits a product will deliver is destined to fail miserably.”

Or as the writer Samuel Johnson put it, when he was writing about the sales game the way it was back in the 1700s, “Promise, much promise, is the soul of advertisement.”

We definitely agree.

You won’t find many ads of any kind that don’t include at least one healthy promise, either implied or stated outright.

So why create a whole lead category just to focus on promises?

When “Promise Leads” Still Work

Because there have been times — and there are still times– when a simple, direct promise without any other touches or twists will be your best foot forward.

So, for instance, where an Offer Lead like those you just saw might read…

A HOLLYWOOD SMILE IN 3 DAYS
…OR YOUR MONEY BACK

A Promise Lead might avoid mentioning the offer up front, so it can target readers who are almost ready to be sold but not quite. This version takes away any up-front focus on the deal and puts the spotlight solely on the big claim:

A HOLLYWOOD SMILE IN 3 DAYS

Likewise, Promise Leads are more direct than the other leads you’ll read about here, in that they each get progressively less direct.

You would think that as target audiences become more aware of their options, thanks to the always-on Information Age, more direct Promise Leads would be all over the place.

After all, goes the theory, more “aware” demands more “direct,” right? Adn yet, it’s also getting progressively harder to make pure Promise Leads work. Why’s that?

We’ll look at those reasons next week.

For now, know there are times when a direct claim and little else is exactly what you need.

For instance, the Promise Lead works especially well for targeting “mostly aware” prospects that are almost ready to buy and are mostly clear on what they’re looking for.

What to Promise and When

At the Ogilvy Center for Research in San Francisco, they ran a test. They wanted to see if people bought more from TV commercials they “liked.”

It turns out, they did.

But before you start studying million-dollar Superbowl commercials, hang on. Because it turns out how the people asked defined “liked.”

It turns out they remembered and ranked ads higher not if they were clever or funny, but if they were relevant to something important to the prospect.

“Advertising works best,” wrote Drayton Bird in Commonsense Marketing, “if you promise people something they want, not — as many imagine — — if you are clever, original or shocking.”

Of course, picking the right promise is fundamental. Because it’s your statement of your intention. In exchange for your customers’ money, what will you do for them?

And we know that ads promise all kinds of things.

To make you thin or bulk you up, to make you stronger, younger, fitter, and faster. To teach you to do something you’ve always wanted to do or make something easier than you ever thought it could be.

They can promise to make you more attractive. They can promise to make you rich. Or to save you money. They can promise you a better ride, a bigger house, more beautiful skin and a beautiful dress, a smart looking suit, or a happy marriage.

They can promise to look out for your interests, if it’s an ad for someone begging your vote. They can promise to look out for someone else that you care about, in the way of a charity for a special cause.

Here’s just a sample of some classic promise-making headlines…

** How to Build A Memory In 4 Short Weeks — So Powerful It Is Beyond Your Wildest Dreams Today

** Change Your Life Next Week

** Turns up your “Digestive Furnace and burns flab right out of your body

But more often, even the straight promise has more behind it than just what it claims.

Beyond what’s written, Promise Leads often satisfy some underlying emotion.

Respect, love, friendship. Prestige among your peers. Confidence and freedom from worry. Inclusion. Safety and security. A feeling of association and even similarity with people you admire and respect.

Even more specifically, a Promise Lead is not just what it can do for the customer, but what it promises to make the customer feel about himself. And maybe most of all, how it will let him be seen be others.

Those factors are what make your claims matter to your readers.

That’s the key.

Especially when your most direct promise is your default lead. Because you have only those first few microseconds for the prospect to decide whether or not to give you any of his most precious commodity — time.

***************************************************
Opportunity:
WHAT IF YOU NEVER HAD TO WORRY ABOUT
HAVING ENOUGH MONEY, EVER AGAIN?

What if you could retire within 18 to 24 months of right now — even if you’ve got little or nothing socked away in the bank — while still earning six figures every year?

Even if you aren’t looking to leave your day job, what if you could pad your income with an extra $25,000… $50,000… even $200,000… by spending just a little extra time doing this on Saturdays?

The guy who’s going to show you how puts his money where his mouth is, because he does this himself… and makes north of $200K extra each year (on top of the other $500K he makes).

And he says it only takes him a few hours each week. Wouldn’t doing even half that well be more than worth it? Absolutely. And you can set it all up in just three steps, online and from the comfort of your own home.

Even your neighbors won’t know how you do it.

-> Click here for details <-

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Breakthrough Thinking in Five Simple Steps

“Ideas are like rabbits,” John Steinbeck once said, “You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.”  Sure, but how do you get those first couple of ideas? 

One way is to take a look at a very short book called — appropriately enough —  “A Technique for Producing Ideas,” the classic 48-pager from James Webb Young.  It was first published in 1965. But it’s so simple a process, it can apply in any age. Yep, even today.

Now, before we get started, a warning: Says Young, if you don’t think you’re an “idea person”… well… according to Young… there’s a possibility you might be right. Not everybody is, claims Young. And to make the case, he cites the great Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto.

 You may have heard of Pareto. He’s the one who came up with the famous “80-20” principle. He’s also the one who suggested you could divvy up the world into two kinds of people — the “rentier” and the “speculator.”

 The “rentier” (Pareto wrote in the then international language of French) is the kind of person that sits around, waiting for things to happen.

 Ask him “Do you ever wonder what it’s all about? I mean life, the universe, and everything?” And he’ll reply, “Um, well… no, not really.” Then he’ll reach for the beer pretzels.

For this poor guy, facts are facts. Period. And please pass the onion dip. He sees no web, no great ethereal connection between things. Metaphors and analogies? There are antibiotics you can take for that.

 Then you’ve got the “speculator.” And this is who you want to be. Because it’s the speculator that’s preoccupied with combinations, connections, and details. That’s an ideal personality for an “idea person”… so naturally, if this describes you, you’re in luck.

 Why? Because, in large part, that’s what “idea-making” ends up being — the creative connection of found elements. New ways to combine old things. And this, too, is what James W. Young’s method will help you do. As Young warns us, it’s nothing new. Rather it’s instinctive. So, like all sensible things, this method I’m about to describe sounds almost primal and obvious.

Step One: Gather your raw material.

 Yes… very obvious, you’ll say.  Yet, it’s a common misconception that Big Ideas are born within. However,  we’re sensory creatures. All our best ideas start on the outside. Case in point: when someone has writer’s block — an all-too-common malady — what’s the surefire cure? To go out and read something. Or listen. Or talk to someone on the “inside” of whatever you’re writing about.

The bottom line is to pack in new information from any relevant source you can find. 

For instance, I used to read the front page of the Wall Street Journal every morning. I had to stop, because invariably I’d lose the next half hour desperately scribbling out a new idea for a short story or “perfect screenplay” that I just didn’t have time to write.

 So… you find yourself short on brilliance? Then go out and get yourself some. Load up on insights relevant to the breakthrough you’re hoping to produce. As many books and clippings and observations as you can carry.

Of course, you need to start with raw material that’s closest to the problem you’re trying to solve. Just as I described above. But then you also need what Young calls “general” information. And this is harder to come by, because it requires a lifetime habit of insatiable curiosity — a mark, by the way, of every brilliant copywriter I know. 

Read books endlessly, like the smoker who lights his next cigarette with the last one. Get into conversations with unfamiliar people. Ask questions and then shut up and listen. Don’t limit the subject matter. Just get interested in life. Or give up writing copy, because it probably isn’t the career for you.

 Step Two: Study the puzzle.

 If you’ve piled up enough raw material, you’ve got a mound. A mess. A mountain that needs to be conquered. Ideally, you’re already starting to gather notes from your resources while you’re still in the first stage. Like a packrat, you’re jotting things down. On napkins. On your hand. On the back of your tie.

 Here’s an even better option: Young suggests, as I have countless times, index cards. They still work best, even in the wonderful world of word processing.

 Whatever it is, you need to know that your system of note-taking will (a) be endlessly expandable and (b) easily sorted later, after you get that feeling you’ve gathered all the facts you need (which happens about the time the resources start repeating themselves).

 Now you need another stack of blank index cards or an empty notebook where you can start taking notes on your notes. Sift through them. Spread them out on the floor. Organize them. And drop in cards filled with connecting ideas where they come. You’ll be shocked, if you do this right, how things start to gel together.

 This, by the way, is the part of the process where you’re unlikely to hear the doorbell ringing and where a phone call from your best friend feels like an act of violence.

 But be warned. To get the most out of this stage, you have to do it until you drop. Or at least, until the point you feel like you’ve seen each and every factoid and insight you’ve gathered a half-dozen times or more.

 Step Three: Step back.

 It’s in this phase where you get to comb your hair, brush your teeth, and go somewhere else.

 Just get out of the office or the house and do something other than what you were doing. Distract yourself, preferably with something that will stir up your imagination or emotions in some other way.

 Because it’s in this stage that you get to digest what you’ve taken in. As you take your conscious mind elsewhere, your unconscious mind gurgles with gastric juices (so to speak), churning through the details.

 Step Four: Have the idea.

 I’d like to say this is the easy part.

 You’ve done all the tedious preliminary work.

 Now you get the reward — the idea appears. Pop. Just like that. One minute you didn’t know what to say or do. And the next, you’ve got a 150 watt halogen hovering over your head.

 Isn’t that nice?

 If you’ve ever struggled with a problem before bed and woke up with the answer… if you’ve ever suddenly had a flash of brilliance while strolling, driving, or in the shower… this is what’s happening.

 However, where you go from here is anything but easy.

Typically, the idea will first arrive — if you did everything else right — when you least expect it. For instance, it’s just not easy to find something to write with in the shower. Worse, even if you find a way to scribble out your stream of genius with soap on the bathroom mirror, you’ll quickly realize that just having the idea — even jotting it down — isn’t the end of your efforts.

 Step Five: Wake up.

 You’ll feel great — even inspired — when that idea first shows up. But we all know that it’s not long after the cork pops when champagne starts to lose its fizz.  

See, your new idea doesn’t just need to be captured. It needs to be tamed. Polished. Beaten into submission or whatever other metaphor floats your dinghy. And — here’s the really hard-to-swallow fact — this is where your skills, alas, will come into play.

Because it’s here, in the execution rather than the mere inspiration, where you’re going to set yourself apart from the  rest of the pack. Think of it this way.

Some cave guy (or gal) once had an idea for a thing called a ‘wheel.’ We must remember to send him (or her) some flowers. But while we’re at it, let’s not forget to thank the fella (for it was one, Charles Goodyear) who thought up vulcanized rubber in 1844… or Robert Thomson who came up with the first inflatable tire in 1845… and John Dunlop, who re-invented it for his son’s tricycle in 1847.

Radials and white walls. All-season treads. Axles and four-wheel drive. They all took a great idea and made it greater… by working it over, massaging it, pushing forward and making mistakes, and plenty more. It was the sweat equity that made the real difference.

Here’s the good news: as you polish and refine, you’ll also discover more ideas. All worth re-working too. Your pool of genius will expand. And pretty soon, you’re not just the guy (or gal) who had that one great idea a long time ago… you’re the one who has lots of great ideas. And even better, you’ll have a reputation as one of the rare few who sees those ideas through.

And isn’t that who you wanted to be all along?

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From “Just Learning” to “Bigtime Earning”

 LOTS of people study copywriting. Only a few of those actually make the leap and DO it. What makes the difference between them?

 Getting that FIRST client. When the “big time earning” copywriters look back, it often feels like it was no big deal.

 But looking forward, I understand it can be daunting. That’s why I’ll let you in on a little secret — there’s a shortcut. And following it can land you light years ahead of the competition.

 Here’s another secret. It’s not hard to learn this shortcut either. How’s it work?

Click here to find out. 


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Time to Get in Touch With Your Inner “Snooki?”

48EBEF9C-0C63-46AD-9A2A-A4F14F0AA24C.jpg Let me just preface this second bit by saying, I
don’t know diddly about reality TV.

You know I say that, in part, because I’m subconsciously trying to say something about myself… “I’m not the reality-TV-watching type.”

But also because, if you happen to be a fan of same, I want you to forgive me if I get some of these facts wrong…

There’s a show, apparently, called the “Jersey Shore.” Maybe you’ve seen it. I haven’t, but I’m wondering if I should.

Partly because I can’t begin to tell you how many people made a reference to it when they heard we were about to rent a house for a week in Ocean City, NJ.

Growing up, my Philly-based family spent lots of time at the Jersey shore. And while it wasn’t exactly like
the “yo, yo, yo” kind of big-hair experience I understand you can find on the hit TV show, I’ve got
to admit that there’s something unique to “summering” in Jersey.

Each beach town is decidedly different. But overall, it’s a place you go to meet “regular” people. The
Mediterranean cost this ain’t. The bubbly on ice is beer, not champagne. And cookouts trump caviar, by a long shot.

Nor is it, as a recent Slate article pointed out, “The Hills” — another reality show, apparently (how
is it I know nothing about what’s on TV these days?), that was all about the high and fashionable of
Beverly Hills.

What Slate pointed out is that the slick, plastic-enhanced face of “The Hills” plunged from popularity
along with the economy… as the raw earthiness of the “Jersey Shore” took its place.

I don’t know if I can go as far as Slate did in romanticizing the trend. But there does seem to be
something you can take away from all this.

When the going gets tough, the tough get real. It’s a metaphor. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s
an interesting one.

But it’s absolutely relevant to marketers. The face of the crowd is clearly changing. You’ll want to make sure your marketing efforts change with it too.

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Thinking Inside The Box

theboxWhat is creativity?

I’m sure you’ve heard the cliche that gets kicked around, about the value of thinking “outside the box.” But in my experience, that’s the opposite of true.

In fact, there was a time when I considered becoming a cartoonist. And I was a big fan (still am) of the cartoons that appear in the New Yorker. While reading a collection of essays by repeat cartoonists in those pages, I was struck by what one of them said.

The best way, he reported, to get an idea for the perfect funny moment… was to draw an empty box. Those were the bounds of the space you had to work with. And that reminder was enough to help you focus on what could — and couldn’t — go inside.

Maybe that’s why I was also struck by a quote I found years ago in BusinessWeek, courtesy of Marissa Ann Mayer, a VP at Google:

“Creativity is often misunderstood. People often think of it in terms of artistic work — unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effect. If you look deeper, however, you’ll find that some of the most inspiring art forms — haikus, sonatas, and religious paintings — are fraught with constraints.

“They’re beautiful because creativity triumphed over the rules. Constraints shape and focus problems, and provide clear challenges to overcome as well as inspiration. Creativity, in fact, thrives best when constrained.

“Yet constraints must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible. Disregarding the bounds of what we know or what we accept gives rise to ideas that are non-obvious, unconventional, or simply unexplored. The creativity realized in this balance between constraint and disregard for the impossible are fueled by passion and result in revolutionary change.”

Well said, Marissa. Well said.

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The Curse of the Modern Age

3DD92E8C-7CDE-4F5A-8C69-C3B6EA13D930.jpg “For a list of the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life,” says Alice Kahn, “please press three.”

I’m sure you know what she’s talking about.

And even if you don’t, let me ask you this: How often do you, you know, do “it?” Maybe once in the morning… and again in the afternoon?

I’ll bet. Or maybe you like to do “it” just before lunch… or just after lunch… or before and after and during? That wouldn’t surprise me either.

And then there’s your coffee break… what else are you going to do while waiting for a pot to brew? Not to mention just before meetings… or during meetings… and as soon as one ends.

Yep, you do “it” all the time. You just can’t stop yourself. Sadly, you’re not alone. Because the rest of us probably do “it” too often too.

Of course, I’m talking about checking your email… your tweets… your texts… and your Facebook alerts.

Not so long ago, it was a non-issue. Now every computer in the world seems to ding all day with new message alerts. And if not the computers, it’s the cell-phones. Or even iPods and iPads, since they connect too.

It’s everywhere.

You can even log in on your way to the bathroom… or IN the bathroom… (please tell me you’re not reading this in a stall).

And how about that quick download before dinner… or during dinner… or just before drifting off to sleep?

How about in the elevator… at a stop light… or in motion. Maybe even over the shoulder of your loved one, during a warm but, let’s be honest, not so time-efficient embrace.

If any six of the scenarios above sound familiar… or if you’ve wondered if a Ziploc bag could protect your iPad in the shower… you might have a problem. And you wouldn’t be alone again, you wouldn’t be alone. Or so says Matt Richtel, a tech-writer for the New York Times.

Maybe this comes to you as no surprise.

This is, after all, the age of high tech multi-tasking. Or is it? Not according to a handful of studies cited in one of Richtel’s recent articles.

And if you’re wondering why you feel busy all the time but you don’t get anything done — this might be the reason why.

In short, our brains just aren’t built for the perpetually “plugged in” lifestyle. It may, in fact, be costing you.

Now hang on there, cupcake.

Yes, I DO realize the irony.

After all, I’m a direct response copywriter. My bread and butter relies on people opening messages, including email. And yes, I also write an e-letter, which is delivered by email and in which this article originally appeared (sign up in the box to the right).

But between you and me, have you noticed your relationship changing at all with your inbox? Mine certainly has.

Case in point, in the beginning days of Compuserve, I could barely get enough. I too was a serial email reader. I must have hit the “get mail” button a dozen times a day, eager for contact.

Not so much anymore.

I now have, for example, 778 emails sitting waiting for an answer. Some are dated from last summer. I want to answer them. I feel compelled to answer them.

But I won’t. I’ve even actively decided not to.

Why?

Like anything, it’s complicated.

I recently heard a radio host sum up at least one part of the problemlike this: each email is a moment on someone else’s agenda. Tell me this, answer me that, find and send me this info.

How true.

And yet, she said, she can’t resist knowing if anything new has come in. So she checks — just for a second — and finds herself lost, an hour or more later.

Sound familiar?

I don’t want that. I can’t afford that. So I stay away. These days, much as I want to, I try not to start checking email until after 4 pm… 3 pm if I’m feeling weak. Because it’s the only way.

How about you?

I ask because I know what it is to be writing, like you’re aspiring to do. And whether it’s novels or sales copy, it’s the same.

You’re either in the zone… or you’re not.

When you’re in it, you know. Because that’s when even a five alarm fire would have a tough time getting you to move from your chair or stop what you’re doing.

I’m sure you “get” the feeling. So, you might still be asking… how did we get so hooked on email and tweets and Facebook and the rest in the first place, especially when the cost to productivity is so obvious?

Say California researchers, the reason you have such a tough time stopping yourself from checking your email or whatever other inputs you’ve got going is simple.

It’s because it delivers dopamine “squirts” to your brain. You get hooked, it turns out, to that series of tiny excitements as one email after another rolls in.

Not unlike the smoker taking his first puff after a long international flight… or a drinker getting a martini after a long day in the salt mines.

It’s a joy to get the jolt, over and over again. And without it, you learn to feel perpetually bored. But it’s a bigger issue now than ever, says Richtel.

Today, we’re hit with three times as much daily media as we were in the 1960s. What’s more, your average computer user visits 40 web pages per day.

Think about that.

We email colleagues at the next desk. We tweet our insights to friends, then meet up with nothing to talk about. We bask in the glow of unending online Facebook reunions, without actually seeing the people we’re “talking” to for years on end.

It’s all got its merits.

Business-wise, it’s been amazing. Many a direct-response company has been saved thanks to new media. Some have learned how to turn it into $100s of millions per year. And I’m happy to be one of the beneficiaries.

But what’s it tell you when even the Pope feels like it’s time to weigh in? Here’s what he told the NYT:

“Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world…

“In the search for sharing, for ‘friends’, there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.”

(Intrigued? You can check out Papal (no, I didn’t mean to write “Paypal”) proclamations like this one in eight languages, courtesy of the Vatican’s iPhone app. I kid you not.)

But addiction and virtual loneliness are just the beginning of the problem. Even bigger, in my opinion, is the illusion of productivity that goes with all this message fueled effort.

It gives us the illusion, yes, that we’re getting lots done. We are, if the email feeds are to believed, multi-tasking our way through lots of things that demand our attention, all at once.

The document feedback, the afternoon call, the kid’s b-day party… when you bang out a message on each in under a few minutes, you feel like you’re changing the world.

But multi-tasking, says Richtel’s research for his article, is bunk. An illusion. If you think you’re good at it, he suggests, there’s a likelihood you’re kidding yourself.

How so?

First, let me freely admit, I’m not a multi-tasker at all. I never have been. Walk and chew gum? I’m lucky I get through breakfast without falling out of my chair.

Without 100% focus, I can’t work.

That makes me a pain in the you-know-what to be around during the day. I scowl when I type, I’m told. And look up at interruptions like I’m ready to bite.

And I don’t doubt it. Because I now that once I stop, I’ll need another half hour to get rolling again.

I’ve always felt a little bad about that.

But it turns out, according to what Richtel says is “half a century of proof,” many more of us are that way than I ever imagined.

What’s more, you’re probably better off resigning yourself to focusing on one thing than you realize.

Even though, with your email alerts dinging and your cell-phone vibrating, it doesn’t always feel that way.

When you multi-task, says a particular set of scientists from the University of San Diego, it might feel like you’re doing a lot at once.

But what you’re actually doing is switching back and forth between tasks. And most likely, you’re not doing it well.

Think cocktail party and trying to register two conversations simultaneously… think airline pilot tweeting to his girlfriend during a landing… think surgeon calling the deli for a roast-beef on rye, while he’s wrapping up a brain operation.

If we’re paying attention to one process, say the tests, our brains are hard-wired to ignore everything else. Even if only for microseconds at a time.

So what, if we get it done, right?

I know one guy who writes with the TV on, he says. And he’s good. I know others who keep IM and email windows open and cell phones within reach. And they all still earn a good living.

But you have to wonder, how much better would they do without the willing distractions? Maybe a lot better, if these findings are right.

In fact, the research even shows that those that cling their multi-tasking beliefs end up being SLOWER in tests than the single-minded simpletons, who score better at both noticing small details and juggling when forced to balance between different assignments.

I guess what I’m saying is… wait, hang on a sec… I just got an email… this is good… ha… I’ll be right back, I swear…

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When Numbers Lose Meaning…

You see numbers a lot in sales copy.

The dollars you could make, the amount of pounds you could lose, the number of weeks it could take you to feel half your age… and the list goes on.

This past week, though, I’m guessing you’ve seen a lot of numbers… all tied to one event… that have started to lose their meaning.

I’m talking about Haiti.

You can’t have your head above water, pretty much anywhere on the globe, without hearing about it. And always with the  numbers close behind.

A 7.0 earthquake… as many as 90% of buildings destroyed… tent cities of 50,000 and more… hundreds of bodies piled up outside the city morgue… as many as 200,000 dead… hundreds of thousands more trapped under rubble or horribly maimed in rescue attempts.

Of this one: 20 feet by 100 feet. That’s the size of the mass graves they’re digging, because it’s a race now against the discovery of more dead… with 70,000 victims already buried but more on the way.

Of course, there are numbers on the other side of the story, too. Some 10,000 US troops sent to help… and thousands more from the EU, Asia, and elsewhere. And nearly $900 million in aid pledged by countries at a world — even when a lot of those countries can little afford it.

Plus the thousands saved from collapsed buildings. Or the 14,000 ready-to-eat meals and 15,000 liters of water that were air dropped into the capital today. With up to two million Haitians desperately in need of food aid right now, it’s barely a start… but it’s something.

Yet, have you noticed how trying to take in the vastness of a tragedy like this… as in the tsunami that slammed Asia years back… is just too overwhelming?

Seeing it in statistical panorama, through the wide-angle lens of objective reporting, somehow dehumanizes the most tragically human aspects of the event.

But then someone on the ground pulls you in to a moment, and that changes everything.

For five days, for instance, the parents of 8-month old Jean-Louis Brahams waited while rescuers cleared away the heavy rubble of what used to be their home.

They were sure their baby had been crushed, but then a neighbor heard him cry. He’s dehydrated but alive, and in the care of medics at an Israeli field hospital.

So is the 18-month-old girl who survived under the remains of her home for six days. Miraculously, she had no injuries. Nobody else in her family was as lucky.

And then there’s Marie-France. She got trapped under a double-reinforced steel door when a row of shops collapsed. It took a dozen saws to cut a narrow tunnel. Then they had to dangle a doctor by his feet, so he could perform the amputation that saved her life.

There’s also Rick Santos, the aid worker who was trapped with three others under the rubble of what used to be the Montana Hotel. They survived by passing around the only food they had — a single lollipop.

After three days in pitch darkness, Santos suddenly saw start in the night sky — French firefighters had broken through. Two of his colleagues have since died from their injuries, but Santos and a doctor from New Jersey are alive.

Then there’s the seven-year old girl trapped in a crushed supermarket, who survived four days on a box of dried fruit rolls… and two-year-old Mia, who survived three days in the rubble of what used to be her kindergarten classroom…

Soon, you’re in the numbers again.

But numbers that have names and faces, stories and families, lives and jobs, and things that make sense to you.

Now you’re not thinking statistics, but maybe what it would be like to lose your own child or your own parents…

Or maybe to be under that rubble yourself, hoping the scraping sound you hear is somebody trying to dig you out.

Lose an arm, but get to live. Get to live, but lose a son or a daughter that you stayed up with at night. Outside of the statistics, the real scope of suffering becomes clearer.

Only then can you multiply that by 10… 100… 1,000… even millions of lives that just changed forever… and get even an inkling of why and how much all those individuals, thrown together by one terrible and random event, still need our help.

Right now, I’m betting it’s a little easy to think — you can admit it — that there’s been so much coverage on this so far, that the donations are already rolling in.

It’s easy too to worry that a lot of that money will never make it to the people who need it most anyway. Because scam artists never seem to miss an opportunity, even during something like this.

But they need it, still.

What can you do?

Some of my friends and colleagues have done a brilliant job of picking out the best ways for you to funnel any help you can give to the what’s already an inspiring but overwhelmed global effort.

Maybe I can offer you something to cover both what they’ve mentioned and some they might have missed, in this guide: http://ow.ly/YbAp

It’s a comprehensive list from the unbiased charity watchdog site, charitynavigator.org (see today’s missing link).

They name 51 three-and-four-star rated charities, all with a track record of this kind of disaster relief, work in Haiti, and a long history of putting as much of the donated money as possible directly into giving aid rather than into their own administrative operating costs.

It also shows you how to tell the real pleas from the scams, how to give without writing or mailing a check, and more.

At least consider taking a look at the link. Pick one of the charities that fits the way you think and read thbackground on what they do. And then, if it works for you, think about what you could give. Even if it’s just $50 or $20 or $10.

Not because anybody says you have to, but because there are times when that’s just what you should do.

And because you can hope that, if you’re ever in a similar situation, it’s what someone would do for you, too.

P.S. I just used the same site to make a donation to Doctors Without Borders, because they’ve worked in Haiti for 19 years and operate three emergency hospitals there already.

It took me six minutes, start to finish. I used a credit card, the transaction was 100% secure, and it’s tax-deductible.

But again, there are many other ways to help. You can take a look here if you’re looking to decide: http://ow.ly/YbAp

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