Category: Fun and Games

Fun stuff that barely fits on this website (but I’m including it anyway)…

Time-Tested Fridge Wisdom

old man.png It’s commonly said that the Greeks talked about two kinds of knowledge. One you gain from study, the other from experience.

But there’s a third kind, a sort of wisdom corollary, they didn’t have access to but you do: refrigerator wisdom.

Yep, i’m talking about the kind you pick up somewhere between the other two, then print out and slap on your fridge with a magnet.

The following fits in that category.

No, it’s got nothing to do with copywriting. But it’s good advice for copywriters and everybody else, just the same. Besides, it’s springtime dammit. Just the right season for this kind of message.

How so?

I picked this up the following from an email sent by the good folks over at www.inspiringlife.co.uk. It’s reportedly a note from an 85-year old man about to leave this world behind.

Here’s what he said:

“If I had my life to live over again, I’d try to make more mistakes next time. I wouldn’t be so perfect. I would relax more. I’d limber up. I’d be sillier than I’ve been on this trip. In fact, I know very few things that I would take seriously.

“I’d be crazier. I’d be less hygienic. I’d take more chances, I’d take more trips, I’d climb more mountains. I’d swim more rivers, I’d go to more places I’ve never been to. I’d eat more ice cream and fewer beans. I’d have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones.

“You see, I was one of those people who lived prophylactically and sensibly hour after hour, day after day, year after year. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of those moments – moment by moment by moment.

“I’ve been one of those people who never went anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a gargle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had it to do all over again, I’d travel lighter next time.

“If I had it to do all over again, I’d start out earlier in the spring and stay away later in the fall.

“I’d ride more merry-go-rounds, I’d watch more sunrises, I’d play with more children… if I had my life to live all over again.”

Sounds like a good idea, don’t you think?

If you’re sub-85 and reading this, I suggest you put down the copywriting stuff for just a moment, close your laptop, and take some of his advice.

Because God knows, if not now… when?

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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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How Business is Done

shakeonit1There’s a guy named Jack (just a coincidence). He has a son. The son is in his early 20s and unmarried. One evening after dinner, the father and son have a conversation.

“Son, I want you to marry a girl of my choice.”

“C’mon Dad,” says the boy, “I want to choose my own bride.”

“Yes, but the girl is Bill Gates’ daughter,” says Jack.

Says the son, “Well, in that case…”

The next morning, Jack gets a call through to Bill Gates.

“I have a husband for your daughter,” says Jack.

“But my daughter is too young to marry,” says Bill, startled.

“Yes,” says Jack, “but this young man will soon be vice-president of the World Bank.”

“Ah, in that case…”

That afternoon, Jack goes to see the president of the World Bank.

Jack steps into his office and says, “I have a young man to be recommended as a vice-president.”

Says the World Bank president, “But I already have more vice-presidents than I need.”

“Perhaps,” says Jack, “but this young man is Bill Gates’s son-in-law.”

“Ah,” says the President, “in that case…”

And that, my friend, is how business is done. Okay, perhaps not really.

But what I do like about this joke — which was passed along by a friend of ours in France — is that it just goes to show you that the real story behind so many successful people  is that they’ve made opportunities happen rather than wait for them to come along.

So what are you waiting for?

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A Persuasion Secret Toddlers Teach

BabyBjornPotty.png Every copywriter should have a kid. Seriously.

How so?

By way of explanation, let’s start here: Everything we do is dictated by the “why” behind it. As in, the only reason why we would change our behavior to get a certain outcome. Not to mention, the radical failures we face if we don’t correctly target those incentives when trying to persuade others to undertake some kind of action.

Having a toddler in your life, however, is like a shortcut to the same education.

Take our little fella (he’ll kill me if he stumbles across this post about his early years). See, as new parents we were faced with a dilemma. He was starting pre-school. And by the rules, he had to be, er… let’s just say that, regal as he was, he and a certain porcelain throne had yet to build a natural relationship.

In our son’s preschool, that was grounds for non-admittance. Potty-trained or no place at the table. So went the orders from on high. A nerve-wracking thought, no doubt, for any parent. But here was the big problem — we had put off his training for so long, we had only a little over a week left before pre-school started.

Ack.

So I went to all the “how to” websites. Don’t rush the kid, they said. This could take “a month… two or three months… even half a year.”

Double ack.

We had exactly 11 days. First we tried begging. Then we tried the “no safety net” technique — that’s where you take off the diaper and hope the kid hates the feeling of insecurity so much, he’ll tell you when it’s time to grab him and run for the facilities. Neither approach worked.

But with about nine days left, we figured their had to be a better way… and we worked out one that would make the Freakonomics fan club proud (okay, we got it from online… but it worked just the same).

What did we do? We came up with an audience-targeted incentive.

First, we drew a chart with a cartoon of the potty in the corner (yes, I’m really writing an article about this). Then we bought some stickers. And a bag of chocolates. Every “performance,” we told our son, got a reward.

Did it work? Like gangbusters.

Just over a week later, we have a chart full of stickers and a kid who (sniffle) was just growing up too dang fast. We successfully shuffled him off to school. “So is he potty-trained,” they asked. “Of course,” we said, full of false incredulity.

I’m not saying stickers and chocolates will work for, say, selling commercial office space or negotiating a trade treaty. But you get the gist: So often, the secret to persuasion is just figuring out the right incentive for the audience you’re targeting.

Get that and everything else should fall in place.

(Gee, this parenting thing is easy, isn’t it? 😉

* P.S. This little article first ran two years ago… and we’ve since successfully used the same technique with our daughter. I’ve yet to get it to work for selling subscription-based products, though!

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A Lucky Accident

mail1I got a note awhile ago from consultant Bob Serling

Bob writes:

“Years ago, I was using a print broker for some of my mailings. She had been referred to me by a direct marketing legend whose identity I’ll protect.

“At the same time the broker was sheperding my mailing, she was also doing a large project for “the legend”. The job was so large that she split the printing between two different printers.

“I was a seed name on the legend’s list and when I received my copy of his sales letter, it turned out that it had been stuffed with the pages completely out of order. I alerted both the legend and the print broker of the error. Checking with other seed names confirmed that one of the printers assembled and stuffed all their pieces out of order.

“But here’s the kicker: the piece that was out of order pulled a stronger response than the piece with the pages in the correct order! I told the broker at the time that I could only assume that having the pages out of order forced the reader to dig through the piece and pay more attention.

“Final point: The legend then had the gall to ask the print broker for a make-good on the improperly ordered pieces.”

Thanks Bob. Gotta love it when a mistake suddenly shows you something about the customer you never expected. And when one of my CR readers (if you haven’t signed up yet, drop your name in the email box to the right of this page) writes in with a great lesson worth sharing!

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How Curiosity Can Save a Copywriter

questionsSomebody once asked David Ogilvy for a list of traits that matter most when hiring copywriters. Above all, he said, they have to have an unwavering, overpowering, enormous sense of curiosity.

I can’t help but think that has to be right. Why?

Because sometimes you need to dig deep — really deep –into a product, a target audience, and so much more to find that one gem that’s going to make your ad sing better, louder, and more in tune than all your attention-seeking competitors. And frankly, those who are uninterested in the world too readily give up before they find that one gem.

Of course, that means you stumble across a lot of stuff you don’t need too. And a lot of trivia that just grabs hold of you. And you never know when that trivia is going to come in handy, popping up in your copy when you least expect it. This is one reason, of course, why you never want to play Trivial Pursuit against a very good copywriter.

But it’s also why I’ve piled up a lot of little facts that I don’t know what to do with. Except maybe, share them here. Are you ready? File these, if you like, in the drawer labeled “truly useless information”…

  • Did you know that King Louis XIV once locked up a nine-year old boy in his dungeon for making a joke about his Royal Highness’ bald head? Yep. And he kept him there, too. Agents of the court told the distraught and wealthy parents the boy had simply disappeared. But they knew where he was — in the basement of Versailles, for the next sixty-nine years. Sheesh.
  • Did you know, too, that you’ll never see a rainbow in mid-afternoon? They only appear later in the day or in the morning, when the sun is 40 degrees or less above the horizon (that’s position, not temperature). Meanwhile, there are approximately 1,800 thunderstorms in progress at any given time during the day. And at lest 100 lightning strikes on the planet any given second.
  • Did you further know that, while nearly 25% of the world’s population lives on less than $200 per year, it costs more to buy a new car in the U.S. than it cost Christopher Columbus to equip and undertake not just one but THREE voyages to the New World?
  • Peter Mustafic of Botovo, Yugoslavia, spoke nary a word for 40 years. Suddenly, he broke the silence. When asked by a local newspaper why, he said, “I stopped speaking in 1920 to get out of military service.” Yes, they prodded, but… uh… then what happened? “Well,” he answered, “I got used to it.”
  • Please read the following passage quietly to yourself for the next 30 seconds. Ready? Here it is: “ .” Congratulations. You have just performed the entire Samuel Beckett play, “Breath,” first introduced to the stage in April 1970. Without actors or dialogue. Even the original presentation lasted only half a minute.
  • Don’t wear blue unless you like mosquitoes. They’ll target blue twice as often as any other color. If it’s a female, she’ll even bite (since it’s only the females that do.)
  • Did you know that Peter the Great had any Russian who wore a beard pay a special tax? Good thing Chopin wasn’t living in Russia then — apparently the composer/pianist habitually wore half a beard. Reason? “When I play, my audience only sees half my face.” No kidding.

Will you ever find a use for these tidbits? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s hoping you do.

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‘Twas The Last Sale Before Christmas

Six months before Christmas, I first saw the signs — shopping malls had traded palm trees for pines.

 By August, “Jingle Bells” from speakers did blare in hopes that the shoppers soon would be there.

 Then came Halloween, with Santas in caps; and merchants wrapped pumpkins in bright Christmas wraps.

 Soon all the newspapers took up the same tack –“Yuletide Joy GUARANTEED… or your money back.”

 Bloomingdale’s offered bathrobes, draped in pink spotted sash. “Buy one to help Mom greet the day with panache!”

 Kmart sold Barbies, with bleached-blonde perky glow; “Real cute up top” said the ad, “and stacked down below!”

 Toy shops sold tommy-guns for shooting paint at the dog; the supermarkets sold troughs of diet eggnog.

 By Thanksgiving the frenzy had gotten vicious and sick; over the first sale on anything, shoppers would bite, claw, and kick.

 Meanwhile, grandma’s kitchen revived a stale story — like the Phoenix from fire, arose the fruitcake in glory.

 TV showed the “specials,” each one still the same, only now they have action figures (sponsors list them by name!)

 “Buy DASHER and DANCER!  Buy PRANCER and VIXEN! Get COMET and CUPID and DONDER and BLITZEN!”

 (Maybe it’s venison Grandmom should be fixing.)

 By Christmas Eve, please believe, I’d had more than enough. Go ahead, call me Scrooge — but who BUYS all this stuff?

 All the commercials, the carols, the guilt-laden cards; all the neon-like lights draped in neighborhood yards.

 And here’s me, among boxes, still wrapping my last; with paper cuts and prayers that this season should pass.

 My wife’s finished wrapping; she was done long ago. Her paper’s creased neatly, her ribbons in bows.

 How does she do it? I still can’t comprehend. My presents look lumpy, paper torn at both ends.

 And ribbons I’ve tied show embarrassing slack… like I’d sent presents to Hell, had them wrapped, and sent back.

 By midnight that night — ’twas Christmas Eve — most of my senses had taken their leave.

 So I stepped out back for air and leaned on a car. That’s when I saw it — a tiny white star.

 Cliché? Contrived? A vision too “nice?” I stepped up to see it… then slipped on some ice.

 “Godd*mn it!” I said, even “Humbug!” and worse; every word in the book you could define as a curse.

 A window flew open, my wife shocked by the clatter; “Honey” she called, “is something the matter?”

 And then, a whisper, from a boy four years old “Is that you, Santa?” he breathed out in the cold.

 Dear Reader, perhaps you don’t share my elation, but in that small moment, you see, I found revelation.

 ’twas small like a flicker, far-off as the star. An inkling, just then, of why wise men go far;

 Of why mothers start baking, why carolers sing, and why three once brought gifts to one child king;

 Why, every Christmas, we share things and confections, with the hope of redemption for unspoken affections.

 You see, I realized that while our lives are adrift, we can at least find foundation in one simple gift;

 A gift as elusive as the world she is round, And one I don’t name, for it’s far too profound,

 But you can hear it hinted in phrase that seems right, “A Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

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“They Laughed When I Stopped Shaving…”

My Petit Mo.jpg What’s this on my lip? Nothing less than the unfettered whiskers of a man determined (if not a little deranged).

Yep. For the month of November, I’ve pledged — along with the other men in our family and hundreds of thousands of others worldwide — to grow a “mo.”

In case you don’t know, “mo” is slang in Australia for a mustache.

Now, I’ve never been to Australia. But the cause behind this is so good, that doesn’t make a fizzlewob of difference.

See, it turns out, that “mo” growers everywhere… yours truly included… are risking mockery and taking donations, all in the name of research in the fight against prostate cancer.

Sure, there are plenty of other worthy causes.

But this one sits close to home.

One out of every six men will get diagnosed with prostate cancer. One of them is my father, who right now is battling the later stages of this disease.

Nonetheless, he’s rallied to grow a November “mo” of his own (“It’s like grass,” says my four-year old daughter).

And he’s inspired us to get in on the cause too.

There’s nothing saying you can’t also play along.

Just go here and either join up or donate…

http://us.movember.com/mospace/959346/

Hope to see your name on the list!

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We Can’t All Be Einstein (Thank God)

We can’t all be geniuses, right?

And in some ways, thank God.

For instance, how about these little tidbits I recently found online about one of the most famous geniuses in history – Albert Einstein.

Did you know he didn’t talk normally — get this — until age nine? Until then, he spoke slowly and rehearsed everything before speaking aloud. His parents thought he was brain-damaged, literally.

Einstein, did you also know, was born with a big misshapen head. So much so it was the first thing his grandmother commented on, after seeing him. That and his abnormally fat little body at the time.

 At age 17, Einstein failed his university entrance exam. He did fine on math and science. But flopped on history, languages, and the rest. He waited — in trade school — before he could retake it and do well enough to get in.

 His first marriage flopped, he didn’t get along with his oldest son, and he married his first cousin, despite being a philanderer most of his life.

Even after death, the indignities don’t end.

Einstein’s precious brain was removed — in a 1955 autopsy — a Princeton pathologist took it home and kept it in a jar. Later it was carved in slices, poked, prodded, and tested and — in 1990 — even spent time sloshing around in the trunk of a Buick Skylark, during a cross-country trip from New Jersey to California.

 Gee, now I feel better.

We should all be so lucky, eh?

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When Clichés Work “Like Gangbusters”

cliche pic.png I joked in an issue of my e-letter about writing “good,” and got a note from a reader soon after that said…

“So there I was reading my favorite newsletter writer and I come across, ‘For career success: lather, rinse, repeat.’ A cliche!

“Say it ain’t so. You’re beyond trite phrases and careless writing. So please don’t do it again. I can’t stand to be disillusioned.”

In my defense, this was my reply…

“Me, beyond trite phrases? Never!

“I admit that I agree — we need yet another hackneyed piece of writing like we need a hole in the head. There’s nothing worse, after all, than phrases as worn out as an old shoe. As writer and grammarian extraordinaire, William Safire, once said, ‘last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.’

“But please, when it comes to the ‘rules’ on using cliches, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, shall we? That is to say, with this knee-jerk critique, I fear you might be barking up the wrong tree.

“After all, while I know it’s never too late to learn something new about writing (better late than never, I always say) the tradition of using cliches in copy is about as old as dirt and not always the refuge of the village idiot, as you make it seem.

“In short, never say never.

“Because sometimes, frankly, a well-worn cliche can actually be just what the doctor ordered, especially when you’re caught between a rock and a hard place at the end of a piece and you want to convey an idea both quickly and maybe with a little irony.

“To put it simply, the point of the article is to look at new challenges with innocence and new ideas, rather than falling back on the tried and true… and shopworn.  With the irony here being, that’s a piece of advice we’ll have to return to over a lifetime of writing, much in the same way a dog returns to his own vomit. It is an  insight that can only come from, well, experience.

“It is what it is.”

To which my reader wisely replied, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” And so it is. Except when it isn’t. But that’s for another time.

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