Category: Truth in Advertising

Good pitches are honest pitches for good products. And here’s the proof…

A Painful Lesson in Supreme Service

 Call it an airport casualty.

 A ruptured tendon in your poor editor’s left calf, thanks to a nearly missed flight this past week, in Frankfurt Germany.

 Seems the TSA in Philly pulled a surprise security inspection on the first leg (no pun intended) of my Lufthansa flight back to Europe. It took just long enough to eat away at my connection window on the other end, and I was left to sprint O.J. style (pre-crime spree) to my gate.

 In case you’ve yet to visit, the Frankfurt airport is an interesting place. Especially when you’re running late. Long corridors, lots of stairs, moving walkways, stupefied crowds trying to make sense of the overly complicated signs and directives.

 I jumped, I dodged, I hurtled.

 Three hallways, five flights of steps, a tunnel, one passport and security checkpoint each, and two 100 meter moving walkways later… and with a 30-lb backpack over my shoulder… I made the gate, sweating but relieved. Until I figured out that this wasn’t the right gate anymore. The sign that should have said “Paris” now said “Hamburg.”

 With less than 60 seconds to spare and no sign anywhere indicating the new gate, I got news from a desk agent that the new departure deck was a hefty 29 gates away… easily 15 minutes on foot.

 But I had to try, and try I did.

With a pivot and a leap, I landed back on another moving walkway ready for another full tilt run… when something went “pop” in my left leg. Like a bullet, like a hammer, like something your leg is not supposed to do… especially when you’ve got a flight to catch… but it went ahead and did it anyway.

 I couldn’t move forward another inch.

 And that’s where luck steps in, in the form of Lufthansa’s extremely helpful crew.

 At exactly that moment, a yellow electric cart pulled up, carting two older French women who also now happened to be at the wrong gate for their flight. I hopped over and explained what just happened to the driver. She helped me up on the back, jumped off to call and ask them to hold the plane, then whisked us over to the right gate. I never would have made it, even without the injury, any other way.

 At the desk, she checked me in and suggested a wheelchair. I couldn’t even hop the length of the boarding tunnel without whimpering like a kicked dog. So I accepted.

 She called ahead and arranged another one for Paris. And on the flight, an attendant just coming off a 22-hour shift… and heading back home to Paris… insisted on getting me ice, checking in on me, and even offering to drop me off at my apartment after getting me through customs.

I told her I’d be fine. But another airport rep on the French side rolled me through the labyrinth of Terminal One at CDG, waited while I picked up my bag, and helped me into a taxi. Three days later, I’m well on the way to better. Two weeks from now, I’ll have forgotten the injury (almost) entirely.

 But what I’ll remember is the customer care.

We don’t fly Lufthansa often, because we prefer to skip making that connection in Germany. Still, should the need ever come up again, I’ll fly with them gladly. And I know I’ll talk them up to friends looking to book flights on the same route.

 As copywriters, we spend so much time getting customers in the door. It’s too easy to forget about them once that’s done. Yet look what happens when a business that’s already made the sale and banked the money, still insists on going the extra mile.

© 2008 John Forde

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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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Inspiration or Flat-Out Imitation?

Every great direct response copywriter can tell you what a valuable thing it is to have a “swipe file,” that burgeoning bin or desktop folder of winning promos crafted by other copywriters.

The idea, of course, isn’t to rip off the best of your colleagues… but rather to read, see what’s working, and use that to get your own creative juices flowing.

Not everybody gets that. Some people understand the concept, but go ahead and plagiarize anyway. Not good, folks.

And it looks like it’s not just a problem in direct mail or online advertising. For instance, Don Hauptman recently sent me a clip from the New York Times that Madison Avenue pros might be taking the, er, “borrowing” technique a bit too far.

Honda Motors and the Subway sandwich shop chain, both have ads out there centered on the old “Odd Couple” sitcom theme song. Coincidence? Maybe.

Maybe so, too, for Visa and the “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” movie trailer, who both featured the same instrumental piece of music in their commercials… borrowed from the 1985 movie, “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”

Or the three ads from Dell, Sears, and Wal-Mart respectively — each with the “make holiday wishes come true” story line. And the movie trailer for the new “Beowulf” movie, which harkens back to the campaign advertising the blockbuster flick “300.”

Lots of ideas strike lots of people at the same time.

But it just goes to show you, you’ve got to work that much harder to be original with your message.

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Why Your Customers Lie

Every one of your customers is an untrustworthy, fraudulent, false-hearted, cheating, calculating, double-dealing… (deep breath)… crafty, duplicitous, disingenuous, untruthful, scheming… stinker. Well maybe not a stinker.

But liars they are. How so?

Such is the proposition made in “All Marketers are Liars,” by Seth Godin. Don’t be fooled by the title. Godin makes the case not that good marketers lie, but that customers do — to themselves. Even the smart ones. In fact, we all do it.

Everybody has his or her own “world view,” says Godin.

That sounds a little granola crunchy, so let me clarify: We all have something we believe about how the world works. For the sake of efficiency and security, we’ll reshape reality until it can accommodate those beliefs. Even if we’ve got to twist facts into pretzels to make it happen. The little fibs — stories — we tell ourselves make life easier. Sometimes, they make life even more enjoyable.

Example: Godin tells us, in the book, about a glass blower named George Riedel. George is a 10th-generation glass blower. He’s a nice guy. And he makes wine glasses. As well as scotch glasses, beer glasses, and just about any other type of beverage-specific glass.

See, George and his customers believe every single beverage needs its special glass, or it just won’t taste right.

A $100 St. Emillion Grand Cru is dishwater, for instance, compared to how it would taste in a proper Bordeaux glass. Meanwhile, if you’re going to use the same glass to sip a vintage wine from the Cote de Beaune, you might as well drink it from your shoe.

Robert Parker, the best-known and arguably most powerful wine critic in the world agrees. And the glasses George Riedel makes, he says, will give you the best tasting experience humanly possible. Millions of wine-drinkers around the world buy Riedel’s glasses. And in taste tests, expert and amateur tasters alike — when tasting identical wine in two different glasses — almost always pick the wine in the proper Riedel glass as the best.

Yet, in double-blind tests where the shape of the glass is perfectly hidden…

The predictability of which glass a taster will choose falls to zero.

Not only does the shape make no difference in these tests. The value of the glass makes not a difference either. A $1 glass and a $20 glass have exactly the same non-impact on the results of the taste test.

Please, if you’re about to write to tell me about how wrong this test has to be… don’t bother. Because I’m with you. Even though I know science can easily nullify my beliefs. Heck, I’ve got a dozen balloon burgundy glasses and a dozen Bordeaux glasses lined up in my own cabinet. Right next to the pilsner glasses.

Why perpetuate the self-deception?

Because, clearly, it’s something I want to believe. Even more, believing it somehow makes it so. Maybe I feel smarter when I use the right glass. Maybe I feel worldlier. Maybe it’s just an excuse to justify buying better wine. I don’t really know.

All I can tell you is, science be damned, the proper glass just makes wine taste right to me. Somehow believing that makes it so.

Is that so wrong? Not at all.

Godin points out that Riedel, who sells the glasses, is just as devout a believer in the different-glass theory as his customers. If he were not, he wouldn’t be able to sell millions of dollars worth of glasses per year. In fact, he’d probably end up working somewhere else. As it is, his belief in the importance in the shape and quality of the glasses is what helps him make such a good — and popular — product.

Godin calls Riedel an “honest liar.”

Scientifically, the glasses don’t do diddly for the wine. Until, the person using them believes they do, and there it is. Right glass equals better taste. Voila. Like we said, his family has done this successfully — and virtuously — for 10 generations.

So when is it wrong for marketers to tell a fib?

When the fib is an outright fraud, told to pass off a belief that nobody at the origin holds as true. A fraud works solely for the benefit of the marketer. And worse, when found out, alienates the customer.

Take Cadillac. Cadillac cars used to be, well, considered the Cadillac of American automobiles. “When the new Cadillacs come in,” was something you waited for. When you “made it” in business, you bought yourself a Cadillac.

Then Cadillac cut corners.

They cheapened their cars but still sold them under the Cadillac brand. But the new models weren’t as plush, as classic, or as authentically “Cadillac” as the old models. The new models betrayed the old promise. Cadillac quickly sunk in status. And scrambled for years to take the tarnish off their image. While other luxury cars like Lexus took up the slack.

The trouble with fraud, says Godin, is that besides being just wrong, it’s a self-dooming business strategy.

Fraud does more than put dents in a customer’s wallet. It’s also a body blow to the customer’s ego. They feel the fool for having trusted you.

The secret, then, to telling tales that sell is to tell the most honest and accurate stories you can — the most authentic stories — and tell them as well as you can too.

Godin has a test. Look at your product, your position, your pitch, he says, and imagine the customer asking you:

1) “If I knew what you know, would I still buy?”

and…

2) “Will I be glad later on that I did?

If you can honestly answer yes to both questions, you’re on the right track. If not, go back to the drawing board. You’ll be glad you did. And you might sleep a little better at night, too.

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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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Why I’m a Fool For Cupertino

apple.pngIt’s shameless, really, the way I dote. To some of my friends, it’s even downright embarrassing. Yes, I confess, I’m crazy for Cupertino — particularly the stuff that comes out of you-know-which-company.

The iPad and iPods, Macbooks, Minis, the Time Machine, the iMacs, the iSight and more — you name the Apple product, and it has passed through the halls of our home and/or extended family. Many of us are shareholders too.

Twice, I’ve even been contacted to write copy for Apple product launches (I would have loved to, but didn’t have the time in my schedule to work on what they needed done).

Why such devotion? If you’re in the same boat as I am, you “know” already. If not, you might think I’m a fool. Especially if you’re as skeptical as I usually am about the whole idea of “brand” marketing.

But here’s the thing, and I think it’s all worth noting for the sake of yours and my own marketing careers… Apple, like any other brand with clout, didn’t buy their following. They earned it. And they continue to do so.

Before you groan and roll eyes skyward, listen.

Less than 12 hours ago, my wife and I ordered a copy of an episode of the U.S. version of “The Office” from the iTunes store. It wasn’t the first time, but I accidentally clicked the link for the HD version instead of the Standard Version.

No big deal, except that it costs $1 more and has twice the file size. So I shot a note to Apple. In that short span, I got this reply:

Hi John,

I understand that the HD version of The Office episode, “Body Language” was purchased accidentally. I know you must be eager to have this taken care of. I am so sorry for any inconvenience this has caused. My name is John from the iTunes Store and I will do my best to help you.

John, I deeply apologize,but I was unable to locate your account based on the information that you supplied, Please reply back with the account name and the order number of the purchase.

Here is how to review your iTunes Store account’s purchase history, just follow the steps in this article:

Seeing your iTunes Store purchase history and order numbers
http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2727

Once I receive your email. I will do my best to credit you for the video.

Thank you so much for your understanding. I look forward to your reply.

Have a great day, John.

Sincerely,

John
iTunes Store Customer Support

Remember, this is over an issue worth $1. I’m tempted to just let them keep it, as long as they promise to more clearly mark the links — which, by the way, I’ll bet you they will.

The company definitely makes mistakes sometimes. And no, they won’t last forever. Who can forget, after all, their big lapse in quality, innovation, hipness, and share price back in the days of John Sculley as CEO.

But here’s what I think you want to notice… Apple does well right now not just because they hire the best copywriters, but because they make sure they offer the products and service that are an easy sell.

Much as I’m not a Windows fan, I acknowledge they did the same in their early days. They appear to be doing so again, with Windows 7. Or starting to, anyway. Google, too, earns their brand recognition with a great product and not just a great marketing team.

The list could probably go on.

From a professional copywriter’s perspective, the lesson here is simple. You want to write the best copy you can to make the best effort to sell, of course. But write it when you can for the companies that serve the customers they’re selling to.

Doing that alone could radically increase the success of your career.

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What You Don’t Need to Get Ahead

mbaHere’s something interesting from AdAge.com: MBAs can be bad for your health. Your career health, that is.

 Yep. Turns out that a survey of marketing execs from 32 different consumer-product companies showed a distinct disadvantage for companies that carried a Masters of Business Administration grad at or close to the helm.

 And we’re not talking tiny companies here, either. General Mills, Kraft Foods, Nestle, Pfizer, Clorox Co, Cadbury, Energizer, Kodak, Dunkin Donuts… they all made the survey list.

 On the list, there were 18 underperforming companies (sales growth lower than 7% annually) that were twice as likely to recruit their marketing execs from fancy M.B.A. programs.

 Of the outperforming companies, far fewer M.B.A.s held top positions (about half as many)… even though sales at those same companies grew 6.2% faster than sales of the underperforming competitors.

 What’s more, job satisfaction at the no-or-limited M.B.A. companies was higher, office politics tended to crop up less often, and in-house training was both more prevalent and successful.

 Did all grad degrees in the study fail the test? Nope. Just M.B.A.s. Interesting. Boy, am I glad I spent my time in grad school studying philosophy and classical lit instead, eh?

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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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What Copywriters Should Know About Copyrights

justice.pngIt’s embarrassing the number of I’ve times had to explain: “copywriting” and “copyrights” have next to nothing to do with each other.

Not embarrassing for me, mind you, but for the guy who asks me how to protect the draft of his novel about high school from plagiarists.

However, I’m not giving the whole story here, because the two terms — ‘copyright’ and ‘copywrite’ — actually DO have a little something in common.

Let me explain by way of a note sent to me some time ago by copywriter Brad Grindrod…

“When I’m writing a promotion, I’ve got a ton of material I’ve gathered to support the claims in my letter. But I’m just not sure if or how I can legally use it.”

First, some kudos for Brad.

Gathering a ton of research, in my opinion, is the right place to start. And not just for writing promo copy.

Magazine articles, novels, screenplays…

All benefit from deep research.

Divinity, said Nabakov, is in the details. But here’s the quandary:

What if someone else came up with those details first?

THE TRUTH ABOUT BORROWED WISDOM

Let’s start with terminology:

What, exactly, IS copyright infringement?

Matt Turner, an old college buddy and senior lawyer for a major publishing company, lays it on the line:

“In the context of the written word, copyright infringement is literally stealing (i.e. ‘copying’) someone else’s words without permission,” says Matt, “However, ideas themselves aren’t copyrightable.”

This, obviously, is a controversial point.

In the shortest terms, it’s DIRECT and EXACT representing of someone else’s work as your own that puts you most at risk.

Clear So Far?

After you’ve got the simple concept clear in your mind… enter the nuances, stage right.

For instance, JOURNALISTIC and COMMERCIAL speech do NOT have the same freedoms.

Matt explains:

“In commercial speech, the law is not as favorable to the writer… advertising copy is commercial speech, since it’s aim is to sell.”

So what’s that mean?

It does NOT mean that you’re barred from citing great stats or famous quotes.

In fact, quite the opposite.

A good citation or borrowed anecdote — provided you don’t violate “fair use” laws (another can of works, addressed in today’s “Missing Link”) — can actually INCREASE your credibility and legitimacy rather than threat it.

The big difference between journalism and promo-writing, says Matt, is the use of images and photos. INCLUDING, by the way, those photos for which you can buy the rights:

“You can’t use someone’s photo to sell something without his permission. On the other hand, you CAN use the same photo in a new story or editorial. Because it’s news, not the key element of a sales pitch.”

Okay, that seems pretty clear, yes? So what about data and stats?

“Pure data has little or no copyright protection, either. You can’t and shouldn’t just steal a chart outright. However, if the information you’re using is something publicly observable that someone took the time to gather… and you find your own way to represent it… you should be fine.”

What about the “essence” or outline of an idea?

Says Matt, “Ideas are NEVER legally safe. It’s only the actual expression of the idea that’s protected.”

Phew… it sounds like an intellectual free-for-all! But don’t lick your chops just yet, you unscrupulous mongrel:

“Stealing someone’s work can cost you plenty,” warns Matt. “Especially if it can be shown you cut into their business by taking their words.”

Lengthwise, I’m overdue to wrap this article up. Yet I feel we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Maybe I can summarize:

Yes Brad, there IS a copyright clause.

You’ll stumble across it any time you sit down to research or write.

But worry not.

Even in promo copy, you can STILL use data to punch up your points… you CAN use quotes that fortify credibility… you can EVEN make vigorous adaptations of one or two borrowed ideas along the way.

HOWEVER, keep this in mind too…

Stealing material outright is different. How can you tell the difference between good research and going too far? Simple. If you feel like you’re cheating, you probably are.

Let the tingle in your spine be your guide.

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What’s the Secret to Selling Bad Products?

chaplinCopywriters are hired guns. We usually don’t create the products we sell, just get hired to sell them. So how, pray tell, are you supposed to write copy that sells a product that… well… stinks?

Here’s the simple answer: You don’t.

And no, not just because making a strong tease for an unworthy product presents a serious moral challenge — though, that’s reason enough to turn down the job right there. But also because, frankly, bad products are  just… well… harder to sell.

Here’s how marketing great Roy Williams put it once in his famed “Monday Morning Memo” ezine…

“Give me a business that delights its customers and I can write ads that will take them to the stars. But force me to write ads for a business that does only an average job with their customers and I’ll have to work like a madman to keep that business from sliding backwards.”

Yes, you might say. It sounds so obvious. But pressed, couldn’t you or I come up with plenty of examples of businesses that managed to excel with mediocre products?

Yes, it’s possible.

And not always for reasons easy to explain. Perhaps customers at the start of a certain market just had fewer options. But where, these days, are you going to find businesses with no competitors?

Choice has exploded across all kinds of product lines.

For that reason, it means that taking on copywriting assignments for inadequate products or services is a situation you should find yourself in less and less. If at all. Since, fortunately, a multitude of choice for the customer also often means more choice for you when you’re talking about which products to write copy for and which clients to take on.

What to do if a good client brings you something mediocre to sell?

You have a choice. Either work with the client to make the bad product better (I’m doing that right now with a newsletter that’s decent, but needs to “bump it up” another 10% before it meets customer needs)… or bag the project altogether… and let your client know why, albeit with diplomacy.

If that’s a problem for the client, then you have the more difficult but ultimately career-enhancing choice of moving on to somebody else who’s got a more thorough and thoughtful core strategy for servicing customers.

It’s that simple.

Sure, all that said, sometimes you still might find yourself uncomfortably committed to a bad campaign. It happens. Never berate the client. But don’t be a pushover or a sucker either.

Again, this is either where you’re going to suggest possible ways to sell even better, in a consultant’s even tones and with the understanding that re-working the product might involve re-working your deal… or offer to take a kill fee and maybe even to share your research with the next copywriter who comes along.

The bottom line is that half-finished products and ideas CAN be sold without compromising your own integrity, but only if you’re willing to work with the client to make them whole. This is especially true in the information industry, where products can often be improved on the fly.

Just realize, even then… it can take a lot of work to get them there.

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