Monthly Archives: February 2015

Fear No Susan Glenn

Such a shame we couldn’t use a transcript of this quite superb TV commercial for Axe/Lynx in the book. See the original here:

I remember her.

Not a girl, but the girl.

The brains behind the ‘All-time Top Ten Comic Book Fictions’ only wish they could conjure a siren the likes of Susan Glenn.

Beneath my feet my own private earthquake registered an eight when Susan Glenn was near.

In her presence, all that was beautiful before she arrived turned grotesque. And in her shadow, others became…goblinesque.

If she approached, Susan Glenn didn’t walk, she floated, accompanied by pyrotechnic spectacles that left me feeling a foot tall.

She embodied every desirable quality I’d ever wanted.

In my mind I was a peasant before a queen, and so Susan Glenn and I were never a thing.

If I could do it again, I’d do it differently.

Read Me outtakes

Being an occasional series of bits that didn’t quite make the cut.

The wisdom of the ancients

While we don’t want to weigh you down with anecdotes from long-dead practitioners, a quick gallop through advertising and design’s past will pay dividends. Why? Because these people helped shape the history of our craft and their words deserve a modicum of respect. Of course copywriting has changed; human nature, however, has not, and by absorbing the wisdom of the ancients you’ll be better prepared to go forth and create the future.

According to Claude Hopkins, “Fine writing is a distinct disadvantage. It takes attention away from the subject”. Ray Rubicam – founder of Y&R – insisted his creatives “resist the usual”. Leo Burnett believed in finding the “inherent drama” of the products and services he advertised (hence the whole Marlboro/cowboy schtick his agency created and which is still running today). He was also a great believer in an informal, friendly style of advertising, describing it as, “the glacier-like power of friendly familiarity” to win people over.

Rosser Reeves – inventor of the phrase USP and one of the models for Don Draper in Madmen – was unerringly down to earth. His only gauge for good advertising was “will it work?” To do this he instructed his creatives thus, “You must make the product interesting, not just make the ad different.” Reeves defined his Unique Selling Proposition like this: an advert should make a specific proposition to the consumer along the lines of “buy this product and you’ll get this benefit”. This proposition should be unique – something competitor products either cannot or do not offer. Finally a USP should be strong enough to pull new customers to the product and sell shed loads of stuff. In short, find some unique benefit within your product and hammer it home again and again and again. It was a brutal approach even back then. In the end even Reeves was forced to move with the times and ultimately augmented his Unique Selling proposition with a Unique Selling Personality – an acknowledgement that softer, more creative ideas can sell, something that must have annoyed the irascible Mr Reeves no end.

David Ogilvy wrote several important books on advertising. Rarely has so much arrogant opinion and brilliant good sense been rammed together. Here are just a few of the great man’s bon mots:

“Every type of advertising has the same problem, namely to be believed. Testimonials work because readers find it easier to believe an independent authority than an anonymous advertiser.”

“The wickedest sin of all is to run an advert without a headline” and that “I don’t envy the copywriter who submits one to me”

“I never write fewer than sixteen headlines for a single advertisement” What, never? And why 16? Why not 15, or 17, or 23? Alas, the great man remains silent of these secrets.

“Every headline should appeal to self interest”

“Always include the brand name in your headline”

“Some copywriters write tricky headlines – puns, literary allusions and other obscurities. This is a sin”. Yet one of O&M’s most successful lines was “Head over heels in Dove” – a pun and no mistake. But the Ogilvy wasn’t much concerned with consistency.

Elsewhere he advises us to “avoid bombast” Oh David. How little you know yourself.

Today, perhaps the best-regarded name in advertising’s past is Bill Bernbach, the man who kick-started advertising’s Creative Revolution in the early 1960s. This isn’t the place to summarise Bernbach’s impressive career (there are plenty of books that do exactly that if you’re feeling keen). Instead we’ll limit ourselves to a few choice Bernbachisms that are particularly relevant to copywriting in all its many forms.

Bernbach’s philosophy was simple: find the story in the product and present it in an articulate and intelligently persuasive way. His rallying cry was “the power of the idea”. Compared to Rosser Reeve’s blunt, mechanical approach and Ogilvy’s stylish but ultimately conservative slant Bernbach was a breath of fresh air. Here was a man not trying to limit his creative, but to encourage them to ever-greater achievements. But Bernbach’s creativity was never for its own sake, as he spelt out, “You must have inventiveness, but it must be disciplined. Everything you write, everything on every page, every word…should further the message you’re trying to convey.” The result was a style of advertising that was honest, witty, intelligent and very, very effective. It’s no exaggeration to say that whatever emphasis on creativity we can detect in copywriting today can be traced back to Bill Bernbach and his disciples.

Kind words and workouts from Honor Clement-Hayes

Here’s how Honor – a self confessed lexical alchemist – described Read Me on her site Mutated Musings:

When a book speaks so directly to the shimmery essence of who you are, you stroke the pages lightly with the pads of your fingertips, tracing the words as if you hold that forgotten folio whose secrets are the rock upon which you built your shaky church.

Spooky – that was *exactly* the effect we were aiming for.

And here’s her take on Workouts One and Two. Honor, consider our hats tipped in your direction:

Read Me Workout One:

Why everyone should commit an imprisonable offence some time in their life

Morality is the measurement of good against bad. We have an easy game with morality: it is largely dictated to us by the law, by society, and by our parents.

It’s inherited, with not much conscious decision-making involved. So are you really a good person if you’re just following the rules?

I put to you that making a conscious decision to do the wrong thing (wrong legally, socially and morally) will cause you to question your inherited comprehension of ‘good and bad’, and allow you to choose the right thing mindfully. One more time with feeling, we could say.

I’ve done it. Not a day has passed since that I haven’t thought of it. It instilled in me a healthy fear of the law and broke my belief in my own immortality. Useful lessons for a teenager.

My only advice: do it while you’re young. Breaking the law is much less cute when you’re 45 and caught with a packet of Richmond sausages in your briefcase.

Read Me Workout Two:

The case for cheating on your partner

Controversial topic. Most people worry about it and the others are guilty of it, all avoiding the subject like it’s a gay son at a Texas country club.

Let’s look at it scientifically, since we feel the need to distance ourselves. It’s just not natural to stick with one jaded-faded partner for years, especially if all you’re procreating is Habitat nesting tables.

But that’s a lame argument. Humans don’t go in for the whole ‘natural’ thing much these days. My hair isn’t really red. The vanilla latte next to me has never heard of Madagascar, let alone been a part of the island scene.

I’m beating about the bush – as I said, it’s a controversial subject. So here’s the crux…are you ready for a dose of the Word?

We only truly value what we have when we think we might lose it. And never are we more in danger of losing it than when we’ve ridden roughshod over everything it believes, hopes and has been promised.

It’s a refresher by fire. You’ll feel physically sick that you did this thing to the one person who matters above all atomic constructs in the universe. And every day that they still look at you and see the human you used to be is a GIFT, one you don’t deserve but are desperately grateful for.

You can’t live as if it’s your last day until you’ve had a gun to your head.