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Internet Creative: Think Old, Not New

In this newest medium, the tested, proven rules apply

Vol. 6, Issue No. 22 | November 16, 2010 By Denny Hatch
14
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IN THE NEWS

From: Mark G.
Subject: The Secrets of Emotional Hot-Button Copywriting
To: dennyhatch@yahoo.com
Date: Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010, 9:52 PM

I ordered
“The Secrets of Emotional Hot-Button Copywriting” on Amazon and received it today and read it today.

I am thoroughly disappointed in this book. All of the examples of copy seem from another era and none of them gave me a clue about how to write for the Internet.

Therefore, I want to immediately return this book for a refund.

Please advise how to do this ...

Mark G.


We sold somewhere around 300 copies of my new book so far, “The Secrets of Emotional Hot-Button Copywriting.”

See “IN THE NEWS” at right. Mark G. was one of very few (if not the only) dissatisfied customer to demand an immediate refund. The key paragraph in Mark G.’s brief e-mail:

All of the examples of copy seem from another era and none of them gave me a clue about how to write for the Internet.

The lede of my e-mail reply to Mark G.—before getting into the nitty-gritty of his return and refund:

Sorry you feel that way. Sorrier still for your clients or employers.

Mark G.’s concept of the Internet was prevalent in those thrilling days of yesteryear—the late 1990s

"This is a new medium and a new paradigm,” the hot-shot 20-somethings told us marketing geezers back then. “We don’t need to know your old marketing rules. We make the rules now, so take a hike.”

That ignorance-is-bliss philosophy resulted in $3 trillion disappearing down the sewer in the dot-com bust, and legions of those smug, self-important kiddies wound up moving in with their parents and going back to school.

Fact: The only way to write for the Internet—or any other medium—is to study what has been tested―and proven successful―in other media from another era.

What worked then works now.

For example, what follows are two identical marketing case histories—800 years apart.

Chartres Cathedral, France, 1194 A.D.
As regular readers may recall, direct marketing was launched June 15, 1194 A.D., the week lightning kindled a huge fire that destroyed Chartres Cathedral. All that remained intact were the façade, west towers and the crypt. Bishop Regnault de Mouçon immediately started writing fundraising letters to rebuild it.

The rich noble families of France and England responded with cash and gifts, as did the many guilds, the equivalent of unions back then—shoemakers, wheelwrights, bankers, vintners, coopers, furriers, bankers, etc.

As an eternal “thank you,” the donors' portraits and coats of arms were included in the stained glass windows, where you can see them today. (Click on two of the Chartres windows in the mediaplayer at right.)

Takeaways to Consider

  • The only way to write for the Internet—or any other medium—is to study what was tested—and proven successful—in other media from another era.
  • What worked then works now.
  • Direct mail and space advertising are very expensive. Highly disciplined and costly testing is mandatory. Short cuts and casual attention to results are punishable by red ink—lots of it—and layoffs. 
  • On the Internet—where it costs virtually nothing to advertise—there is no need for arithmetic, no allowable cost per order. The only ones punished are you and I, our in-boxes groaning with illiterate, irrelevant, self-indulgent, untested crap.
  • "You cannot bore people into buying. The average family is now exposed to more than 1,500 advertisements a day. No wonder they have acquired a talent for skipping the advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and going to the bathroom during television commercials."
    David Ogilvy
  • “All direct mail is opened over the wastebasket.”
    —Lea Pierce
  • The emotional hot buttons work in all media: fear – greed – guilt – anger – exclusivity – salvation – flattery. “If your copy isn’t positively dripping with one or more of these,” said Seattle guru Bob Hacker, “tear it up and start over.”
  • The new and inviolable rule for Web writing: “You are a mouse click away from oblivion.”
  • “Times change. People don’t.”
    John Caples

 

Companies Mentioned:

14

COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
Kevin W - Posted on January 17, 2011
First, I like your comparison of Internet writing to direct mail. In many ways - especially e-mail - it's similar. But Internet copywriting also includes writing banner ads, Web sites (branded and unbranded) and managing conversations in social media.

I agree with your basic premise ("What worked then, works now") but I think you're missing some larger points.

Your criticism that ad space is "the equivalent of a New Yorker cartoon" shows the struggle that copywriters have in the digital space. And throw in regulations associated with pharma on top of that (at least here in the U.S.) and you have a number of challenges that Ye Olde Advertisers never dreamed of in the golden age of Madison Avenue.

Yes, it's true that great copy rules still apply to the Web, but many copywriters (new and old) are probably more interested with how best to meet the challenges imposed by the new medium. How long should a subject line be? What is the proper length of copy for a Web page? Are banner ads with less copy more engaging than banner ads with heavy copy? What makes a good call to action?
judy anderson - Posted on December 07, 2010
Yes, yes. The challenge is that many never saw these points as the basics--and for them, its "new". So, "the old is new again" still holds true.

Sue Tomasso - Posted on November 22, 2010
Once again you're right on target! The basics of anything can be boring (remember conjugating Latin verbs?) but too important to ignore. Is it a matter of education/ Seminars on social media are sexier than seminars on creative, list selection and analysis.
Side note on cathedrals-if you're fascinated by this monumental change in architecture make sure you read Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and World Without End.
Peter Drew - Posted on November 17, 2010
Excellent article, Denny!

One thing I didn't understand, and a quick online search explained it, was the expression "deader than Kelsey's nuts" in your paragraph about subject lines. Apparently, Richard Nixon employed it frequently. Wonder if he can be heard uttering it somewhere on the infamous Nixon Tapes?

As for your criticism of "creative" space ads, many of the ads you linked to in your article appear to me to be focused on brand loyalty. They're talking to the already converted. These ads simply say, "You know us. You love us. Keep loving us."

I remember, years ago, standing in front of a vending machine, wondering what candy bar to buy. I started to reach for the Twix button, stopped to think about why I was making that choice and realized I'd seen a Twix spot on TV that morning. Twix ads aren't exactly copy heavy. Lots of beauty shots of the product. Simply seeing those two cookie bars being smothered in chocolate were enough for my apparently easily influence brain to reflexively reach for that Twix button. I liked Twix and ate them regularly, so the TV ad reminded me how much I liked them. Ever since that little epiphany, I'm much more careful when I make product and service choices.

Brand reinforcement is fine I guess, but if a brand is not wooing new customers, then it eventually becomes irrelevant and dies. Hopefully, these brands are using other ads and media to promote benefits or stimulate trial.

Thanks for another thought-provoking article, Denny!

Peter
Rich Lapin - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny- As an aging boomer, I had no idea that sans serif type was so hard to read. Given your strong disapproval of sans serif, what font do you favor and why?. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
DH REPLIES: Rich, Thanx for writing. Back in June 2005, when I was just starting out with this enterprise, I got the following comment from a reader:
“Could I please make a suggestion? Your newsletter uses the "Times" font for body text, and in an email on a computer screen it is very hard to read. Could I get you to consider using a font that was designed for screen readability and is generally considered the most readable font for screen, Verdana? If not Verdana, at least a sans-serif font? If you do, I know I for one will be much more apt to read your newsletter. Thanks in advance. “ --Mike Schinkel, President; Xtras, Inc. I did a bunch of research and wrote a column on sans serif vs. serif fonts in terms of readability on a computer screen. I invite you to check it out. Thanx again for taking the time to write. Cheers.
http://tinyurl.com/5qs6m4

Tom Cannon - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny,
I teach a fund raising for arts organizations class at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I pass every article I get from you on to my students with the admonition, "Read This!!"
Later,
Tom Cannon
John Friesen - Posted on November 16, 2010
You are, as you most often are, right on the money.

Ogilvy said: "The average family is now exposed to more than 1,500 advertisements a day." To give that statistic flesh, it's equivalent to viewing 10 solid hours of 30-second TV commercials.
Brent D. Gardner, CLU, ChFC - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny,

This is a fantastic article! I've been teaching new insurance agents how to prospect and market for the last decade. Selling is relatively easy once an agent gets in front of a qualified prospect. Identifying, qualifying, and getting in front of that prospect is the hard part.

In every new class, there are those who insist there are better ways to prospect than what has worked for the last 200 years.

Every year, those same students flunk out of the business, and find work in some other industry.

I have noticed that the kids who have the most apps on their iPhones are the ones most likely to flunk out faster. I think they focus on the tools, rather than the techniques, for getting in front of people on a favorable basis who want/need our product solutions.

Fortunately, there's always one or two in every class that listen to the lessons handed down by the previous generation of successful veterans. A year later, I see their names at the top of production reports for new agents. I show these reports to new students, hoping that one or two pay attention.

Brent
Peter Hochstein - Posted on November 16, 2010
You are right, Denny. The problem is how to bang it into young heads that eternal verities are eternal verities, regardless of technology.

"Stand down or by God I shall drive a spear through thy heart."

"Drop the gun or I'll blow a hole in your 'effin head."

Each statement refers to a completely different technology and era, but appeals to exactly the same emotion.

"I will salt thy fields so that nothing shall grow there, even unto the tenth generation, and thee and thy tribe shall starve like beasts in the desert."

"I'm going to launch a denial of service attack that'll take down your damn website, and you and your company will go belly-up faster than you can say 'No Traffic During Christmas Season.'"

Once again it's different technologies and eras, but Identical emotions.

"O callow youth!"

"Hey, you young, arrogant idiot!"

Well, you the idea.

Peter Hochstein,
Antiquated Copywriter
Scott B - Posted on November 16, 2010
Good Article Denny,

I'm just starting to grow out of being a "kiddie" but still know that I have a lot to learn and know that there is nothing wrong with researching what worked in the past.

I always stress the importance of testing to my clients. From time to time, they feel like something that they have that works is dated. I don't push them away from trying something new, even if it goes against tried and true wisdom, but always push them to test it first before they put a lot of money into it. And also to test one radical change at a time, that way they can see early if something may not work.

Direct Mail across all mediums will evolve, we just have to be smart about it and keep in mind what worked in the past and be disciplined to test step at time when someone wants to try something radically new.
Max Bendel - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny,

Bravo, and may I make a suggestion. Include a version of this article as an intro in the next edition of your "“The Secrets of Emotional Hot-Button Copywriting.” And, in your next book if you feel it is appropriate. Also, include the necessary sell copy on the covers for Internet copywriting.

Max

P.S. If you haven't visited the Ogily agency website, I can only say that David Ogilvy is rolling over in his grave.
http://www.ogilvy.com/
Robert Doscher - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny: Absolutely correct! Here's some additional info. As you know, many years ago I headed up Reader's Doest research. We spent $2 million dollars developing the best new product concept research system available. For over 30 years, I have been installing this system into media, information, publishing, investment banking, and private equity organizations. It allows them to determine the appeal of new product concepts prior to spending any valuable development dollars on them. It also allows for preliminary P&L projections based on the products research scores when compared to specific controls. I recently completed a 4 1/2 year analysis of mail research tests against Internet research and have made the transition to Internet concepts tests...All based on the previous mail tests. WHAT WORKED BY MAIL IS EXACTLY WHAT WORKS ON THE INTERNET! The same copy, design, length of description, pricing, etc. ALL THE SAME! This system has not missed identifying the winners, and losers, in over 20 years and it makes no difference if it is a mail or Internet survey. The real benefit of the Internet is that you can have results in 36 hours vs. 3 months for mail. The young and restless newbees should invite all the oldees to meet at one place to discuss the basics of direct marketing which still work and have not changed in since inception. Great article Denny!
Jim H - Posted on November 16, 2010
Having attended services at the Crystal Cathedral while on business trips to SoCal, I can certainly attest to the beauty and comprehensiveness of the campus. However, it also struck me as perhaps "too much" given the ultimate (and simple) purpose of any church - to serve as a place in which preach the Gospel. I was aware of the succession issues from a couple of years ago but not the recent bankruptcy. Their dilemma serves as a warning that a church cannot be so closely tied to whom the pastor is at any moment - it needs to be about the message. I pray that the situation will improve for them.
Linda Laubach - Posted on November 16, 2010
I suspect that Proctor and Gamble subscribes to the same marketing strategy as Liberty Medical. A few weeks ago, the CEO of my company (a 70 year old man) brought me a piece that he received in the mail, which was addressed specifically to him. It was an informational piece with coupon for Tampax Tampons. Of course this sent me in a tirade...calling for the immediate firing of the nincompoop who was responsible for the campaign, vetting the list, etc. I mean really.... At least Liberty Medical provided some lame reasoning. How on earth could Proctor and Gamble explain that away?
Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
Kevin W - Posted on January 17, 2011
First, I like your comparison of Internet writing to direct mail. In many ways - especially e-mail - it's similar. But Internet copywriting also includes writing banner ads, Web sites (branded and unbranded) and managing conversations in social media.

I agree with your basic premise ("What worked then, works now") but I think you're missing some larger points.

Your criticism that ad space is "the equivalent of a New Yorker cartoon" shows the struggle that copywriters have in the digital space. And throw in regulations associated with pharma on top of that (at least here in the U.S.) and you have a number of challenges that Ye Olde Advertisers never dreamed of in the golden age of Madison Avenue.

Yes, it's true that great copy rules still apply to the Web, but many copywriters (new and old) are probably more interested with how best to meet the challenges imposed by the new medium. How long should a subject line be? What is the proper length of copy for a Web page? Are banner ads with less copy more engaging than banner ads with heavy copy? What makes a good call to action?
judy anderson - Posted on December 07, 2010
Yes, yes. The challenge is that many never saw these points as the basics--and for them, its "new". So, "the old is new again" still holds true.

Sue Tomasso - Posted on November 22, 2010
Once again you're right on target! The basics of anything can be boring (remember conjugating Latin verbs?) but too important to ignore. Is it a matter of education/ Seminars on social media are sexier than seminars on creative, list selection and analysis.
Side note on cathedrals-if you're fascinated by this monumental change in architecture make sure you read Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and World Without End.
Peter Drew - Posted on November 17, 2010
Excellent article, Denny!

One thing I didn't understand, and a quick online search explained it, was the expression "deader than Kelsey's nuts" in your paragraph about subject lines. Apparently, Richard Nixon employed it frequently. Wonder if he can be heard uttering it somewhere on the infamous Nixon Tapes?

As for your criticism of "creative" space ads, many of the ads you linked to in your article appear to me to be focused on brand loyalty. They're talking to the already converted. These ads simply say, "You know us. You love us. Keep loving us."

I remember, years ago, standing in front of a vending machine, wondering what candy bar to buy. I started to reach for the Twix button, stopped to think about why I was making that choice and realized I'd seen a Twix spot on TV that morning. Twix ads aren't exactly copy heavy. Lots of beauty shots of the product. Simply seeing those two cookie bars being smothered in chocolate were enough for my apparently easily influence brain to reflexively reach for that Twix button. I liked Twix and ate them regularly, so the TV ad reminded me how much I liked them. Ever since that little epiphany, I'm much more careful when I make product and service choices.

Brand reinforcement is fine I guess, but if a brand is not wooing new customers, then it eventually becomes irrelevant and dies. Hopefully, these brands are using other ads and media to promote benefits or stimulate trial.

Thanks for another thought-provoking article, Denny!

Peter
Rich Lapin - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny- As an aging boomer, I had no idea that sans serif type was so hard to read. Given your strong disapproval of sans serif, what font do you favor and why?. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
DH REPLIES: Rich, Thanx for writing. Back in June 2005, when I was just starting out with this enterprise, I got the following comment from a reader:
“Could I please make a suggestion? Your newsletter uses the "Times" font for body text, and in an email on a computer screen it is very hard to read. Could I get you to consider using a font that was designed for screen readability and is generally considered the most readable font for screen, Verdana? If not Verdana, at least a sans-serif font? If you do, I know I for one will be much more apt to read your newsletter. Thanks in advance. “ --Mike Schinkel, President; Xtras, Inc. I did a bunch of research and wrote a column on sans serif vs. serif fonts in terms of readability on a computer screen. I invite you to check it out. Thanx again for taking the time to write. Cheers.
http://tinyurl.com/5qs6m4

Tom Cannon - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny,
I teach a fund raising for arts organizations class at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I pass every article I get from you on to my students with the admonition, "Read This!!"
Later,
Tom Cannon
John Friesen - Posted on November 16, 2010
You are, as you most often are, right on the money.

Ogilvy said: "The average family is now exposed to more than 1,500 advertisements a day." To give that statistic flesh, it's equivalent to viewing 10 solid hours of 30-second TV commercials.
Brent D. Gardner, CLU, ChFC - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny,

This is a fantastic article! I've been teaching new insurance agents how to prospect and market for the last decade. Selling is relatively easy once an agent gets in front of a qualified prospect. Identifying, qualifying, and getting in front of that prospect is the hard part.

In every new class, there are those who insist there are better ways to prospect than what has worked for the last 200 years.

Every year, those same students flunk out of the business, and find work in some other industry.

I have noticed that the kids who have the most apps on their iPhones are the ones most likely to flunk out faster. I think they focus on the tools, rather than the techniques, for getting in front of people on a favorable basis who want/need our product solutions.

Fortunately, there's always one or two in every class that listen to the lessons handed down by the previous generation of successful veterans. A year later, I see their names at the top of production reports for new agents. I show these reports to new students, hoping that one or two pay attention.

Brent
Peter Hochstein - Posted on November 16, 2010
You are right, Denny. The problem is how to bang it into young heads that eternal verities are eternal verities, regardless of technology.

"Stand down or by God I shall drive a spear through thy heart."

"Drop the gun or I'll blow a hole in your 'effin head."

Each statement refers to a completely different technology and era, but appeals to exactly the same emotion.

"I will salt thy fields so that nothing shall grow there, even unto the tenth generation, and thee and thy tribe shall starve like beasts in the desert."

"I'm going to launch a denial of service attack that'll take down your damn website, and you and your company will go belly-up faster than you can say 'No Traffic During Christmas Season.'"

Once again it's different technologies and eras, but Identical emotions.

"O callow youth!"

"Hey, you young, arrogant idiot!"

Well, you the idea.

Peter Hochstein,
Antiquated Copywriter
Scott B - Posted on November 16, 2010
Good Article Denny,

I'm just starting to grow out of being a "kiddie" but still know that I have a lot to learn and know that there is nothing wrong with researching what worked in the past.

I always stress the importance of testing to my clients. From time to time, they feel like something that they have that works is dated. I don't push them away from trying something new, even if it goes against tried and true wisdom, but always push them to test it first before they put a lot of money into it. And also to test one radical change at a time, that way they can see early if something may not work.

Direct Mail across all mediums will evolve, we just have to be smart about it and keep in mind what worked in the past and be disciplined to test step at time when someone wants to try something radically new.
Max Bendel - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny,

Bravo, and may I make a suggestion. Include a version of this article as an intro in the next edition of your "“The Secrets of Emotional Hot-Button Copywriting.” And, in your next book if you feel it is appropriate. Also, include the necessary sell copy on the covers for Internet copywriting.

Max

P.S. If you haven't visited the Ogily agency website, I can only say that David Ogilvy is rolling over in his grave.
http://www.ogilvy.com/
Robert Doscher - Posted on November 16, 2010
Denny: Absolutely correct! Here's some additional info. As you know, many years ago I headed up Reader's Doest research. We spent $2 million dollars developing the best new product concept research system available. For over 30 years, I have been installing this system into media, information, publishing, investment banking, and private equity organizations. It allows them to determine the appeal of new product concepts prior to spending any valuable development dollars on them. It also allows for preliminary P&L projections based on the products research scores when compared to specific controls. I recently completed a 4 1/2 year analysis of mail research tests against Internet research and have made the transition to Internet concepts tests...All based on the previous mail tests. WHAT WORKED BY MAIL IS EXACTLY WHAT WORKS ON THE INTERNET! The same copy, design, length of description, pricing, etc. ALL THE SAME! This system has not missed identifying the winners, and losers, in over 20 years and it makes no difference if it is a mail or Internet survey. The real benefit of the Internet is that you can have results in 36 hours vs. 3 months for mail. The young and restless newbees should invite all the oldees to meet at one place to discuss the basics of direct marketing which still work and have not changed in since inception. Great article Denny!
Jim H - Posted on November 16, 2010
Having attended services at the Crystal Cathedral while on business trips to SoCal, I can certainly attest to the beauty and comprehensiveness of the campus. However, it also struck me as perhaps "too much" given the ultimate (and simple) purpose of any church - to serve as a place in which preach the Gospel. I was aware of the succession issues from a couple of years ago but not the recent bankruptcy. Their dilemma serves as a warning that a church cannot be so closely tied to whom the pastor is at any moment - it needs to be about the message. I pray that the situation will improve for them.
Linda Laubach - Posted on November 16, 2010
I suspect that Proctor and Gamble subscribes to the same marketing strategy as Liberty Medical. A few weeks ago, the CEO of my company (a 70 year old man) brought me a piece that he received in the mail, which was addressed specifically to him. It was an informational piece with coupon for Tampax Tampons. Of course this sent me in a tirade...calling for the immediate firing of the nincompoop who was responsible for the campaign, vetting the list, etc. I mean really.... At least Liberty Medical provided some lame reasoning. How on earth could Proctor and Gamble explain that away?