Vic Schwab

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

As writer of five columns a week, my inbox is a veritable cascade of news releases. Sometimes there are 50 a day or more. A good 90 percent of them are unreadable. But a couple of weeks ago, a subject line popped out of the morass: "Infographic: Who is a fraud perpetrator?" What followed was an email release—perfect in every way:

The techie Web hotshots are screwing up big time. They say the right things and do the wrong things. Example: To Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo, fashion magazines like Vogue and InStyle have achieved the Holy Grail of advertising. "The ads in those magazines are as interesting as the photo shoots and the articles," she said in an interview last week at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters. "I miss the ads when they are not there. I feel less fulfilled."

Where can you go for the best tips on direct response copywriting? Brian Kurtz, executive vice president of Boardroom Inc., rattled off a lot of good advice during his keynote presentation, "Dinosaurs & Cowboys: Direct Marketing Secrets Every Marketer Needs to Know Whether You Are Selling Online, Offline or Both." One of the points he covered was a list of best, most enlightening books of copywriting. We didn't have a chance to show you the list during the keynote, but here they are

Takeaways serve two purposes: 1) to force the writer (me) to focus on the key points of the story and ruthlessly self-edit when I start wandering off-track 2) to crystallize the story in the mind of the reader, making it memorable.

Ads are everywhere I look—on cars, jet plane fuselages, garbage trucks, golf carts, kids' report cards, over urinals, on billboards, gas pumps, cellphones, sports uniforms, skywriting, and of course, on radio, TV, newspapers, magazines and the Internet.

Every weekend I receive PARADE as an insert in my Philadelphia Inquirer. Being a direct marketing junkie, I scan it for the bright, busy full-page coupon ads from:

  • Bradford Exchange: Disney and Elvis plates and figurines, coins and Thomas Kinkade artistic kitsch
  • Lenox: Sculptures and Christmas ornaments
  • MBI/Easton Press: Sports collectibles, die-cast model cars and leather bound books

These ads are colorful with powerful offers, great graphics and immediately involving copy. They are masterpieces of their genre.

It was with astonishment that I came across a black-and-white full-page ad in PARADE looking for all the world like a personal note from a member of the Johnson family that makes well-known household products—Windex, Ziploc, Drano, Saran wrap, Fantastik and Pledge furniture wax to name a few. The body copy is set in a courier font that looks like it was generated on an ancient office Remington. At the bottom is a faded snapshot—presumably of the author—that could be the product of Kodak Brownie Box Camera from the 1930s. 

You can read the entire text of the ad in the section titled "IN THE NEWS" to the right. And if you click on the illustration in the mediaplayer, you’ll see what the ad looks like.

Running a retro black-and-white ad amid PARADE's brash color is what they call in show business "casting against type."

The question: Is this a smart way for an advertiser to spend his money?

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