Copywriting

You are currently browsing the archive for the Copywriting category.

Sometimes in life, you just get lucky.  You are in the right place at the right time and someone gives you your first break at doing what you love. That was the case with me when I answered a classified ad for an advertising copywriter at Bofinger and Associates, a local agency in Glenside, PA. I was a recent graduate of Susquehanna University with a seemingly useless degree in English (seemingly useless for getting hired for a journalism job unless I wanted to try my hand at writing obituaries part-time for the Quakertown Free Press). However, I submitted my resume and I got a call from the agency owner, Charlie Bofinger. He asked me to come in for an interview for the entry level PR job, also in the same ad. He told me on the phone he was looking for someone with a little experience for the copywriter post. And so, I went for my first agency interview and got hired to write for a living.

Charles Bofinger, former principal of Bofinger and Associates ad agency

Charles Bofinger, former principal of Bofinger and Associates ad agency

I was saddened to read Charlie’s obituary last week, but glad that he lived a long fulfilling life to age 88. Reading it brought back a flood of memories. His agency was small by Madison Avenue standards, but I quickly learned that Charlie had a lot of talented people working for him, each one of which I learned different skills from, including: Herb Smith, Account Service; Bernice Slosberg, Media; Marc Ellis, Copy Chief; and Pat Burns, PR.

As a graduate of the Milton Hershey School, Charlie Bofinger learned how to leverage his considerable artistic talents and business acumen through various connections he had made in Hershey. The result of that was a solid core of accounts from Chocolate Town, USA. The agency handled advertising for Hersheypark, all of the Hershey resort properties (Hotel Hershey, Hershey Motor Lodge and Convention Center, Pocono Hershey Resort), the Milton Hershey School, various HERCO projects, as well as some Hershey Foods assignments, such as San Giorgio brand pasta. On this solid base, Bofinger and Associates built additional account business, including CRC Chemicals, Van Sciver furniture, Malo marshmallow cup candy, and a number of other clients.

Bofinger handled all of Hershey's resorts, including the Hotel Hershey

Bofinger handled all of Hershey's resorts, including the Hotel Hershey

Heady for me was the chance to learn PR on behalf of CRC, whose various cleaning chemicals were staples for degreasing. It is where I learned about brand extensions with one line of formulations for automotive, another for marine, and another for industrial use. One of my earliest assignments was writing regular news releases about CRC’s various market-specific products. Things got a lot more interesting when the decision was made to raise awareness of the automotive line by sponsoring a NASCAR driver. CRC didn’t have a huge budget, so it was looking for a top 10 driver who might crack the top 5. They settled on a good one — a guy who did manage to make the top 5 a few times, but also made a bigger name for himself later on as the head of one of today’s premier racing teams — Richard Childress.

Richard Childress as a driver sponsored by CRC Chemicals

Richard Childress as a driver sponsored by CRC Chemicals

Bofinger press kit for CRC automotive chemicals

Bofinger press kit for CRC automotive chemicals

My recollections of Charlie was a guy who was very hard-working and often out of the office, spending time with his clients, learning their needs and their business challenges. When he was in his office, he was always working hard on ad designs.

I remember doing some of my own market research at Hersheypark in the spring with my college roommate, Bob Nisley, who lived in nearby Hummelstown and had had a thankless summer job during school working as a park mascot in one of those heavy character costumes. We tried out various park rides, including the old wooden coaster and the newest one called the SooperDooperLooper. My own kids just returned from a band trip to Hersheypark on Friday and announced to me that those are now the kiddie rides. I also toured the hotel properties in town and was impressed by how well all the tourism synergy works together there.

"Hersheypark Happy". . .one of Bofinger and Associates' many accounts (and jingles)

"Hersheypark Happy". . .one of Bofinger and Associates' many accounts (and jingles)

I worked for Charlie Bofinger the better part of a year and even got promoted to that ad copywriter job when the original person hired didn’t stay past the first few months. Then, one day, I came into the office and learned a tough but valuable lesson about the capricious nature of the ad business. Van Sciver Furniture, a big broadcast account for us, had decided to take its account elsewhere because sales had been down. Although I never worked on the account, I learned that job security was a lot like the LIFO accounting method (last in, first out). On Friday of that week, I got layed off from the agency and discovered unemployment insurance. Charlie was very sad to have to deliver that decision personally, but was very fair in how he handled it.

I can’t complain because, thanks to the Bofinger experience, I soon landed another advertising job at Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company, where I got to work with a lot of other young hires and eventually met my wife Drina. One day I was pleasantly surprised to read in the Inquirer that Bofinger and Associates had been acquired by Spiro, one of Philadelphia’s largest agencies at the time. Smart businessman that Charlie.

After two years at Provident Mutual, I got hired at Newton Associates, by two other great mentors, Jon Newton and Harry Streamer, who gave me many more opportunities (all of which is future blog material). During the early days of Newton, I would occasionally hear of Charlie. I knew he had loved painting and the Jersey shore. Somewhere I learned that there was a gallery in Stone Harbor that carried his work. Drina and I stopped in one weekend and bought one of his serigraphs. Another is hanging near the front desk at Newton and came courtesy of Charlie’s brother Ken, who used to call on Newton regularly representing many of the area’s printers.

Besides his agency career, Charlie Bofinger was also a talented fine artist.

Besides his agency career, Charlie Bofinger was also a talented fine artist.

Thanks, Charlie. You helped a lot of associates and clients over a long career in the crazy business of advertising. Including a young wet-behind-the-ears kid who now co-runs his own agency and tries to follow life lessons learned from some great mentors, you being the first.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 4 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

This week, President Obama made one of those statements he probably wanted to retract as soon as he expressed it. He was lauding Kamala Harris, the Attorney General of California, for her many accomplishments and her legal experience, when he did something guys of another era used to do all the time — he complimented Ms. Harris for being attractive. Instantly, attractive women felt marginalized (He only admires her for her looks.), unattractive women felt even more marginalized (I bet he’d never say that about me.), attractive men were confused (What’s wrong with that?), and unattractive men were also confused (What’s wrong with that?).  Surely, the President got a later earful from the First Lady and his two daughters. All around it was an awkward moment that momentarily tilted the world off its access.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EQTyxNTQTtk&noredirect=1

Meanwhile in the world of advertising, super models are the daily norm and sensitivities be damned. Attractive people have always been used in commercials and catalogs to build brands and sell products. When that dynamic is tampered with, as GoDaddy did in their commercial during the last SuperBowl, having super model Bar Refaeli soulfully kiss computer nerd Walter, to illustrate the blending of sexy and smart, something doesn’t feel right (maybe having Danica Patrick announce the moment?). In this case, the situation was meant for comic effect, but there was something cruel about it. I know the young man wasn’t complaining about having to do take after interminable take to get the camera angle right, but he was clearly the butt of a joke in front of that audience of 108.4 million viewers. At times, we are overly sensitive, while at others like this one, we aren’t nearly sensitive enough. Take Target this week and their “manatee grey” plus size dress. Did they think anyone (everyone?) was going to miss that inference?

The Lonesome Girl learns how to make a dress.

All of which brings me back to the “100 Greatest Advertisements” collection, which features some ads that play on sensitive subjects, especially on women’s insecurities. “The Diary of a Lonesome Girl” makes every other copy-heavy ad seem like haiku. But it is worth a read to get a sense of the pitch for the Woman’s Institute, which is a mail order teaching curriculum. In this case, the course is on dress-making and it is the salvation of the Lonesome Girl from the headline. The ad is a diary account of a young lady who is practically destitute, living at home, sequestered in her room because she can’t afford to go to her neighbor’s parties, tormented because she can hear those parties and knows that her neighbor is dancing with Tom, and embarrassed that she only owns that old blue crepe dress. Since President Obama wasn’t around at the time to lift her spirits by calling her attractive, the narrator of the ad has to turn to the Woman’s Institute, which she does, discovers the art of dress making, and eventually she throws her own parties and wows Tom and her neighbor. I’ll never worry about over-promising in one of my ads again.

You may be attractive, but it's actually your breath that's stopping traffic.

You may be attractive, but it's actually your breath that's stopping traffic.

There are two ads that follow, further unnerving women readers who are unattached. An early ad for Listerine reveals why one woman is often a “Bridesmaid but Never a Bride.” Evidently, because she cannot smell her own breath, the thought of halitosis has never occurred to her. The ushers’ shriveled-up boutonnieres from the last 8 weddings never raised a red flag?

Pepsodent was on teeth film long before white strips.

Pepsodent was on teeth film long before white strips.

Meanwhile, if we think teeth whitening strips and treatments are a recent obsession, Pepsodent can remind us that we’ve been concerned with dingy-colored teeth for a very long time. Once again, a woman’s appearance is hugely important to her. And sometimes it is a matter of Presidential importance.

Diamonds. Attracting women since forever.

Diamonds. Attracting women since forever.

Finally, this N.W. Ayer ad for DeBeers was one of many to launch a long association between diamond jewelry and advertising (1939-1947), and the famous slogan, “A Diamond is Forever.”  One thing we can all agree upon when it comes to the word “attractive,” it is safe to say in public that women find diamonds very attractive.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The ad industry was once filled with imaginative writers, amazing artists, and exceptional salespeople. Today, it still is, but there are a lot fewer of them, with their thinning ranks filled by technologists. However, I’ve always been buoyed by copywriters who manage to write their way out of the agency business and into fame and fortune. After working on Detroit automotive accounts, Elmore Leonard launched a prolific career as a crime novelist — most recently, his lawman character Raylan has spawned the popular cable show JustifiedJames Patterson, author of the Alex Cross mysteries and now a hugely successful children’s book author, once toiled at J. Walter Thompson.  Even, more serious scribes like F. Scott Fitzgerald (you know, the Gatsby guy) first penned ad copy to pay the bills.

Closer to home, I once had the pleasure of a book-signing meeting with award-winning author of young adult fiction, Jerry Spinelli, who worked on the trade media side of the business as an editor at the long-gone Chilton publishing empire in Radnor. He put Norristown and the Elmwood Park Zoo on the map in the classic Maniac Magee. I also once interviewed with a very personable Jon Clinch, a creative director at Schaefer Advertising, who went on to write a remarkable first novel, Finn, daring to take on Twain’s story from the perspective of Huck’s dead father.

Unfortunately, for every fiction and screenwriter writing about advertising from the outside (MadMen, thirtysomething), there are many more writers in the advertising profession hoping to midwife the Great American Novel. Fortunately, a few are also putting their talents to work creating exceptional thought leadership tomes about advertising, branding, and marketing. Some are brand names themselves (Ogilvy on Advertising). Some are in-demand lecturers like David Meerman Scott.  And others are terrific practitioners of what they preach.

One of the latter is a friend of mine, Lori Widmer, who fills every day as a professional writer, freelancing for corporations and agencies like Newton, writing Words on the Page, a writer’s blog, co-moderating About Writing Squared, a writers’ forum, and now authoring an ambitious and ingenious e-book of ideas, Marketing 365.

Marketing365 is an idea-a-day business-building treasure chest for entrepreneurs

Marketing365 is an idea-a-day business-building treasure chest for entrepreneurs

This work is literally a year’s worth of advice, (plus a bonus for leap year), to help small businesses and entrepreneurs develop and retain their customer bases by making marketing an essential everyday agenda item. The guide is a quick-read at 108 breezy pages, but it is chock-full of great recommendations. Lori doesn’t want readers to implement one a day, or anything close to all of them. She just wants businesspeople to mine her book for things that fit their company culture and personal comfort level. It is a great reference source to skim through to trigger new thinking about an age-old subject. She manages to mix traditional methods and media with plenty of digital and social options, all without repeating herself January 1 – December 31. It would make a great addition to any marketing curriculum and SBA support center.

Marketing 365 can be yours via PDF download for the bargain price of $14.95. I hope the many readers of this blog will help make Lori rich (just not rich enough to leave the profession and give up occasional freelancing).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I belong to a number of LinkedIn industry groups, mostly to follow some intriguing discussion threads. Last week, Edwina Owens Elliott, an Illustrator/Owner of FASHION + ART, an e-commerce gallery, posed the mother of all topics to the “Creative Intensive Network – For All Advertising Creatives.” She politely asked “Should Art Directors and Designers be Licensed?” following Advertising Age’s Small Agency Diary post on “Should the Ad Industry Have a Certification Process?” You would think she had smacked a hornets’ nest with a Louisville slugger. The resulting daily (and nightly) dust-up has gone on for 17 days with no end in sight. Soapboxes have been stood upon. One liners have been unleashed. Jabs have made. Hoisting has taken place on more than one petard.

Should Art Directors and Designers Be Licensed?

Should Art Directors and Designers Be Licensed?

The unscientific majority of responses tended toward either outrage or amusement over the concept of trying to certify (regulate) creative folks. Most posters saw it as  (a) Big Brotherish, (b) silly, or (c) a blatant revenue grab. I couldn’t resist posting a few times: to ask if anyone had ever seen a well-designed government form; to note that one’s art school credentials and/or one’s portfolio were each a form of certification;  and to mention that the University of San Francisco is already advertising a certificate program in online advertising. Some rightly noted that certification does not have to come from the government; it could be through a school, an industry association, or an independent auditing organization. Others pointed out that the government should regulate activities where someone could be physically harmed through negligence (doctors, airline pilots, architects, even nail salons).  Of course government intervention derailed the discussion into areas as diverse as climate change and artistic integrity.

Yesterday, I was talking with a printer who noted that even the Forest Stewardship Council is its own bit of certification strong-arming. There is pressure on printers to pay a lot to be dues-paying FSC members. However, non-members can pay nothing, still purchase FSC-certified papers on behalf of their clients, and do just as much for the environment.

After more than two weeks of fascinating posts to Edwina’s questions, I have been entertained, amused, and enlightened. Anything that adds cost, stifles creativity, encourages auto-pilot attitudes, while being nothing that the client is clamoring for is going to be unnecessary and unpopular. If you’re going to push for universal professional certification in this industry better have a thick skin, a lot of patience, a masochistic streak, and/or a bottle of bourbon handy at the end of the day.

Tags: , , , , ,

The familiar AOL symbols when Aol was familiar

The familiar AOL symbols when Aol was familiar

I have to admit, I have had America Online frozen in time. The company that brought dial-up Internet and e-mail service to every household in the United States (even if you weren’t a customer, you received one of their membership kits on CD by mail) faded into obscurity thanks to broadband, Google, mobile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a long list of other digital brands and technologies. Everyone can make that instant “You’ve Got Mail” leap to the not-very-distant past, but fewer and fewer of us visit America Online in our daily on line routines. I still have a free Aol e-mail account, but haven’t opened my mailbox in over a year, because I am frightened of being greeted by a 60 GB wall of spam.

Aol's ubiquitous membership kit markeing campaign

Aol's ubiquitous membership kit markeing campaign

That’s why I was surprised to get a call from my son who has had a part-time college and summer job with an online video syndication platform start-up called 5min Media. “Dad, Aol just bought my employer for a reported 65 million dollars.” I was stunned. I didn’t know that Aol still had 65 million dollars. And what were they doing buying a small firm with a more cleverly targeted variant of YouTube?
Turns out Aol has been on a shopping spree. They also purchased video creator and distributor Studio Now in January and IT news blog TechCrunch and Thing Labs, creator of social network content sharing software Brizzly in recent days. In addition, AOL has been hiring writers to focus on increasing the amount of original content on its networks. This all followed a serious stock price plunge and the decision to reinvent itself. I am increasingly intrigued by this storyline and wish Aol well. Large corporations that survive do so by keeping up with and hopefully starting new trends. It’s been a long time since people associated IBM with international sales of business machines. Or GE with light bulbs.

Project Devil is Aol's ambitious new approach to improve web advertising.

Project Devil is Aol's ambitious new approach to improve web advertising.

With all that news as context, I was not at all surprised to see a four-color Aol spread in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal advertising a new direction for web advertising called Project Devil. Even better, it touched on a hot button of mine. The miserable advertising experience and canvas delivered by most web sites. Too many pages have been overseen by neither an art director nor a production manager. They look like they’ve been spewed out by a blender without a lid. Banner ads. text ads. Popups. Sponsor logos. Video clips. All splattered on the page, some blending with, and blurring the lines between, editorial and advertising content. Is it any wonder why no one gets excited about interactive ads, let alone interactive ad campaigns. Measurable, yes. Memorable, hardly.
Aol is attempting to pioneer a new direction with Project Devil. They have discovered the value of white space and a designer’s eye. They are presenting a new view that draws obvious lines between editorial and advertising And gives both room to breathe. So far, it is hard to tell how much of this is wishful thinking and how much is a deliverable universal format. Will this clean uncluttered approach be available only on the Aol network or will it be transferable to other sites and communities, too? The danger in this is that people will soon grow tired of a Project Devil web page, because it looks like every other Project Devil web page. At least for now, it’s a great new look and a bold new direction for Aol.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Spiderman

Spiderman

When I first discovered the Marvel-ous world of comic books as a youth (I’ve since come to appreciate DC properties in their own right), I got sucked in by some great storytelling (the art was cheesy, but would get better and attract premier illustrators) about superheroes with human problems. Spiderman was also Peter Parker, the high school nerd who got bullied. Iron Man was Tony Stark, a millionaire industrialist with a drinking problem. Daredevil was an attorney, who also happened to be blind.
Little did I know at the time that comics books would grow from a small publishing business target-marketing kids and young adults into a mega-entertainment industry encompassing print, digital, graphic novels, major Hollywood movies and TV shows, theme park rides, video games, toys and collectibles, licensed products, and major consumer/trade shows.
The ads that supported comics used to look like this.

Sea Monkeys any one?

Sea Monkeys any one?

Now, sponsors like Butterfinger take hospitality suites at ComiCon.

ComiCon 2010

ComiCon 2010

It took a few decades, plus the emergence of extra-special special effects and CGI that led to big-budget summer movie-making and comic book character franchise launches, to totally transform comic books into a cultural phenomenon. Now, that time reading 25 cent comics under a backyard tree seems like a galaxy far, far away.
How did it happen? It began with great content. Content that stood the test of time. Content that got reprinted and repurposed. Content that inspired new generations of writers and artists and filmmakers to offer their take on beloved characters.
Marketing content is different than entertainment content. But right now there are too many companies who settle for commoditized solutions that all blend together. Trust an imaginative writer, a gifted artist, a talented filmmaker to tell the story of your company. Give prospects and customers a reason to get excited about the products and services they buy from you. Take a page or two from Stan Lee, visionary. Content will always be king.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Tom Carvel

Tom Carvel

As a creative in advertising, I find my teeth grinding whenever I see a commercial that is clearly a do-it-yourself production. You know the ones I mean. The spots typically feature a business owner who thinks he can save money by not hiring an agency and by being his own spokesman. Zero charisma. Lame delivery. Bad puns.

As a business owner, I have a slightly different take, especially in the present economic climate. The late great Tom Carvel represents what’s both right and wrong about this approach.

Back in the 70s and 80s, Tom made himself synonymous with his soft ice cream empire by doing home-made commercials with home-made announcing. His distinctive voice, as someone on a Comments page put it, “sounds like Tom Waits gargling hot asphalt.” There were times it was even hard to make out what Carvel was saying.

But it is hard to argue with results. Tom Carvel built a highly successful fast food franchise, as evidenced here and here. Not believing in ad agencies was not the same thing as not believing in advertising. Clearly, Carvel had faith in marketing and he funded it and threw himself into it full bore. He came up with novel names for ice-cream novelties, such as Cookie-Pus and Tom Turkey. He spent a lot of money on media in order to attract business to his stores.

Today, Carvel the company is going strong long after its founder’s passing. The offbeat ice cream cakes still bear the names of the characters that Tom Carvel created. I’m guessing that an agency is involved now. Fudgie the Whale appears to be a little too carefully art directed. Instead of looking like the creation of someone armed with a cake icer and not enough time serve up his creation, Fudgie now resembles the baby monster that bursts out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. I miss Tom’s amateurish but consistently funded efforts to build his brand.

Fudgie the Whale

Fudgie the Whale

Tags: , ,

Stephen King could have been our greatest copywriter

Stephen King could have been our greatest copywriter

I usually don’t read Entertainment Weekly for advertising news, but the June 4/11 2010 issue (100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years) contained an absolute gem about our industry. In his guest column (The Pop of King), Stephen King reveals that he almost followed another path instead of becoming the most successful horror writer of all time. His high school guidance counselor told him that results on an aptitude test revealed him to be well qualified for a career on Madison Avenue. Not a surprise given F. Scott Fitzgerald, Elmore Leonard, James Patterson, and many others got a great creative foundation as copywriters, then went on to become accomplished novelists. I would have loved to see Stephen King’s take on ad classics. A demonic Pillsbury Dough Boy. Some bloody good new uses for Heinz Ketchup. Kathy Bates comes to the aid of the “I’ve Fallen But I Can’t Get Up” lady.
But I digress. Stephen King’s column was dedicated to “The Most Obnoxious TV Commercial. Ever.” He offers some historical examples before sending readers to the Huffington Post to cast a vote for favorite of “The 17 Most Annoying Commercials Of All Time.”

HuffingtonPost — Most Annoying Commercials of All Time

HuffingtonPost — Most Annoying Commercials of All Time

There is definitely plenty to annoy here, although this grab-bag doesn’t do justice to the many stupefiers and wince-inducers from decades of badvertising. The Meow-Mix cat food jingle is here. Clap-on, Clap-off, The Clapper. Plus Toyota’s “Saved By Zero” sales event, which wasn’t bad until they bought a continuous loop media buy that ensured by the time people had seen the spot for the 4,057th time, their heads would explode like in Scanners (I’m sure on Stephen King’s all time list of cult classic horror movies).

As for Stephen’s hands-down choice, it’s ShoeDini, which combines the extended broadcast time of an infomercial with the voiceover of an over-caffeinated Gilbert Gottfried:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SltsgYuSHrw

My own choice for most annoying commercial? It’s a whole mini campaign arc that annoys me less for the productions than for the business decisions behind them. It’s Microsoft’s lead-in to the Windows 7 launch and their response to the Apple ads (PC and Mac) in which all Windows PCs take a licking, then another licking, then yet another licking, then a full-blown piñata bashing, then, well you get the picture.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKM8kCPBn5E

Any agency would kill for the budget that teams Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld in their own reality show sitcom to connect with real people. But not many agencies would deliver this loopy approach as a reason to buy a Windows PC. These spots succeed in humanizing Bill and putting Jerry in some forced comedy moments, while failing in their mission impossible — distracting PC buyers from Apple’s growing technological domination, as evidenced by last week’s news that they’ve overtaken Microsoft as the world’s biggest tech company.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Vampire Weekend, sans comma, gives us pause.

It’s hard to argue with the uber-talented Vampire Weekend, especially since they keep creating such catchy music like their sophomore effort, Contra.

However, we most definitely have a bone to pick about a song that hangs up on a punctuation mark from their self-titled debut album. In marketing communications, the devil is always in the details. And an Oxford Comma is often all that separates clarity from anarchy.

The Oxford Comma, sometimes known as the Serial Comma or the Harvard Comma, is an optional punctuation mark used before the conjunction in a list of three or more. Those, like Vampire Weekend, who express casual disdain for it risk a pile-up whenever there’s a complicated construction.

Exhibit A — this sentence about the music industry:

When considering great groups and duos, you need to include Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

Remove the optional Oxfords and you’ve got:

When considering great groups and duos, you need to include Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

So, while we are all for style, which Vampire Weekend delivers effortlessly, we highly recommend considering a reliable reference guide when producing written communications that you want your audience to read and understand.

The most readable of all reference guides.

Tags: , , , ,