Think Visually

(Click to enlarge image)

Even if you’re a writer or copywriter, thinking visually can be just the thing to generate a fresh idea or creative concept. I know this may seem obvious, but for some writers (myself included) words have usually been the way to solve a communications challenge.

And that’s OK. As writers, words are our creative playground.

There’s a saying I’ve heard that goes something like, “He has to talk to know what he’s thinking.” A similar thing can be said about wordsmiths: “He has to write to know what he’s thinking.” That’s been me much of my career.

For example, when developing concepts for B2B advertising and marketing projects, I’ve often just scribbled raw headlines, taglines and such in stream-of-consciousness fashion. Sometimes for hours at a time. I can usually come up with something. Add a complementary visual or image to a smart headline or slogan and it becomes a snappy ad or perhaps a campaign.

But there’s another way. It’s the way graphic designers and art directors think. Visually.

As the years have gone by, I’ve improved in this area. I’m not great, just better. Sometime I’ll suspend the writing and just think visually. This week, for instance, I came up with the above image idea for a direct-mail piece about a fax-to-email service. The creative director liked it, and after the art director rendered it, I worked on a headline.

I’ve also at times suggested that those talented art people come up with the concepts or a visual direction, and then I’ll write the headlines and copy. This approach can work quite well.


William Safire and the Art of Persuasion

New York Times columnist William Safire died on Sunday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. I knew of him but was not very well informed about his long career as a communications pro.

That might seem like an odd term for Safire, who is most recently remembered as a conservative columnist and defender of intelligent usage of the English language. But I learned a lot more about Safire in the few minutes it took to read one of the many articles published in recent days. He was, indeed, a pro who practiced the art of persuasion in a variety of settings throughout a long career, including journalism, advertising, public relations and politics.

Surprisingly, Safire was a college dropout (Syracuse University) who entered journalism and worked in all media, including TV in its early days. I didn’t realize Safire had a career in public relations, and was working in the field when Richard Nixon asked him to join Nixon’s 1960 campaign for president, which Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy.

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David Ogilvy on Headlines

Note: I’ve seen different versions of the first quote many times. It never gets old. But I just discovered the second Ogilvy quote about headlines today. It’s also a good one.

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

“The headline is the ‘ticket on the meat.’ Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of product you are advertising.”

Born in Scotland, the late David Ogilvy has been called the father of advertising. Find more David Ogilvy quotes here.

The Advertising Downturn and Other Thoughts

Ad spending may be down (print ads in particular), but there are still those who believe in advertising. A friend of mine who is a business owner expressed his belief early this year, recalling the blunt statement of a Coca-Cola executive (paraphrased):

“When I advertise, my sales go up. When I don’t advertise, my sales go down.”

That seems like a no-brainer for a mega brand such as Coca-Cola. Even in leaner times they surely have a gargantuan advertising budget.

But Coca-Cola was also bullish on advertising in its early days when the fledgling soft drink company painted farmers’ barns at no charge throughout the South. All re-painted barns prominently displayed the Coca-Cola name in bright red.

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Can an 83-Word Billboard Work?


Click image to enlarge. (Daniel Bowen/Flickr)

Conventional advertising wisdom says to keep words to a minimum on a billboard – or in any form of advertising, for that matter. In an age of 140-character attention spans, messages should be super short and lightening quick. At least that’s what the experts often say.

So, the above billboard (technically a giant poster) with eight lines of copy and 83 words is definitely zagging when others are zigging. It’s located in the main concourse of Flinders Street Station in Melbourne.

Is it smart or misguided?

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8 Effective Headline Types for B2B

“If you haven’t done some selling in your headline, you have wasted 80 percent of your client’s money.”
−David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man

Writing a compelling headline isn’t as easy as it looks. That’s why it’s good to consider all the possibilities.

I thought of headline types after seeing a recent post at copyblogger. Actually, headline types haven’t changed much, if any, over the years. Following are eight variations that can work well for both B2B and B2C copy.

1. Direct. Direct headlines make a straightforward statement to readers. (Save up to 70% on generators.)

2. Indirect. Indirect headlines are designed to pique the curiosity of readers, providing the payoff in the body copy. (Issaquah is now home to 42,469 of your favorite authors.)

3. News. News headlines can be used when you have news or a special announcement. (Introducing the first watch you can wear with a wet suit and tie.)

4. How to. How to is the workhorse of headlines, promising useful information. When you’re drawing a blank, try a how-to headline. (How to get more mileage out of yellow pages advertising.)

5. Question. Question headlines are effective when your audience wants to know the answer. Craft a smart question and you’ll have them eating out of your hand. (What does the pilot strike mean for your travel plans?)

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Is ‘Little Gray Squirrel’ Advertising Believable?

The Chasers page of a recent issue of BtoB spotlights companies in the financial services sector and suggests how advertising can help restore their public respect and demonstrate empathy and humility to their audiences. Big business should look and act more like small business, they say.

One highlighted ad by the Unum Group shows a little gray squirrel saving nuts.

“Insurance companies are popular whipping boys these days,” says Chasers.

“So instead of an ad featuring imposing glass towers or stern-looking executives, Unum Group smartly builds its ad around a little gray squirrel, an animal noted for its ability to save, not squander its assets like there’s no tomorrow.”

But will most people think Unum Group (or insurance companies in general) is like a little gray squirrel after seeing the ad? Or will they think of Mr. Humph, Bob’s insurance company boss in the movie The Incredibles?

Advertising alone can’t fix an industry image problem.