A friend recently sent me this interesting article by Steven Pressfield on the most important writing lesson he ever learned .

I agree with the three answers Pressfield supplies to get your copy read. However, I disagree with much of the rest. First, "Advertising lies…it's evil, it's phony…" Fact is you can trust advertising copy a lot further than the Editorial content that may run immediately adjacent to it.

Misrepresentation in an ad can actually wind up getting you prosecuted. fined or sentenced to public service (rarely is anyone tossed in the clink). In any event, the result is usually a career killer. Editorial writers (columnists and editorial page contributors), on the other hand, under cover of the "opinion piece" label, can play with facts a lot more loosely. If they are very adept at it, they'll find themselves syndicated; if they're geniuses at it, they'll make it to the electronic circuit as guest contributors (with modest to healthy stipends). If they're really, really good, they can become press secretary to the President.

Pressfield is not totally correct that "nobody" wants to read your sh*t. A great majority read sh*t because they HAVE to. It might be just to find who has the cheapest can of coffee, who has the best deal on a new mattress, a used car, or who is featuring the cheapest movies. The great myth (at least in the newspaper business) was the editorialist's contention that the paper was chosen for the singular purpose of reading their collective thoughts.

The greatest presentation I ever attended featured our computer geeks demonstrating for the editorial staff what the product would look like when transferred to an electronic format. One amongst them, and by means a rookie, asked why advertising was included in the electronic version much as it would be in the paper itself. Couldn't it just be pushed to the back, grouped together, and left for the unwashed to search out much as they did with our Classified ads?

The lead presenter was a very young new employee who had been brought on for his computer expertise. Unaware of the deference that editorial was used to receiving, he proceeded to reveal some research on the primary reason (what feature did they turn to first) our subscribers bought the paper. First bomb: on any given day, anywhere from 25-45% of our readers bought the paper for the ads (Thursday, food advertising day, had the highest percentage). Bomb two, 8-10% of our very tony readership turned first to Ann Landers, another 8% to the comics, 7% for the crossword puzzle, 5% to the horoscope, another 5% to the bridge column. Among editorial's heavyweights only Mike Royko and Siskel/Ebert made a measurable impression.

After reading Pressfield's biography, I'm a little surprised at his perspective. He and I are the same age and entered the business about the same time. We were fortunate in having what may well wind up being the last generations of engaged readers responding to or rejecting our selling messages. Selling to today's "Tweet Generation" though, must be a real challenge and I'm glad I'm out.





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1 Comment so far

  1. steve on August 16, 2012 12:19 pm

    The two most valuable classes I ever had in College were English 101 and Philosophy 101. Each had lifelong implications for different reasons.

    Everything I know about advertising is summed up in a few concepts.

    You have 20-30 seconds to capture one’s attention. After that, they move on.

    In Print, less is more. If you cannot explain you message quickly, you lose your audience.

    Make you copy simple and easy to read. less colors and centralized. If you want to be read, make sure your ad is on the upper right hand corner of the right side of the paper. That is where the eye goes first. Americans read from front to back. The two most valuable pages are the front page and the back page.

    You want to advertise your name make it memorable. I have a friend who fixes ice machines. Manitowac, Scotsman, etc. His handle is The Iceman. His logo is a penguin. Easy to remember and easy to visualize. The most recognizable franchise names in the world are Coke, Pepsi, Mc Donalds golden arches, Disney,

    He puts a sticky on every job he does. It reads Iceman and his phone number. He puts it on every A/C job every ice machine he fixes and every walk in cooler. People lose business cards, magnets on refrigerators and calenders get thrown out, but when they need service done they know what number to call. His repeat business is great.

    He wears a shirt that says Iceman with a phone number. His van is the Ice Van, along with logo and phone number prominently displayed. It is a moving billboard. When you see it parked make no mistake you know what it is there for. He wears Dickey’s blue work shirt and slacks and an American flag sewn in on his sleeve. He looks sharp and professional. He understands that he represents the franchise wherever he goes.

    I produced commercials when I worked in radio. I did voice overs wrote ads. I had 30 seconds to make my point. I used simple easy to understand words. You want to learn how to write, write ad copy. It is amazing what info you can put in a 30 or 60 second radio ad.

    When advertising on radio, repetition and recency are critical. If you are promoting an event, you have to promote it no more than 5 days out. When you are branding a name, buy you ads in sets or blocks, Be sure that you are targeting the market for your product.

    Cable is a great way to advertise as you can target a market get broad coverage and make it visual and verbal.

    Advertising in Movie theatres can also work. There are reasonable pricing structures.

    I hope some of these ideas are helpful.


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