Bly Writes to Sell, Part 1

Robert Bly, The Copywriter's HandbookRobert W. Bly. 2005. The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Copy that Sells. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. (Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

At the heart of the Gospel is a tough sell: give up your sinful desires and surrender your life to God. In my work at T2Pneuma Publishers LLC, I summarize the Gospel with this catch phrase: Hear the words; Follow the steps; Experience the joy! Only the Holy Spirit can close the deal, but the pitch must be made. The trouble is that most Christians, myself included, are terrible at sales.

Introduction

In his book, The Copywriter’s Handbook, Robert W. Bly sets out with a clear objective:

“This book is written to give you guidelines and advice that can teach you to write effective copy—that is, copy that gets attention, gets its message across, and convinces the customer to buy the product.” (xv)

He defines copywriters as “salespeople whose job is to convince people to buy products” (xvi) and should not be confused with the process of registering a copyright for a book with the Library of Congress.

Bly’s Writing Philosophy

For those you who associate copywriting with those catchy ads placed during the Super Bowl, Bly’s focus on ads that communicate and sell may come as a surprise. But ask yourself a simple question, do you remember what products those Super Bowl ads were intending to sell? If not, then the ads may have caught your attention, but for the wrong reasons. Because advertising is expensive, it is important to focus on the informational and sales objectives in creating an ad.

Christians may get squeamish at this point and respond, as I have, that they are not salespeople. Maybe. But why does Charlie Brown feel compelled to ask: “What is the true meaning of Christmas?” If the message is unclear; it will not be heard. Because with the Gospel the stakes are high, we need to communicate clearly.

Organization

Bly is a professional copywriter who specializes in B2B, high tech, and direct-response advertising and is a prolific author.[1] Outside of front matter and numerous appendices, he writes in fifteen chapters:

  1. An Introduction to Copywriting
  2. Writing to Get Attention: The Headline
  3. Writing to Communicate
  4. Writing to Sell
  5. Getting Ready to Write
  6. Writing Print Advertisements
  7. Writing Direct Mail
  8. Writing Brochures, Catalogs, and Other Sales Materials
  9. Writing Public Relations Materials
  10. Writing Commercials and Multimedia Presentations
  11. Writing for the Web
  12. Writing E-Mail Marketing
  13. How to Get a Job as a Copywriter
  14. How to Hire and Work with Copywriters
  15. Graphic Design for Copywriters (xii)

While I started out thinking that I only really had an interest in the first couple chapters here, as I read on I discovered that Bly addressed a much wider set of my business writing activities than I had envisioned. Other than the chapters on working as and hiring copywriters, each of the chapters offered helpful advice on diverse aspects of my publishing business—much more than any of the numerous writing books that I have read—from issuing press releases to writing a newsletter.

Example

For example, Bly reports that copywriters write two types of emails: the “solo email” and the “e-zine” The solo email is written to a distribution list promoting a single product (think direct marketing campaign, the online equivalent of junk mail) while the e-zine is an online newsletter (286). While this distinction may seem obvious, most independent writers focus exclusively on their personal newsletter, while a business-driven minority use product giveaways to launch automated email promotion campaigns. Bly is the first author that I have read who discusses the quality points of both alternatives.

Assessment

In part one of this review, I have given an overview of Robert W. Bly’s The Copywriter’s Handbook. In part two, I will look in more depth at Bly’s approach to writing ads. For those interested in learning about how to write advertisements that sell, Bly’s book provides a clear and complete guide.

[1] B2B is short for business to business. http://www.Bly.com.

Bly Writes to Sell, Part 1

Also see:

Scott Writes Pro Email Newsletters

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

Continue Reading

Why Do We Care About Learning Processes?

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The process of learning affects the quality of our decisions, especially when it comes to faith decisions, and how we respond to external manipulation. While reflecting on the learning process may sound academic and perhaps boring, the learning process plays a critical role in our faith journey.

In an ideal world, we would approach important decisions as well-informed adults who understand our own weaknesses and consider carefully the options presented to us, taking our time to consult with our mentors, friends, and family and being devoid of dysfunctions, like mental illness or drug use.[1] In the postmodern world, advertisers encourage us to behave like kids, who deny that bad habits are bad and rush to make decisions based on the latest fad rather than careful reflection, discounting any advice offered by friends and family. The youth culture that dominates postmodern life offers an advertiser’s paradise.

If you believe that modern media is irrelevant to your religious life, then ask yourself a couple of questions. For example, why are most sermons about 20 minutes? and where do you go when you get upset? Twenty minute is about the amount of time remaining in a 30 minutes television show after the time devoted to advertising is subtracted out. If you go shopping when you are anxious, then consider what your grandmother might have done—50 years ago it was common to go to a chapel and pray on stressful occasions.[2] Today, if someone wanted to pray in a chapel, the door would likely be locked.

In his book, Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sacks talks about the contribution of dark art of marketing to cultural changes that we have seen. Borrowing from the work of Joseph Campbell, Sacks describes the purpose of myth (story-telling) is to help us grow up because we yearn for maturation. But mature adults (self-responsible, free agents) threaten marketers who typically prefer us to remain adolescents where we suspended in an immature state dwelling on emotions like greed, vanity, and insecurity—the bottom rung in Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs.[3] In this immature state, we are encouraged to feel inadequate and incomplete where consumption of product X, Y, Z can presumably make us complete again (Sacks 2012, 85-86).

Inadequacy marketing directly assaults the spirit of most religious teaching, irrespective of theology, because most religions aid our maturation and help us to contribute to society. Hence, the phrase—the dark art of marketing—is truly dark because the advertiser works explicitly to undermine rational decision processes, stroke anxieties, and tell us stories that sell their products at the expense of undermining our own self-worth.

Through unconscious and voluminous repetition, this advertising entertains us daily like the air that we breathe and it shapes our perceptions, leaving us impatient for catchy phrases, tunes, and images. When our children say that church is boring, they simply observe that the pastor cannot offer the same catchy phrases, tunes, and images that they see on their cell phones every day. As parents, pastors, and teachers, postmodern culture outguns us on daily basis, unless we focus on the learning process and how decisions really get made.

References

Maslow, Abraham H. (1943). “A theory of human motivation”. Psychological Review. 50 (4): 370–96.

Plantinga, Alvin. 2000. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Footnotes

[1] Plantinga (2000, 108-134) wrote at length about the proper function of decision making and defining rationality with philosophical precision.

[2] In Hispanic films, people still consult a priest and/or visit a chapel to pray, but not in English language films. The last example of a chapel visit in film that I remember was in Home Alone (1990) starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, and Daniel Stern.

[3] Maslow pictured a pyramid of needs in which the foundational needs were physiological, followed by safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization at the top of the pyramid (Sacks 2012, 130).

Why Do We Care About Learning Processes?

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2jaUhI7

Continue Reading

Sacks: Why Stories Sell; Why We Care, Part 2

story_wars_review_11172016Jonah Sacks.[1] 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. (Got to Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

If you believe that modern media is irrelevant to your religious life, then ask yourself a couple of questions.  For example, why are most sermons about 20 minutes? and where do you go when you get upset? Twenty minute is about the amount of time remaining in a 30 minutes television show after the time devoted to advertising is subtracted out. If you go shopping when you are upset, then consider what your grandmother might have done—50 years ago it was common to go to a chapel and pray on stressful occasions.[2]  Today, if someone wanted to pray in a chapel, the door would likely be locked.

These changes did not happen overnight and they were not accidental.

In his book, Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sacks talks about the contribution of dark art of marketing to cultural changes that we have seen. Borrowing from the work of Joseph Campbell, Sacks describes the purpose of myth is to help us grow up because we yearn for maturation (85). But mature adults (self-responsible, free agents) threaten marketers who typically prefer us to remain adolescents where we suspended in an immature state dwelling on emotions like greed, vanity, and insecurity. In this immature state, we are meant to feel inadequate and incomplete where consumption of product X, Y, Z can presumably make us complete again (86).

Inadequacy marketing directly assaults the spirit of most religious teaching, irrespective of theology, because most religions aid our maturation and help us to contribute to society. Hence, the phrase—the dark art of marketing—is truly dark.

Sacks writes:

“all story-based marketing campaigns contain an underlying moral of the story and supply a ritual that is suggested to react to that moral.” (89)

Inadequacy marketing accordingly has two basic steps. In step 1, the moral always begins with “You are not…and plays off of at least one negative emotion: greed…fear…lust.” (89) The purpose in step 1 is to create anxiety (93). In step 2, the ritual proposed is implicitly or explicitly to shop and buy a particular product—pictured as a magical experience.

One of the classic success stories of inadequacy marketing is the Listerine (an early mouth wash) ad campaign. In 1922, Listerine was sold as a “good surgical antiseptic” (91). Sales were pretty minimal. This ad campaign introduced a young woman, “Sad Edna”, who lacked attention, sex appeal, and was basically inadequate for reasons that no one would tell her—she had halitosis (bad breath) which was ruining her social life (the moral of the story; 142). That is, until she discovered Listerine (the magical solution). In this case, the Sad Edna campaign both raised the fear of inadequacy and successfully introduced Listerine as the hero of the story.

Sacks sees inadequacy marketing as pervasive and destructive because drives us to pursue culturally and environmentally destructive consumption. In place of inadequacy marketing, Sacks offers “empowerment advertising” which follows John Powers’ three basic principles (1875):  (1) Be interesting, (2) Tell the truth, and (3) Live the truth (or change so you can; 103-107). An example of an ad by John Powers for neckties read: “not as good as they look, but they’re good enough—25 cents.” The campaign was an instant success, in part, because people found an honest ad refreshing and the ties available sold promptly (105).

Sacks devotes the remainder of his book to outlying how to use empowerment advertising.

Two basic ingredients of empowerment advertising are Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” and Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”. Before I close, let me define what he means.

Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” starts with the proposition that people desire to obtain self-actualization as a life goal, this goal may not be obtained until more basic needs are met. Thus, he posits a pyramid of needs with the most basic needs at the bottom (physiological needs) and self-actualization at the top. Sacks pictures the five categories: physiological, safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization (ordered from bottom to top; 130).  While inadequacy marketing focuses on the bottom of the pyramid, empowerment marketing focuses on the top.

Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” outlines the basic plot of many successful stories and films in a repeating circle: 1. The ordinary world, 2. A call to adventure, 3. Refusing the call, 4. Meeting a mentor, 5. Crossing the threshold, 6. Tests, allies, and Enemies, 7. Approaching the dragon’s den, 8. The ordeal, 9. Seizing the treasure, 10. The journey home, 11. Resurrection, 12. Return with the Treasure (148). While the hero’s journey may seem long and drawn out, numerous famous films follows this formula. For example, films that follow the hero’s journey include: Star Wars (1977), The Patriot (2000), and World War Z (2013).  So does the biblical story of Moses.

The hero’s journey is interesting in empowerment marketing because in order to succeed the hero has to grow at least enough to complete the journey—a type of self-actualization in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For Sacks, the hero in question is a “brand hero” who exemplifies your firm’s ideal customer and who is not, as in inadequacy marketing, a product. This brand hero is not a helpless consumer, but a mature and contributing citizen (149-150). The brand hero in the case of Apple, for example, is a creative employee who breaks out of the usual mold and may buy a Mac, but the Mac is not portrayed as a “magical solution”.

 Jonah Sacks’ book, Winning the Story Wars, is a great read and a helpful guide to understanding our recent culture wars as played out in film, online, and in our political campaigns. I read this book to improve my writing skills, but it is a must read for anyone who wants to understand what “all the shouting is about” in our society today.

Reference

Campbell, Joseph. 1968. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[1] http://WinningTheStoryWars.com. @JonahSachs. http://DrewBeam.com. @DrewBeam. @HarvardBiz.

[2] In Hispanic films, people still consult a priest and/or visit a chapel to pray, but not in English language films. The last example of a chapel visit in film that I remember was in the film Home Alone (1990) starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, and Daniel Stern.

Continue Reading

Sacks: Why Stories Sell; Why We Care, Part 1

story_wars_review_11172016Jonah Sacks.[1] 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. (Got to Part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the online world that surrounds us, we are bombarded with messages from morning to night: email, spam, pop-ups, video, print media, text-ads, robo-calls, and even old-fashioned, telephone solicitors. Because messages bombard us from morning to night, only the most sophisticated ads get and hold our attention. At the heart of these winning ads is usually a mythical story.

Against this backdrop, in his book, Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sacks writes:

“We live in a world that has lost its connection to its traditional myths, and we are now trying to find new ones—we’re people and that’s what people without myths do.

These myths will shape our future, how we live, what we do, and what we buy. They will touch all of us. But not all of us get to write them. Those that do have tremendous power.” (6)

Among those competing to gain this power through telling such stories are authors, film-makers, advertisers, religious leaders, and politicians of all stripes. Because it is not clear whose stories will dominate our attention (17), the recent election is a reminder that a lot is at stake.

In this environment of competing myth-making, oral tradition has become increasingly important because social media facilitates immediate feedback between story tellers and their audience, reminiscent of a time when story tellers gathered with their audiences primarily around a campfire. Because “all wars are story wars” (29), Sacks sees story telling as critical, not only to marketers who can either lift us up or tear us down, but also to citizens who may find themselves manipulated into fighting real wars.

So who is Jonah Sacks? Sack describes himself as a: “story expert, filmmaker and entrepreneur”. His back cover and website includes this description:

“As the co-founder and CEO of Free Range Studios, Jonah has helped hundreds of major brands and causes break through the media din with unforgettable [ad] campaigns. His work on legendary viral videos like The Meatrix and The Story of Stuff series have brought key social issues to the attention of more than 65 million people online. A constant innovator, his studio’s websites and stories have taken top honors three times at the South by Southwest Film Festival.”

Sacks divides his book into two parts and eight chapters, preceded by a prologue and followed by an epilogue:

Part One: The Broken World of Storytelling

  1. The Story Wars are All Around Us
  2. The Five Deadly Sins
  3. The Myth Gap
  4. Marketing’s Dark Art

Part Two: Shaping the Future

  1. Tell the Truth, Part I: The Art of Empowerment Marketing
  2. Tell the Truth, Part II: The Hero’s Journey
  3. Be Interesting: Freaks, Cheats, and Familiars
  4. Live the Truth. (vii)

Once you buy into the idea that stories matter and matter a lot, Sacks starts by instructing us on what not to do—the five deadly sins—which are vanity, authority, insincerity, puffery, and gimmickry (35). Vanity arises as an early problem because “when you love what you’re selling” … “you assume everyone else will too” (36).  Sacks uses an unforgettable example when he compares the acceptance speeches of John Kerry and George W. Bush in 2004—Kerry talks mostly about John Kerry, while Bush talks about what “we” can do (37-38). The contrast could not be greater. The other four sins are equally hard to avoid and quick to kill the credibility of a story.

Sacks repeatedly returns to myth as an important component in story telling. He describes myth as neither true not false, but existing in a separate reality (59). He attributes three ingredients in myth: symbolic thinking, having three elements tied together—story, explanation, and meaning, and ritual (59-61). For example, in Genesis Sacks sees creation as a myth with these three elements:

“STORY:               God created the world in seven days and gave man dominion over it.

EXPLANATION: This is how everything we see around us came into existence.

MEANING:          So God deserves our gratitude and obedience.” (60)

An important observation drives much of Sacks’ own storyline:

“a myth gap arises when reality changes dramatically and our myths are not resilient enough to continue working in the face of that change.” (61)

In our “rationalist modern society” (62) where people refuse to think symbolically, the myth gap zaps meaning and leaves people in an intractable state of hopelessness. “Forward-thinking religious leaders, scientists, and entertainers” who attempt to “reunify story, explanation, and meaning in their work” are quickly pushed out of the mainstream (63). Thus, the myth gap remains and people suffer.

Jonah Sacks’ book “Winning the Story Wars” is a non-fiction, page turner. The hugely fascinating illustrations are by Drew Beam. [2] In part 2 of this review, I will examine in more depth Sacks’ exploration of modern advertising and why we care.

[1] http://WinningTheStoryWars.com. @JonahSachs.

[2] http://DrewBeam.com. @DrewBeam.

Continue Reading