Inspirational PSAs

•January 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

One of my favorite recent PSAs is the CDC’s Tips from Smokers. This video series brings stories of real smokers to viewers in a way that is personal, poignant and effective. An estimated 1.6 million people made a quit attempt after watching one of the tip videos.

Below are a few more clever PSAs to inspire you.

It looks like the 30+ crowd is the target for this anti-smoking PSA. By combining a retro gaming image with lungs and cigarettes, this advertisement makes you stop and think, which is a success in my book. The actual copy “Quit Smoking” is almost unnecessary because anyone familiar with Breakout and similar games will get the message loud and clear.

Pong-style anti smoking ad


In this Brazilian Fiat ad, the caption reads “Now you see it. Now you don’t,” but like with the anti-smoking ad, the words are almost unneeded, and in this case, I’d say I prefer it without them. For me, the image says something even more powerful – when you open this can and drive, you make things disappear. Sometimes the best writing is no writing at all.

Side by side images of beer can tops, one with a bicyclist visible and the other with the can open and the bicyclist missing


Stuttering can be debilitating, but does it have to be serious? This simple and light-hearted PSA gets the message across by being self-referential and just a little bit funny.

A sign that looks like three signs, all overlapping with the words,


Do you have a favorite PSA? Share it in the comments.

Biggest Copywriting Pet Peeves

•November 30, 2011 • 2 Comments

As any good copywriter knows, it’s not all about punctuation. A misplaced semicolon or comma can be annoying, but what really gets your goat is seeing other copywriters do a hack job (and get away with it!). Hence, here are some of the biggest copywriting pet peeves.

Lack of You Attitude

Having “you attitude” means putting the reader first – literally and figuratively. When an email subject line says, “We found these scholarships for you,” good copywriters cringe. Readers don’t care that the sender found scholarships; readers only care that new scholarships await. Start with the “you,” then include the “we,” but only if you have to.

The CEO of Netflix would have done well to learn this lesson before sending his infamous email, which used the words “we” and “I” many more times than necessary, thereby showing a clear disinterest in the opinions, cares and desires of his readers/customers.

Misleading Content

Unkept promises are annoying to more than just copywriters, but for those of us who have experienced first-hand how much effort it takes to be accurate – interviewing various team members, emailing drafts to the legal team, researching online, etc. – it especially gets under our skin. Why do we have to do the hard work when other writers can just phone it in? Why must we work hard for accuracy when they can get away with misleading content? And just to clarify, unfulfilled promises are not reserved for spammers vowing to enlarge your genitalia or sell you a designer watch for 1/12 the price. Plenty of “legit” businesses lie to us every day, too.

Spoken Puns Awkwardly Used in Writing

Red Lobster’s “We sea food differently” campaign is clever and sounds great when you hear someone say it, but when you “sea” it, it just looks like a typo. Some things work when spoken but not when read. It’s the nature of the beast. Good writers need to understand that and be willing to kill their darlings (a.k.a. reject awesome concepts) when they don’t meet a high standard of excellence.

Copy That Tries Too Hard

If a friend who tries too hard is annoying, then it’s logical that “tries too hard” copy would be just as grating. “Small is now huge,” claims a new ad campaign for the Nikon 1 camera. Is it really or are you just trying to blow my mind by being clever?

When Microsoft and Yahoo! launched Bing in 2009, I felt the same way. From my perspective, savvy marketers sat in a room and concepted a search engine name specially designed to be hip, cool and just a touch out-of-the-ordinary. No thanks. Today I use Bing occasionally (their airfare price predictor is undeniably cool), but I still dislike the name.

Unwarranted & Poorly Executed Change

When a store gets remodeled, most people are happy with the new version, but when it comes to rebranding, the public doesn’t always feel the same. For me, one of the most pet-peeve-inspiring examples of this was when San Francisco Bay Area’s public transit agencies decided to rename their re-loadable cards from “TransLink” – a sensible name that people had been using for years during the testing phase – to “Clipper.” Thousands of dollars were likely spent on rebranding, and thousands more to reprint signs and machines. And for what? So we could compare our transit agencies to fast-sailing ships from the 19th century?

What are your top copywriting pet peeves? Let me know in the comments!

Bonus Links!

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How to Recover From an “Oops” Moment
Use the Right Word, Don’t Wait for the Dictionary
Know Thy Features and Benefits (article + quiz!)

10 Things Copywriters Should Be Thankful For

•November 22, 2011 • 2 Comments

In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday (and of lots of personal good news and cheer I’ve experienced lately), it’s a good time to think about all the things to be thankful for and why. As copywriters, we are blessed with so much from punctuation to wordplay, but we don’t always realize the importance or take the time to stop and appreciate what we have, so here’s my take on some of the things copywriters should be thankful for:

1. Semicolons: It may seem counterintuitive to be thankful for this oft-misused punctuation, but without them, what would we complain about? Semicolons give us many opportunities to bask in our superior grammatical knowledge.

2. Rhyme: Without getting too cheesy, let’s just say that to rhyme is sublime. Oops, I guess I got a little cheesy there, but that doesn’t change the fact that we use rhyme to make people smile, including ourselves. And isn’t making people smile simply wonderful?

3. Numbers: Digits aren’t just for mathematicians. Having specific stats can make content more memorable. They also stand out in a crowd of letters, making it easier to catch the viewer’s attention.

4. Exclamation Points: Sure, these can be annoying if overused! Case in point! Right now! But exclamation points are also awesome because they are an easy and surefire way to express happiness and excitement.

5. Puns: Where oh where would we be without one-liners and wordplay? Puns are like copywriting drugs. Get your daily dose here.

6. Bulleted Lists: Do I really need to explain this one? Bulleted lists are our saviors when we need to convey a lot of information in a small space. They also make it easier for people to read and comprehend information. Bulleted lists are simply amazing.

7. You: Copywriters should be thankful to our readers. Without you, we wouldn’t get paid, have jobs, or have a professional purpose. So, thanks!

8. “You”: In addition to you, my reader – thanks again, by the way! – the word “you” is also worthy of our gratitude. Being able to talk directly to readers is essential for creating a connection and conveying information.

9. CTAs: Calls to action are what makes copywriting effective, especially in an online environment. More than being thankful, we should almost bow down to these copywriting powerhouses. We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!

10. Collaborators: From graphic designers to product managers, copywriters couldn’t do what we do without a little help from our friends. Plus, a really good collaborator is worth more than ten mediocre ones, so we should be especially thankful when we’ve snagged a good one. To all the copywriting friends out there, thank you for all your help – yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

What other things should copywriters be thankful for? Let me know in the comments!

Bonus Links!

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How to Recover from an “Oops” Moment

How to Recover from an “Oops” Moment

•November 11, 2011 • 1 Comment

Rick Perry had his “oops” moment on Wednesday night, but yours could come tomorrow or even (gasp!) today. When you work fast and take on bigger-than-you’re-used-to challenges (as many of us do), verbal gaffs are bound to occur. But what will set you apart is your ability to recover. If your audience remembers your suave save more than the mistake itself – well, then, you’ve probably won them over.

One of the challenges about “oops” recovery is that there is no “one size fits all” solution. What works for one scenario may not work for another, so no matter how many tips you read, it will still be up to you to use your own critical reasoning skills and on-your-feet thinking to get out of the snafu. Which leads me to the first tip…

Stay Calm

Nothing makes an “oops” moment worse than freaking out. Overreacting also has a tendency to create new missteps, at which point you’ll have to recover from two mistakes. Not worth it!

Consider Doing Nothing

Laughter may be the best medicine in theory, but in practice silence has a lot to offer, too. Imagine mistyping the word “clip” while your computer screen is being projected in front of your boss, an employee, and several other, mostly male, colleagues. Yes, this happened to me. I quickly erased the “t” and replaced it with a “p,” but not before everyone saw the four-letter word I’d originally typed. And you know what I did? Nothing. And you know what happened? The meeting continued, uninterrupted.

Say, “Let me get back to you.”

Rarely is it a problem to ask for more time. And if you can connect your need for more time with a reason – such as running the numbers, asking a knowledgable expert, or finding the exact quote requested – then your audience is even more likely to understand your request and might even appreciate your thoroughness. Just remember to actually follow up with the answer. Dropping the ball looks much worse than not knowing in the first place.

Apologize Once, Then Move On

An apology isn’t always needed, but if you’re going to give one, give it quickly and then get back to business. Don’t try to overcompensate by apologizing profusely. Too many apologies will only make everyone feel awkward and make the entire experience last longer. And you know what happens when an “oops” moment turns into an “oops” minute? It becomes more memorable, and not in a good way.

Change Your Proposal

Only experts should attempt this tip because it can be risky to change your proposal on the fly. If you’re a candidate like Rick Perry, your website lists your platform and if you make knee-jerk adjustments, you could be seen as a flip-flopper. On the other hand, if you’re speaking candidly or aren’t being recorded, you might be able to simply change your original intentions: “Oh, did I say I’d close three agencies? Actually, I only want to close two.” Of course, you have to be willing to actually stick with the new direction – hence the riskiness of this approach.

What are your tips for recovering from an “oops” moment? Share them in the comments below!

Note of thanks: Ty Martin helped inspire this post and contributed to many of the ideas herein. Ty is a search media maven with more than six years’ experience charming executives and clients alike. His current title is Senior Associate Director of Media Insights at iCrossing.

Bonus Links!

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5 Ways to Win Buy-In For Your Idea

•November 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

So you’ve got an amazing idea to make the company money, reduce costs, save time, or win loyalty from customers. Only one problem: you’re at the bottom and you’re not sure how to get your idea to the top.

In Fantasy Land, a good idea will “speak for itself,” but in the real world you should realize that an idea can’t talk or even be seen. When telling someone – your boss, the CEO, etc – about your snazzy new idea, the words you choose will affect his or her understanding and feelings, positive or negative, about what you’re offering up.

When shaping your pitch, try these tactics to win buy-in and get your idea on the radar and at the top of the priority list.

Conduct a Survey or Test

You probably don’t have the resources to do massive market research, but if you can break down the basics of your idea and figure out a way to survey friends, users, or potential customers about it or some aspect of it, the strength of the results will go a long way in solidifying your case.

If part of your concept can be A/B tested in an email or landing page, having those results will also strengthen your case and prove that the potential is there.

Compare Your Idea to Similar Ideas That Have Been Successful

You’ve probably heard about movie pitches where someone says, “It’s like Charlie’s Angels but with guys!” or “It’s The Hangover with senior citizens!” Screenwriters connect their concepts with prior successes because doing so makes their idea seem less risky. Ideas in business are the same; less risky is a good thing. Your idea should sound like a sure thing, not a weekend adventure in Vegas.

Do Your Research

Are other companies doing what you suggest? What were their results like? What else is going on in the market? By proving that you know what’s going on, you also prove that you know what you’re talking about and that your ideas can be trusted.

For example, if your idea has a Apple/Siri tie-in, it’s likely to win major press coverage if you announce it soon. Gather stats on the number of Siri-related news stories in the past few weeks and cite your findings as justification that your idea is a smart investment.

Support Other People’s Ideas

When you support the ideas of others, they will be more likely to support your ideas. It’s that simple.

It’s important to note, however, that “support” doesn’t necessarily mean shouting from the rooftops. Offering to lend an ear is support in and of itself. Of course, if the idea is stellar, then you should champion it, but if it’s not, then giving your opinion and some constructive critique can also be helpful. And remember, when giving your opinion – especially a negative opinion – always take care with your language and word choice. If you’re wrong and the idea is a home run, you may regret what you said.

Work On Your Elevator Pitch

Most good ideas can be quickly and easily summarized for a knowledgeable audience. Notice how I wrote “knowledgeable”? Your grandmother doesn’t need to be your test audience, especially if your “big idea” involves semi-conductors or, say, Twitter. But when speaking to a peer or an industry insider, you should be able to explain the main tenants of your idea and its selling points in a few sentences or less.

As I wrote in a previous post, knowing how to tease out the most important info also helps build your credibility because it demonstrates that you’re willing to put your audience’s interests first.

Good pitches are generally short, memorable, and address listeners’ top questions. Does your pitch do all three?

Bonus Links!

If you liked this, you might also enjoy…

3 Lessons Siri Can Teach You About Marketing
Will Facebook Be Free Forever?
Netflix’s Big Goof: 5 Copywriting Blunders in Its Recent Announcement

3 Lessons Siri Can Teach You About Marketing

•October 25, 2011 • 3 Comments

Never Underestimate the Value of Fun

As is clear from posts like Top 10 Funniest Questions to Ask Siri, consumers love to have fun with Siri, and it’s not like Siri is a lone case. Plenty of other apps and products have little or no usage beyond fun, so it’s not a bad idea to prepare yourself for the reality that people may want to get silly with your product.

The “Pull My Finger” app helps further the point. Initially rejected by Apple for “limited utility,” “Pull My Finger” was approved in 2008 and immediately started raking in the cash – more than 50,000 downloads in one week, according to Wikipedia. And with Apple taking 30% off the top of every sale, it seems like investing in farty fun wasn’t a bad idea after all.

Still skeptical? Here’s another example. Perhaps you’ve heard of Twitter? It’s kind of popular these days, but early on, some people complained that Twitter wasn’t “useful.” Twitter’s response: “Well, neither is ice cream. Should we ban ice cream and all joy?”

Names Matter

If you’re in the know, then you probably realize that Siri was purchased by Apple in 2010 and came ready-made with a name. That said, Apple likely could have renamed their personal helper iAssistant or some other iVariation. But they didn’t, and that was a brilliant choice.

If Apple had released iAssistant, do you think we’d have such widespread media focus on it? Would we have YouTube duets and headlines like “Siri Is One Funny Lady”? When Apple kept Siri’s human name, it subtly told customers how to treat it: like a person, and that’s just what people have done.

A Woman’s Voice Is More Soothing than a Man’s

According to a CNN report, scientific studies have shown that people, on average, find a woman’s voice more pleasing than a man’s. Siri isn’t the first gadget to take advantage of this brain phenomenon, but it’s a nice reminder of it.

This principle of “man versus woman” can be applied to more than just voices. During A/B tests, for example, I’ve found that images of men sometimes outperform images of women even when the core audience is female (and vice versa).

Any more lessons from Siri? Share your ideas below!

Bonus Links!

If you liked this, you might also enjoy…

5 Ways to Win Buy-In For Your Idea
Will Facebook Be Free Forever?
Netflix’s Big Goof: 5 Copywriting Blunders in Its Recent Announcement

Know Thy Features and Benefits (article + quiz!)

•October 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A cardinal rule of marketing is to always think about and promote your product’s features and benefits. And while that sounds easy, it isn’t. Most people don’t know the difference between the two.

Now it’s your turn to become a features and benefits expert. Read on, learn fast, then take the quiz to show off your new know-how.

The Basics

FEATURES are what your product is, the product’s essence as well as its components.

ENHANCED FEATURES are any elaboration on a feature by use of superlatives or by figuring out what the feature does when in use. The term “enhanced features” isn’t something you’ll find in many textbooks or elsewhere on the web, but having this extra category will help clarify some things. Trust me.

are how your product makes customers’ lives better. You can also think about benefits as “results.”


Feature: Voice-activated dialing.
Enhanced Feature: You can operate your cell phone hands-free while driving.
Benefit: You won’t get in a car accident.

Feature: Weekly emails highlighting marketing blog posts from the past week.
Enhanced Feature: 
Free marketing tips, direct to your inbox.
Sound smarter at your next job interview, and land the job!

Feature: Sherpa fleece lining.
Enhanced Feature: Feels soft and cozy.
Benefit: You’ll stay warm when the temperature drops.

Making Features More Exciting

As you saw in the above examples, features can be enhanced with the addition of descriptors such as “soft and cozy.” You can also try bolder options like “lightning fast” or “the best on the market.”

Playing with language or referring to multiple features at once can also help up the excitement quotient. This example does just that; it’s from Apple, and it’s about the iMac: “Power and Performance. Beautifully packaged.” When you look past the dramatic language, you see that Apple is highlighting the quality of its processors and the aesthetics of its design: features, plain and simple.

How to Find Your Product’s Benefits

Figuring out a product’s benefits can be tough because it requires knowing your audience and thinking critically about how your product will serve them.

Let’s say you’re selling an extremely high resolution computer monitor. Who is the audience? Presume there are two markets: consumers for home use and hospitals/medical facilities for professional use. The benefits will be different for each.

Start with your consumer market. Let’s say it’s mostly techie geeks who always want the latest and greatest, and their primary use for the monitor will be watching movies. The benefits, therefore, should play to these desires by emphasizing that the owner will be the envy of his or her friends, will enjoy movies more, and be happier overall.

Now let’s tackle the medial B2B (Business to Business) audience. Let’s assume that doctors will use these monitors during endoscopic procedures such as colonoscopies and endodontic surgeries. If the doctor can get a crisper, clearer view, then he or she will be more likely to catch potential dangers, remove the entire tumor, or be successful, whatever the goal. The benefit, therefore, should speak to improved patient outcomes and possible money savings due to a reduced risk of lawsuits.

Are You Blown Away?

For many of you, this is likely a new way to think about features and benefits. In the past, you may have stopped at the “enhanced feature” stage and not pushed further to really figure out how your product or service enhances the customer’s life.

If you haven’t thought about benefits before, don’t worry. First, product features are important, too, so there’s nothing wrong with highlighting them. Second, nothing’s stopping you from revising your presentations, editing your website, and updating your ads to let customers know how you might help improve their lives.

Quiz Time!

Take this short quiz to see if you know what’s up when it comes to features and benefits.

Note: These are real-world examples taken from actual websites, so features and benefits are often mixed together. In the case where both are mentioned, it’s still a benefit, so be sure to treat it as such.

Tweet that you passed!


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