September 1, 2010

How to rise to the top of the tree

The book that inspired this blog, David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man”, has a chapter dedicated to helping people rise to the top. He talks about being ambitious (but not so aggressive that your fellow workers destroy you), being informed about the business you’re working on and putting in long hours. In the 21st century, especially in the digital domain, things have not changed so much. If you have been in the business for a while stop reading now. If you are just starting then this is for you…

David urged people to recognise opportunities. It can be difficult when so many new developments in the digital space appear on a weekly basis. Some opportunities turn into dead ends but if you don’t take risks you will never get anywhere. He also said that failure is required which means that everyone will know about it thanks to Twitter and YouTube.  Take Chatroulette. Several brands saw an opportunity and grabbed it. It was a perfect platform to promote this movie:


Another of Ogilvy’s tips for success was knowing how to make good presentations. We all hate Powerpoint but can’t seem to escape it. Even if your presentation is for a digital project why present it on a screen? Get tactile, engage in role play and a little theatre. Learn from the people who present with passion and intelligence. You can sell an idea purely with words. Just check out a few TED videos and you’ll soon see that Powerpoint is not required. And if you do need slides use them as a creative talking point…

David said don’t discuss your client’s business in elevators. Today it’s easier than ever to let slip agency or client secrets that should be kept to yourself. Be careful what you blog and tweet about. Don’t post project updates on Facebook and don’t complain about your boss.

Ogilvy recommended having a hobby – advertising. He believed that you had to live and breathe the business to succeed. He encouraged people to write articles, become an authority. It’s even easier today with the internet. So get a blog going even if you think you don’t have time. You need a voice if you want people to notice you. I took his advice myself and became Digitaladman and haven’t looked back:)

Iain Tait of Weiden + Kennedy has some good advice on his blog about getting the job that you really want.

His advice is mostly aimed at planners but it remains valid for any kind of position in an agency that focuses on digital.

Get yourself a portfolio that shows what you’ve been working on to create a talking point during your interview. Make sure that it’s not full of errors so get others to check it first and give valuable feedback.

Be honest and clear about your role on the projects you talk about. (this is me interjecting – I once interviewed someone who showed a very high profile project so I asked what they did on it… because it was my project from a previous agency. They had simply added a button to the site).

Even if you are not in a creative role have an opinion about design, interaction, sound etc. It shows you care about the end product.

Brand yourself by knowing what you stand for and do some detective work about the company you want to join.

You can read the full blog post here.

Once you are in your dream job you need to have a plan for how you’re going to rise to the top. Ultimately it’s about hard work. Ogilvy says in his book “put your shoulder to the wheel, but be careful to pick the right wheel”. Make sure that your personal vision matches the company you work for. Do you share the same values?

Watch the people who have made it to the top. It is so much easier now since most of them are blogging and tweeting. How do they look at the world? Understand their points of view. Read about them in the industry press to get a real picture of what makes them tick. It will teach you a lot about what it takes to be a leader and help you define your own unique style.

If you are starting out in the business then it is a great time. Digital is now a mature discipline and we need people who will define where it goes next. Enjoy the ride.

Update: Interested in being a digital copywriter? This article on Mashable is for you >

July 28, 2010

Making great online videos

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am gradually going through David Ogilvy’s book “Confessions of an Advertising Man” and giving a 21st century spin to all the various chapters. This time it is all about making good TV commercials.

What would David make of today’s world where people probably spend more time online watching video than they do in front of a TV? In his book he said that “the purpose of a commercial is not to entertain the viewer but to sell to him”. I think he’d love the fact that the recent Old Spice YouTube campaign (apparently) helped double sales. If you look at this report on ZDNet “Video is now the fastest-growing segment of the Internet advertising market. Digital video amounted to $477 million in revenue in the first half of 2009, up 38 per cent from the same time period in 2008, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau”.

David also said that on television “what you show is more important than what you say”.  If that were the case would he have hated the Johnnie Walker Keep Walking online video campaign? We live by new rules it seems.

He had many useful tips for people of his day such as making the product the hero of the commercial. Online there seem to be no rules other than be noticed and talked about. That’s a challenge compared to Ogilvy’s day where he said that the average consumer, “poor dear” was subjected to 900 commercials a month (interestingly the consumer in those days was uniquely female). How many video advertising messages do we see each day? He was spot on when he said they needed a “touch of singularity”.

Ogilvy compared the TV screen to the cinema screen and gave tips for working on the smaller format. Now we have video banners in the middle of cluttered websites. But that might not be the only thing holding online video back from truly taking over. According the Tech Crunch there are still many issues to solve such as lack of standards and problems with distribution. Read the full article here.

Those who have already understood the potential of online video know that it is not just a passive experience. The Barnardos Turnaround video banner campaign included interactivity so the viewer could experience how their help can make a difference. To quote their Cannes award winning entry description “a young girl tells the story of her journey into despair. By clicking and dragging the slider, you can physically turn the entire banner around, and the film then plays in the other direction with a different voice-over, showing the tangible impact Barnardo’s can have in turning a young person’s life around”. Click here to try it.

Another amazing project from the Netherlands used video within social networks and made the viewer part of the action by bringing in their photos, name and more. Commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Justice, the campaign was “aimed specifically at young citizens to raise awareness about cybercrime in a way that is relevant to them. 85% of Dutch youngsters have a profile on social network Hyves, which they use on a daily basis”. The agency Kong “created a frighteningly realistic ‘ambush’ on Hyves: a tailor-made, personalized action video in which you could trick your friends by sending the Cybermaffia after them. In just 7 days, the campaign was viewed over 5 million times and sent-to-friends over 7 million times, making it the most popular social media viral campaign in the Netherlands ever”.

And finally, online video differs in that you can show some things that would never be allowed on TV (although knowing the French this would have been on primetime:)

It would be great to hear David’s view of online video commercials. Would he be intrigued by the possibilities or just say “if they don’t sell they aren’t creative”.

Aides graffiti from notsobadforfrenchy on Vimeo.

June 14, 2010

How to write potent webcopy

As regular readers know, I’m going through each chapter in David Ogilvy’s book “Confessions of an Advertising Man” while giving them a digital update. When I came to the chapter “How to write potent copy” I realised that not being a copywriter might put me at a disadvantage. So I called upon my colleague Henk Nieuwenhuis (creative director and copywriter at Ogilvy Amsterdam) and asked if he would be my guest writer. He agreed and below are his words. Thanks Henk!

What’s so interesting about Shakespeare that we still perform his plays? Well, he wrote about things that move people and make us feel alive. Then and today. Things like ambition, desire, friendship, treason, greed, envy, love. He wrote about eternal human truths. Good copywriting should do the same. Because good copy is not about pretty writing, it’s about finding a way to touch people’s hearts and minds.

Does this apply for David Ogilvy too? Does his advice stand the test of time and still hold true in the digital age? Let’s have a closer look at his copy confessions in the chapter of his book titled: ‘How to write potent copy’.

Should you read on?

Ogilvy starts with the headline, as being the most important element in most advertising. Why? Because this is the first moment your reader makes the decision: should I stay or should I go?

Now, of course David talks about ads. But the principle  of starting off with a strong trigger to grab the attention holds true for direct mailings, radio and tv commercials, banners, e-mails and landing pages alike. His motto ‘you can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them’ is the universal underlying truth about writing effective copy for any commercial means.

Back to the headline. On the internet it could be as much as the subject line of your e-mail. Much is written about subject lines, as to how many characters work best or how explanatory it should be.  Because the nice thing about subject lines is, that they can easily be tested. By mailing different subject lines, you see what works better in an instant and for free. And what do we see? That David’s tips also work for the web Check them out:

1.     Interest your audience in your offer. Talk to them directly and put the product or the problem in the copy line. This still makes sense.

2.     Appeal to people’s self-interest. Still valid: what’s in it for me? was, is and will be the eternal question for any commercial message.

3.     Put some news into the headline. He states that the words free and new are the most powerful ones. Still true.

4.     Mark your words. Use emotional ones. And especially for the web: take SEO and spam filters into account .

5.     Include the brand name in your heading. If readers don’t see it already in the sender column where they make the first shift between read or delete.

6.     Write long headlines with the selling promise. True: subject line tests prove that the clearer you are, the more clicks you get.

7.     Make the reader curious.

8.     Don’t write tricky headlines –puns, allusions, obscurities- David says. And he’s right. I once rewrote copy for an online member-get-member promotion that didn’t live up to expectations. I took the fun and wit out and put the promise and explanation. Results went up 5 times.

9.     It is dangerous to use negatives in headlines.

10.  Don’t write blind headlines you only understand when you read the rest of the copy.

Have a chat with a dinner companion

When it comes to writing the body copy, Ogilvy suggests you’re should pretend talking to a woman sitting next to you at a dinner party. Talk to her in simple language. Try to convince with facts. Use your wit. Can you lead her into temptation?

This reminds me of the Dialog Method of the well known direct mail-professor Herr Doctor Siegfried Vögele, the offline equivalent of the usability-guru Jakob Nielsen. Both of them agree with Ogilvy when he states your copy should go straight to the point. Be specific and factual. And don’t be a bore.

Does size matter? Well, people always seem to have been intrigued about length. Even in his days, there was a popular belief that people don’t read long copy. On the internet it’s the same story. Best advice here is to start short, grab the attention and state your case upfront. It’s the inverted pyramid-principle: start by making your point first, than build on it. The deeper you get in the website, the longer your copy can be: now your reader wants to read. He has clicked, hasn’t he? So reward him.

As we come to the ultimate goal of copy, the idea is the same: your copy should be a complete sales pitch for your product. The really fundamental change is the fact that people don’t read from A to Z anymore – although I’m not sure they ever did-, but they hop, skip and jump through the pages and only read what they think is attractive. Online you make the sale in several steps. Can you make every step a relevant one?

David suggests you always include a testimonial. Well, the internet serves us well here, as user generated content is the latest big thing. You don’t even have to include it yourself: they will talk about your brand and product anyway. Using celebrities or giving advice, as David suggests, can help to spread the news online. We even can add the viral effect if testimonials are funny or remarkable in any other way.

His tips on style are also valid today. Don’t be pompous and avoid bombast but write normal plain language. The classic DM copy rule that you are always talking to a 14 year old, applies also for webcopy. Use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs and make your copy personal.

Don’t just entertain. Don’t write copy for copy’s sake. Write to get results.